picture courtesy Clairmont School Board
This week was a wonderful week. It was spring break and it was so needed. I got an opportunity to recharge for the stretch run towards the end of the year. This was a time to spend time with family and friends in addition to restoration and revival. But with that, I still had one thing to do that was related to my educational responsibilities; I had to show up for an important vote.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine from college asked me to join the board of trustees at a charter school. He was elected the board president and he informed me that the board was looking for new individuals to add. I was a bit reluctant but I decided to join. Immediately after joining, I was hit with a very important vote to make. The school was under the instructional leadership of a school management company, and the company was up for renewal. The board put out an open RFP for competition and two companies applied; the current company and 1 additional company. In the state of New Jersey, we have laws that must be followed with respect to choosing a bid in a RFP – we had to choose the new company who applied because their price was lower. To not choose them would have been against the law. The first company was needless to say upset. They employed tactics to have us (the board) change our vote – which is illegal – including having teachers send us emails, sending teachers to visit the homes of board members, and even encouraging a board member of the management company to contact one of our board members personally. The worst of it all is that at stake was the school’s charter renewal, which was in the hands of the state, and they “encouraged” us to reconsider our vote. Understandably, our board was upset. All of us intended on resigning. Two of the six did resign and one of the six remains on the board but refuses to participate in protest. That leaves three.
Moment of the Week
I and the other two board members remaining reluctantly met on Tuesday for our monthly board meeting. On the agenda was the issue of the management company vote. It was up for a re-vote All of us understood that the vote would be in favor of the group currently in place. They engaged in “guerrilla” tactics and politics to get us to change our position. They sent members of their leadership to the meeting. We knew how we “had” to vote in favor. The alternative was to go against what was politically correct, costing the school, students and families. We went into closed session; we shared our displeasure among each other and charted our future course with the board. We reentered the meeting, carried on with the remainder of the business of paying bills and finally, we hit the point in the agenda where we reached the re-vote. One of the members of the board eloquently voiced our displeasure to the representatives of the management company. It felt good to hear her say it, but it ultimately meant nothing because we were changing our vote and the management company was getting what it wanted. After some conversation, we changed our vote and the management company was reinstalled for the next year. We decided that we’d also stay on for the remainder of the year.
Lesson of the Week
People can look at what happened here and point the finger at us and say that we failed to stand up for what was right. If voting for the management company was the wrong thing to do, you could consider us wrong. The one member of the board who chose to protest through non-participation could be seen as the hero, even the two individuals who resigned. What folks fail to understand is the bigger picture. Protesting and voicing anger may feel good, but what feels good isn’t always good. Except me, every member of the board is an attorney. We could have easily contested this whole situation. That seemed like the right thing to do. But look at the cost: doing so could have cost the school its charter, tied the school and its finances up in months of litigation – extending into the next school year – and the education of students and the jobs of faculty and staff would have been in serious jeopardy. That is what could have happened if we chose to act in protest. You could ask the question, why not stand up for something and attempt to fight back – that’s what some believe that we should have done. That is true; we could have attempted to stand up. Once again, you must weigh the cost. The school “seems” to doing well academically. We really don’t know because we have yet to receive a report from the school leader who has yet to show up to a board meeting, but I digress.
At the end of the day, the politics determined the choice we made. Not just the politics above us, but the politics beneath us. If you look at the public schools in the city of Camden, to put the students in jeopardy is deeper than simply having them choose another school to attend. For many parents in Camden, the difference between charter schools and public schools is the difference between opportunity and oppression. Standing up for what’s right involves sacrifice, but the real question is about who are the ones sacrificing? If we “fought the good fight” what would we lose? Our kids don’t attend the school. We wouldn’t be sacrificing anything but our energy, but the people we’d be “fighting” for would be sacrificing something they didn’t necessarily ask to sacrifice. Our stand would only be self-righteous and self-serving, not selfless. Education is about selflessness. Did we sign up for the politics of education, no. However, we have to deal with it and make the best choices on behalf of those we serve. Sometimes, dealing means making choices that seem wrong on the face of them, yet they serve the people more than they serve the politics that surrounds them. That is what we did this week via our decision.