Socastee High School teacher Robert Chandler carries first and last names that mean “bright with glory” and “candlemaker,” appropriate for somebody who’s become doggedly determined to shine a light into dark places. Horry County Board of Education members might be forgiven for believing that the name actually means “thorn in the side.”
Chandler, who has been a critic of the school district’s governance model for years, recently ramped up his public campaign once more, speaking at school board meetings, writing letters to the editor (many of which have been published in these pages) and urging others to also speak up and ask pointed questions.
Chandler brings with him to this fight decades of stellar experience in the classroom, teaching history and government. He’s been honored multiple times as teacher of the year or most inspirational teacher. We certainly admire his long record of service to local students, and his willingness to stand up for what he believes. But while we wish him the best, we’ve found it hard to get similarly exercised.
Chandler’s complaint revolves around how Horry County schools are governed. He’s chafed for years at the “policy governance” model adopted by the district in 2000. The change removed school board members from the day-to-day running of the district, giving that responsibility to district staff instead, namely the superintendent. School board members still set district policy and vote on budgets, but do not involve themselves in, for example, complaints about an individual teacher or relocating the daily line of cars waiting to pick up children.
Chandler may be right when he says most people aren’t aware that school board members have limited power in items such as these. Most folks, we imagine, believe that the school board members they elect have the power to change what they might dislike about local schools and are nonplussed by the idea that such authority rests instead with the superintendent. We have no doubt that Chandler’s also right when he points out that few school districts in the country use this model, and of those that do, some have had problems. But neither of those points are enough to swing the pendulum back to a model that encouraged school board members to do too much intervening.
Board members who voted in 2000 to remove what had been a sometimes irresistible temptation to micromanage the running of the county’s schools should be thanked. By doing so, they freed then-Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait and now Superintendent Cindy Elsberry to continuously improve our area’s schools, answerable to the school board, but without fear that their decisions and plans would be constantly undermined by meddlesome, politically motivated martinets.
Horry County students consistently outperform students from similar districts in state assessments. And innovative changes such as the leadership themes that attendance areas have adopted will help mold the next generation of students into not only academic leaders but civic leaders as well. In other words, though there’s still progress to be made, Horry County Schools has flourished under this governance model.
When Elsberry retires or moves on, it may be worth taking the time to revisit the policy before hiring a new superintendent – something the board can already do at any time. And it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation, where board members are either up to their elbows in school business or removed entirely from day-to-day operations. The board could adopt whatever model it wants, including some middle ground that gives them more power but prevents the worst excesses of micromanaging.
But without some reason to change – and Chandler readily admits he can point to no specific problems caused by the current system – it’s hard to be too concerned. For now, and for the past 13 years, it seems to be working just fine.
Squeaky wheels like Chandler are needed to make us question our assumptions from time to time. Is this really the right path to be taking? Have we adopted the best policy? Do we need to change a long-held belief? Sometimes, those challenges will lead to needed changes. Other times – and this is one of those other times – the questioning merely affirms that we’ve been doing it right.
No disrespect to Chandler, whose value as a teacher we very much believe in. We’re just not yet convinced.