May 9, 2018

CCSD's Status Quo Isn't Working, and Means Deserves a Chance


Photo Credit: Austin Steele

A headline in the Apr. 15 Athens Banner-Herald opinion section asked, “Is superintendent the right choice to lead Clarke schools?” The answer is a resounding “yes.” Demond Means is the right choice for leading educational improvements for students enrolled in the Clarke County School District.

Means has a vision for quality improvement, and that plan should move forward with deliberate speed. If those who have been entrusted to teach the students can’t commit to embracing the strategies and changes needed for student success, especially students who are underachieving, then maybe they should seek alternative careers or move to another district. It is obvious that the strategies that have been used in past years are not working for the vast majority of the students.

I do not believe the issues in the CCSD are AVID, local school governance teams, a team from Wisconsin, blind BOE members, repackaged national initiatives or others listed by the author. We have a new superintendent who will hold all of us—principals, teachers, parents, students, employees and this entire community—accountable; who is not afraid to advocate for underachieving students; who will not accept poverty as an excuse for underperformance; who believes poverty is a factor, not an excuse; who is courageous enough to communicate the urgent problems to the community; who is committed to changing the status quo; who firmly believes in equity and social justice for all; and who is sensitive and compassionate.    

We have a young, gifted and black superintendent who is not ashamed to cry because it hurts to see the condition of our underachieving students. More importantly, we have a new superintendent who believes all students can learn and will learn. Those teachers who have just been collecting a paycheck will have to perform now.

Means’ leadership style requires change—a change in teaching methodology, distribution of resources and expectations. These changes frighten and threaten the status quo.

The AVID program adopted by the BOE seems to upset the author. The question was, “What exactly is the board seeing to inspire such confidence?” I am sure each BOE member would be happy to respond, especially the BOE member who represents her district.  

After being here for less than a year, Means’ leadership style has been attacked. Because Means introduced the AVID program and the BOE supported it, his leadership style is deemed autocratic. Keep in mind that each principal and school had the opportunity to opt out of the AVID program. Three schools—Chase Elementary and Clarke Central and Cedar Shoals high schools—did opt out for various reasons. Is that top-down or autocratic? I am sure Means would have been and is more than willing to hear the author’s points of view pertaining to the AVID program. One of his strong points is being a great listener. That is evident in all of the meetings he has held across this community.

So, Means has hired a new team. What does it matter whether the team is from Wisconsin or Georgia? The author should know by now it is nothing new for a new coach to bring in a new team, whether it’s an educational team or a football team.

Blind trust was mentioned. I think our BOE members have 20/20 vision. They can very well see that CCSD was sinking quite rapidly. They had enough vision to see a change had to be made.

Yes, the author has valid questions about vacant positions. Just remember, the charter system was in place before Means arrived. We need more committed personnel like the charter district overseer who was promoted—not just hardworking, but compassionate and committed, doing whatever it takes to move the district in a more positive direction. We do not need people who spend time grumbling and tearing down Means’ leadership.

How can Means’ leadership style be incompatible with the local governance model when he has not been here long enough? Instead of focusing on the vision, he’s been too busy trying to respond to questions from disgruntled folks who probably have minimal expectations of our low socioeconomic students or no interest in equity and success for all students. Some of the questions I have heard could have been answered by principals.

We need solutions for this crisis in education—whether they are local, regional, national or even repackaged.

I suggest that the author find ways to work with the superintendent, BOE, teachers, parents, students, principals, other stakeholders and this entire community for the sake of all of our children. How can anyone be satisfied with this status quo? Clarke County has an opportunity to move forward. Let’s not waste any more time. Let’s not waste energy finding ways to undermine our new superintendent. I’d rather try to save a sinking ship, as opposed to throwing stones so it can sink even faster. Join the team.

Tommie Farmer is a retired CCSD teacher and chair of the local NAACP’s education committee.