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How will school board rebuild consensus?

How much time is enough time? That seems to be the crux of the question for Troy City School Board members Judson Edwards and Wally Lowery, who on Thursday opposed all three recommendations for new principals within the Troy City Schools.

Their vocal opposition to Dr. Linda Felton-Smith’s recommendations spurred a flurry of concern and questions after the called meeting and on Friday, fanning an already much-debated situation as the school system seeks to replace all three campus principals before the start of the 2010-2011 school year. Their explanation was simple: 30 minutes of notice during a work session, prior to a vote, simply wasn’t enough time for the two men to feel comfortable voting on the superintendent’s recommendations. They had questions about the applicant pool, the decision-making process, the candidates being recommended..

But administrators were pressed by a sense of urgency over the need to have principals in place to prepare for the upcoming school year, and their efforts to act decisively and quickly have backfired.

To the public watching, it’s easy to spot the missed opportunity to build consensus. Whether due to a lack of time, a lack of requirement or simply a lack of precedent, the chance to gain school board members’ buy-in and support on the hiring decisions wasn’t utilized. Leaders within the Troy City Schools – and dozens of community volunteers – have invested heavily in the past two years to develop a strategic plan for the schools. A significant part of that plan is building community consensus and support, something which is critical to the future success of our city schools. The process, and this vote, have dealt a heavy blow to that effort.

Some critics will argue the real issue here is the role school board members are taking in the hiring process, with Edwards and Lowery feeling a commitment to be more involved in the decisions. They see their role as a quasi-political one in which they, even though appointed school board members, must answer to the public for decisions made within the school system. And, with that responsibility weighing on their minds, they made a public stand.

Whether you agree or disagree, it’s done.

The question now becomes one of the next action. How will these men, the superintendent and the other school board members work to rebuild a sense of shared vision and consensus? More important, how will they communicate that to the stakeholders in Troy City Schools: the parents, students, teachers, administrators, and taxpayers? We have three new principals, and thousands of taxpayers, waiting for an answer.