by Max Brantley
I've posted my column this week. It elaborates on a recent topic here -- a growing belief among Little Rock School Board members and others that Superintendent Linda Watson has not yet demonstrated that she's moving the district in the right direction. (That direction would be, very simply, cutting administrative costs and instituting effective steps to close the student achievement gap.)
It's an important week. The School Board meets Thursday. One item on the agenda is the Board's annual evaluation of Watson, as my column notes.
But the item of greater importance may be a proposal from the district's strategic planning committee to hire a top education consulting firm, Picus and Associates, to develop a strategic plan for the district. It's now in the hands of School Board members for review.
Here's the proposal. Fully realized, it would cost $200,000. This would be a bargain. It would bring in a neutral arbiter with a proven track record (solid advice to Arkansas in coping with the Lakeview decision, for one) that wouldn't be entangled in district politics. Picus could make difficult suggestions without fear of stepping on toes, such as by suggesting different ways of spending money (in the classroom rather than at the central office, for example). You need not read far to see that this group doesn't sugarcoat the problems facing the district.
The district is at a critical juncture, as always. The co-chairs of the committee recommending this approach are former state Sen.Jim Argue and Terence Bolden, who has long been a community activist for the cause of at-risk kids. The committee is packed with familiar names of committed public education believers, representing all the key segments of the district. My column may be outdated in one respect. Though Watson appointed this committee, she was quoted as expressing reservations about its work when it became clear that it was taking the project VERY seriously, perhaps even to the point of shaking up the district's administrative ways. I understand she may now be more supportive.
We all should be. This money -- a one-time expenditure -- should qualify for federal stimulus spending. It would be produce a big-picture set of recommendations that could produce millions in more effective spending and, we hope, better educational results. The work could start next month. That's not a minute too soon.