BY CAROLYN SZCZEPANSKI
Students in the Kansas City, Missouri, School District are returning to class this week for the beginning of the 2008-09 school year. But they’re not the only ones getting graded.
Last spring, Melissa Eddy, a mother of two elementary students in the district, was outraged when the school board pushed out yet another short-lived superintendent, Anthony Amato, and then refused to discuss its reasoning with dismayed parents. So she and a group of other parents decided to compel the board to behave better using the same tactics teachers do.
On Wednesday night, half a dozen parents from Do the Right Thing for Kids will be at the board meeting, sitting in the front row with clipboards and sharpened pencils. This year, the school board members will be getting reports cards, too.
Eddy (no relation to former board member Bill Eddy) says the group’s Board Watch campaign started this summer. “We felt as though the board was acting in a vacuum, that they felt untouchable, accountable to no one,” she says.
When she attended their meetings, Eddy says she was frustrated to hear board members grandstand about issues that weren’t on the agenda. She says they couldn’t even adhere to basic decorum, interrupting one another and speaking out of turn. They spent hours arguing about details that had nothing to do with student achievement.
So with the help of consultants with the Missouri School Boards Association, her group came up with a rubric for keeping the members on task. For the past three months, parents from Do the Right Thing for Kids have gone to the public meetings with their “Board Watch Report Card” in hand and published their observations on a Web site. Eddy says that once the parents at home know how dysfunctional the board is — even during public meetings — it will be a whole lot easier to get people fired up to push for change.
Over the past three months, the board hasn't been making the group's honor roll. Comments on the report card so far include:
“Meeting started 40 minutes late.”
“Members inattentive (dozing) and distracted at times.”
“Many members confused with which motions were before them at any given time.”
But Eddy says board members and parents seem to be taking note. Airick Leonard West, elected to the school board in April, says his colleagues' reactions to the public report cards have been mixed. “My sense is that some of the school board members are not nearly as appreciative as I am,” he says. “I think it’s brilliant, and that’s considering the fact that they’ve been pretty harsh on me a couple times.”
“When there’s the pressure of being called out, people do their homework, they’re a little bit more on point with their game,” he adds. “You know you can’t half-step it. You’ve got to be ready to deliver or somebody’s going to bust you for it.”
Nobody likes to get bad grades. But until the board's marks improve, Eddy hopes the report cards teach the board a lesson.