By Larry Lee
As everyone knows, Montgomery is a magnet for groups when the Legislature is in session. Group after group descends on the Capital City to walk the halls of the Statehouse. And yellow school buses by the dozen unload students to come see how laws are made.
Thursday, Feb. 11th, was such a day. Among the visitors were this year’s participants in the Leadership Baldwin group. Several principals, along with assistant superintendent for the Baldwin County school system Hope Zeanah, are members of this year’s class. About mid-morning they are gathered on the back steps of the Capitol getting their picture made with Governor Bentley.
Suddenly dozens of small voices begin calling out, “Ms. Zeanah, Ms. Zeanah.”
Governor Bentley immediately asked, “Who are they?”
Without hesitation, Ms. Zeanah tells him that it is the fourth grade from Elberta middle school. “Well, they sure know you,” replied the Governor. “I guess so,” came back Ms. Zeanah, “I was their principal.”
The students ran to hug their former principal and get an unexpected photo op with the Governor.
Here is why this story struck me. Hope Zeanah was principal of Elberta elementary school for 16 years. She did an excellent job and in 2013 was recognized as Alabama Elementary Principal of the Year. Of all the educators I know, she is one of the best. Her peers around the state have known this for some time. She has served on numerous boards and statewide committees. Elberta elementary is one of the best schools I’ve ever been to.
But when the legislature sits down and comes up with bills that impact our schools, they ignore Hope Zeanah and dozens and dozens of other expert educators around the stage. I know that Ms. Zeanah has spoken to committee chairmen and offered her help. She has been basically ignored.
And when you peel everything else away, this is the over-riding flaw with the RAISE Act. It was put together without input from the experts within our midst. For reasons I do not understand, we have legislators who apparently think that “education reformers” who couldn’t find Elberta without a GPS know more about education than our own teachers, principals, superintendents, etc.
There is little doubt that few college football coaches are the equal of Nick Saban at the University of Alabama. If our legislature was preparing a bill about football, would they listen to coaches from California and ignore Nick Saban?
Too bad we don’t take education as seriously as football.
Larry Lee led the study Lessons Learned from Rural Schools and is a longtime advocate for public education. [email protected] Read his blog: larryeducation.com