473. School Boards

In Symphony over in Serial, starting today and running through Tuesday, Neil is going up against his school board and a lot of angry parents.

School boards have a tough job. I wouldn’t want it.

The school board in this section of Symphony doesn’t look too impressive, on the face of things, so in fairness I have to give some context. Kiernan School, is fictional, but I tried to make everything about it as accurate as I could. I wanted it to look like the school where I taught, but with some of its attributes made more extreme.

Kiernan School is about half the size of the school in which I taught. That makes it about six times larger than the elementary school I attended in Oklahoma, a million years ago. It is in a  K-8 district with no high school.

Put all that together and it spells no money, no resources, not enough teachers, very few support staff, and a place where everybody is underpaid — even more than teachers usually are.

Under those circumstances, one of two things is likely to happen. Either you get incompetent teachers who can’t get a job anywhere else, or you get teachers so dedicated that they stay anyway. I had the good fortune of being in the latter type of school.

More to the point, my students had that good fortune. I have seen a few lousy teachers show up, but they didn’t last. You have no idea how quickly good teachers can make a bad teacher feel unwelcome.

In a school as small as Kiernan — or mine — the school board members are unlikely to be lawyers or doctors. They usually do the best they can. They make a lot of unpopular decisions because they have few real choices. When you have scarce resources, the best you can do often isn’t very good.

One of the reasons I made Kiernan so small was that no school with more resources would have taken a chance on Neil when he applied for a job. He was the best they could get, so they grabbed him. They were ready to cut their losses for the same reasons.

These school board members aren’t professionals and they are short on everything they need, but they are doing their best to make their school survive. Neil is angry at them, and he fights them, but in the end he understands and sympathizes.

So do I.


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