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The New London Board of Education and other city officials can react in one of two ways to a recent state audit of the board and school district. While they may not agree with all the observations, board members and the city officials who interact with them can view the audit as constructive criticism and motivation for self-reflection and improvement. Conversely, board members can become defensive, dismiss the findings as off base and continue to do business as they see fit.
We view with concern initial reactions that suggest some are taking the latter approach. That would be a mistake because the two consultants who fashioned the audit did their homework. The state Department of Education, which ordered the audit, has had an observer at board meetings going back a year. While arguments can be made about individual observations, the audit's overarching finding is unassailable - there is too much jousting with the administration, needless debate among board members over procedure and relatively trivial matters, and too little time spent on the substantive challenges facing the district.
As for the community as a whole, the outside observers found no unity of purpose, no shared vision for turning around the city's underperforming public schools.
"Communications between the Board of Education and School District Officials and City Officials (Mayor, City Council members) appears to range from non-existent to unproductive," concludes the audit.
Some board members and other city officials don't like the leadership of Superintendent Nicholas Fischer - we get it - but finding reasons to try to undermine his credibility helps no one, least of all students.
If a better way forward can be summed up in one recommendation, it is this:
"Board of Education meetings should focus on the large and significant issues in the schools such as improving student achievement. The Board should focus on ends - the outcomes that they want the Superintendent and his team to achieve - and use targets or benchmarks to monitor progress. Each Board meeting should contain an action item or report dealing with district and school initiatives designed to improve student achievement and close the achievement gaps."
Set goals, give the administration the leeway and backing to achieve them, judge the administration on outcomes.
Put hurt feelings aside. Failing to heed the recommendations of this audit will only prolong the school system's struggles and invite greater state intervention.