The state school board has called a special board meeting and work session on July 25 in Montgomery.  The work session begins at 10 a..m. and the board meeting at 11:30 a.m.

Agenda items for the first session are policies for board use of outside legal counsel and a presentation by superintendent Mike Sentance of the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan.

The announcement for the board meeting includes agenda item: “State Superintendent Evaluation.”

This should hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has kept up with K-12 education in Alabama since last summer when Sentance was chosen as superintendent in a process that is still under investigation.  He took office in mid-September and to say his tenure has been bumpy is an understatement of huge proportions.

He was the top choice of only five of the eight elected board members and Governor Bentley on August 11.  Hardly a mandate.  And today, only three of those votes remain on the board.  Both Bentley and then board member Matt Brown are gone.  In fact, Brown was a lame duck member when Sentance was picked.

I have time and time again documented instances of Sentance’s errors in judgement over the past few months.  As soon as he took office he seemed to delight in telling anyone who would listen how terrible our schools, teachers, programs and universities are.  He said we had math teachers who could not get a job in another state (which seemed especially ironic to me since he was rejected by at least nine locations across the country where he tried to get hired), that we should revamp Career Tech Education and that AMSTI “wasn’t the answer.”

The Alabama Students First Act of 2011 says there are seven reasons a board can terminate a contract employee:

  1.  Incompetence; 2) Immorality; 3) Insubordination; 4) Neglect of duty; 5) Failure to perform duties in a satisfactory manner; 6) Justifiable decrease in positions; and 7) Any other good and just cause.

And while this law is primarily intended to govern employees of city and county boards of education and two-year institutions, it is an excellent standard by which to judge anyone working in education in the state.  The state superintendent being one of them.

These reasons are obviously open to debate because most are broad in scope.  However, as the state board reviews the performance of Mike Sentance to this point in time, I trust they will keep “character” (which is not mentioned specifically above) uppermost in their minds.

To me, this is his biggest shortcoming.   Instead of stepping up and taking responsiblity for things that happen under his watch, he is more intent on throwing someone under the bus and washing his hands of possible wrong doing.  This is not leadership in any form or fashion.

For example, shortly after intervening in the Montgomery County school system, the state department rehired all prinicpals of what they considered to be low-performing schools.  Sentance said they had no choice since these principals had not been evaluated.

According to two members of the Montgomery County school board I spoke with, this was untrue.  Several of these people were to be non-renewed and all paperwork was in order.  But Sentance preferred to blame someone else.

And there is the recent example of Sentance telling the Montgomery system that they could not employ teachers because the state board passed a resolution freezing all hires for the system.  Again, untrue.  And rather than showing some sense of urgency to get this situation straightened out, Sentance told the Montgomery school board they would have to wait several weeks for state board action.  In other words, he was fine with disrupting a school system of 30,000 students to try to prove a political point.

Take the snafu of the state department releasing wrong graduation rates at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 21.  Sentance said at the next state board meeting that he though he had people with “common sense” working for him.  And shortly after, as he is prone to do, he hired a consultant to write a report about what happened.

BUT, he also placed Linda Felton-Smith, a veteran of 41 years in education, on administrative leave because of this incident.  By doing so, he was clearly blaming her for what went wrong.

Yet a few days ago Phil Hammond, retired Jefferson County superintendent who was hired to look into this screwup, made his report to the state board and concluded that no one was to blame for what happened.  Instead, he described it as a “perfect storm.”

And all the while there sat Mike Sentance right beside him listening to the report.  Did he do the honorable thing and publicly apologize to Linda Felton-Smith for throwing her under the bus?  Of course not.

Educators are supposed to be role models for our students.  In this regard, Mike Sentance fails miserably.

Editor’s note: As always I welcome the thoughts of readers.  If you wish to express your opinion about the present state of affairs at the state department of education and with the state school board, love to hear from you.