In praise of doing what’s right

July 31, 2017

By Larry Lee
Education Matters

Ain’t no way 11 months ago I would ever write what I am now writing. That’s because I had just watched state school board member Stephanie Bell raise her hand on Aug. 11 as one of five votes to hire Mike Sentance as State Superintendent.

I thought then–and still do—it was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen a group of adults do.  Given his lack of qualifications and lack of support from educators, how do you justify selecting him?

Now we know what a trainwreck Sentance is.  He is mis-managing an intervention in Montgomery and saddling us with enormous debt, he oversees a department that is in chaos as a work place, and he refuses to communicate with his board.  That’s just for starters.

But thank goodness, Stephanie Bell has the courage admit she made a mistake voting for him.

This contrasts starkly with board members Mary Scott Hunter and Betty Peters who are blind to the fact the emperor has no clothes.  They both voted for Sentance and, like Tammy Wynette, are standing by their man.

(The other two votes for Sentance came from the greatest governor in Alabama history by his own proclamation Robert Bentley and Bentley’s unqualified appointee to the state board, Matt Brown. So, of the original five votes for Sentance, only two remain.)

Let’s not forget who Hunter and Peters are.  Hunter is the only board member facing a civil law suit for her role in trying to discredit and defame applicant Craig Pouncey during the search process.  She is the only board member named in an internal investigation by ALSDE as colluding with four others to eliminate Pouncey from consideration. She is the only board member who showed up last year at a meeting of the Business Council of Alabama telling legislators that Pouncey was out of the running because of his Ethics Commission problems, which was a total fabrication.

And Peters is the member who told numerous people the day before the vote she was supporting Craig Pouncey–and then flipped.  She is the board member who steadfastly believes that Sentance is opposed to Common Core when he is on record as saying he thinks Common Core is good for southern states.
Hunter and Peters seem hell-bent on making 730,000 public school students pay for their mistake.

Bell, who is the longest-serving member of the board and has a ton of institutional knowledge, was elected vice-president of the board on July 11.  She then began to try to sort out the mess we are in and come up with a plan to move beyond it.

She has been castigated, largely by those on the extreme right, for doing so.  And though the feeble arguments they put forth are not supported by fact, this does not stop them from spreading their “fake news.”

Bell led the effort to evaluate Sentance that was discussed at the July 25 meeting.  She faced a difficult job of trying to keep Hunter from bullying her repeatedly that day.  And she has faced a barrage of vindictive comments since from Peters, who once was her best friend on the board.

Hunter and Peters are acting like spoiled children who say they will take their ball and go home.  Hunter refused to fill out an evaluation form and refused to participate in an executive session July 25.  In other words, she abandoned the people of Limestone, Madison, Jackson, DeKalb and Etowah counties who elected her simply to score political points.  How’s that for good government?

And instead of making a sincere effort to evaluate Sentance, Peters just blithely gave him the highest score for all 37 measures being evaluated.  How’s that for diligence and honesty?  What a great role model for school kids.

Stephanie Bell and I have not always seen eye to eye.  But she is smart, can disagree agreeably, and is courageous enough to see the error of her ways.  She has watched Sentance make blunder after blunder and come to realize he is NOT the person to lead our state school system.

At this point in time, on this very critical issue, I commend her.

Larry Lee is a public school advocate and co-author of the study, Lessons Learned From Rural Schools. [email protected]

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