Our View: Departure Means Challenge

By Triplicate Staff June 13, 2011 09:24 am

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 here.

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 properly served?

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 superintendent.

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.