Interminable discussions about how to reduce spending in the face of looming state budget cuts.
Controversy and angst at School Board meetings over the relocation of a teen health clinic closer to the high school.
Dueling newspaper advertisements in which rival factions trade charges about the costs of compensation for various employees.
Finally, to the credit of both sides, a tentative agreement between the teachers union and district administrators on a pay cut that should prevent layoffs and another expansion of classroom sizes.
And then, the resignation of Superintendent Jan Moorehouse.
It's all enough to make one wonder: When can we get back to a focus on student achievement?
Not that the focus isn't there in individual classrooms. There's
little reason to doubt that front-line teachers are still giving their
all for the benefit of their students. No doubt battles are being fought
and won in the cause of public education every day.
And, even while the budget skirmishes have unfolded, emissaries were
dispatched to high-performing school districts in Colorado, Harlem,
N.Y., and Sanger, Calif., to see if what's done there could be done
Still, circumstances seem to have conspired to distract the generals who we need to lead the charge.
If School Board members and top district administrators are tied up
with budget troubles and mid-contract labor negotiations, how can they
give proper attention to the ultimate challenge of devising
district-wide strategies that create a climate in which all students are
It's got to be frustrating for those at the top. Whether that's the
reason for Moorehouse's resignation is hard to say. What can be said is
that the Del Norte County Unified School District is better off for her
time here, first as high school principal and for the past six years as
Voters felt good enough about the direction the district was going to
approve a $25 million bond measure to improve and modernize school
facilities. Those projects will continue for quite some time - not a bad
legacy for the departing school chief.
Perhaps not as widely known was her knack for helping people on an
individual basis. When you supervise so many people you're going to have
supporters and detractors, but it's hard to imagine having a more
personable chief executive.
And, never forget that she stuck around until a crucial agreement was
reached with the teachers union, establishing more stable ground on
which the district can look ahead.
She noted that the revamped School Board - four out of five members
are relative newcomers - will now have a chance to select their own
superintendent. After all, there are hundreds of district employees, but
only the superintendent reports directly to the board.
It's hard to imagine a more crucial task for Del Norte's future.
Overall student achievement as reflected in test scores has risen
modestly - there's plenty of room for more improvement.
Here's hoping School Board members shake off the doldrums that
inevitably set in when budget-cutting dominates the agenda and rise to
the challenge of finding a leader who will instill a culture of dogged
determination in service to students.
Public education represents their best chance for better lives. We cannot let them fail.