The Kentucky School Board, which failed to hit the target in its first attempt to hire an education commissioner, thinks it can improve its aim by firing more quickly. We suggest that everyone stand back.
So what is it that is wrong with the process of selecting a chief state school officer in Kentucky? Let us count the ways. After the Kentucky State School Board completely mishandled the Barbara Erwin hire, one would think the lesson it would have taken away from the experience was that it needs to be more careful and deliberative in the hiring process. Well, two recent reports indicate that we need to think again.
According to comments made by several Board members in a working Louisville Courier-Journal story reported recently on Richard Day's blog, the Board plans, not on exercising more caution, but on throwing it to the wind.
This probably explains the recent report by Mark Hebert, Frankfort reporter for WHAS-TV, who reported that Leon Mooneyhan, a retired Shelby County superintendent, has been "negotiating with the state school board to be the interim education commissioner" since last Tuesday.
Has anyone noticed that the posting for the open position and the call for applications was posted on the same day that Board Chairman Keith Travis began "negotiating" with Mooneyhan for the position--Tuesday, July 17? Maybe we've struck on just why it is that the State School Board is starting to look like the Keystone Cops in the process of finding good talent to fill the post at the helm of Kentucky's schools.
Is it really a good idea to limit your options while you are looking for the right person? What does this do for the other well-qualified candidates we ought to be taking a look at out there who might otherwise consider the job now that they have found out that it was done deal from the get go? Do you think these people are going to go to the trouble of applying now that they know the Board has probably already made its pick? And if we knew who we were going to hire, then why did we make the posting in the first place? If there is a process that is supposed to be followed in the hiring of the interim commissioner, why aren't we following it?
I suggest changing the posting over at KDE's website to the following:
The Kentucky Board of Education is seeking applicants for the positions of interim and full-time commissioner of education. Information about the positions and how to apply are available upon request, but applicants should be aware that although we are posting this today, we already have a particular person in mind so it would probably not be a good use of your time to go to all the trouble of filling out the application forms and writing an application letter, and if you do, we will have to question your ability to interpret the bureaucratic body language around here by which we are trying to tell you that, although we have to do this so we can say we got the best person for the job, we really want you to get lost.That would at least save other potential applicants the trouble.
Oh, and what does it say about Mooneyhan's judgment that he would spill the beans to a reporter at one of the largest stations in the largest television market in the state, when he should have known that this would publicly embarrass the Board--what with people like me out there to criticize it?
I served with Mooneyhan on the Assessment and Accountability Subcommittee of the Governors Task Force on Education Reform, the group convened by Gov. Paul Patton to look at changes in KERA a number of years ago, and there were a few people on the committee willing to look at common sense changes to the controversial KIRIS tests at the time, but Mooneyhan was not among them.
For the Board to appoint Mooneyhan to head the state's schools for even a short period of time--and to do it so hastily--would be a signal that, not only has the State Board learned all the wrong lessons from the Erwin episode, but that they want to maintain the status quo intact. The only way Kentucky's schools have any hope is for us to move forward. Will the hiring of Mooneyhan send the signal that we are moving forward? I doubt it.
The Erwin fiasco happened because there were things about Erwin that Board members should have known, but didn't. Exactly how does moving more quickly in the hiring process help to solve that problem? Doesn't it, in fact, actually increase the chances of that kind of thing happening again?
If we are interested in increasing the chances of learning in our schools, the people who run them are going to have to show that they are capable of learning too. But, so far, that doesn't appear to be happening.