Accountability at the top

Published 9:55 pm Monday, January 16, 2012

The Suffolk School Board had some tough topics to discuss during its monthly meeting last week. On-time graduation, student discipline and an underachieving elementary school were among the problems for which members wanted updates. Significantly, all three topics relate directly to Suffolk’s sketchy performance under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Having failed to achieve so-called Adequate Yearly Progress toward meeting its standards of learning benchmarks, Elephant’s Fork Elementary School is poised to find itself forced to restructure if things do not improve this year.

With two of three high schools failing last year to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, on-time graduation is another topic of special interest to the School Board and school administrators. That statistic is a new one in the calculus of school success as measured by the state and federal governments, and it’s one with a direct and measurable effect on the quality of life in Suffolk.

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Closely related to graduation rates is the need for student discipline. Students who repeatedly wind up in trouble find it hard to keep up with their classmates academically, and the more days they miss in high school, the more unlikely it is they will graduate on time.

One change that will make a difference as Suffolk’s public schools work to improve their test scores this year and in the years to come is a state requirement for regular evaluations of teachers and principals. Good teachers help make good schools, and good principals are good leaders.

The School Board should take the example of teacher and principal evaluations and further apply it to the school system’s administration. Especially with educational funding as tight as it has been, the need now is greater than ever for administrators to drive good results and for those results to be measured and evaluated by taxpayers through the elected School Board.

The School Board should set reasonable and transparent goals for the school system, work with the administration to develop a plan to achieve those goals and then hold administrators accountable for the success or failure to do so.

Accountability is vital to education. Students and parents should be accountable for their work, attentiveness and discipline. Teachers and principals should be accountable for classroom discipline and academic results. Administrators should be accountable for system-wide achievement. And the School Board should be accountable to citizens for educational effectiveness and financial stewardship.

With the recent changes in state law, the main thing missing from that equation is a publicly transparent system of accountability for school administrators. It’s time for the School Board to set up that system.