There are lessons to learn from systems behaving badly.
In the midst of staffing troubles in New York City schools where abundant layoffs have displaced top talent, the system struggles with bad practices.
Cathie Black took the helm as Chancellor of NYC schools last year with much acclaim from the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Rudy Giuliani and Ed Koch. Emerging from corporate gentry, Black did not last the night in public schools, leaving after 95 days on the job.
Public education is hard work. Ask Bloomberg appointee Black. Ask a teacher. When hiring goes bad the damage to morale is cancerous to teachers, classrooms and student achievement. Good teachers leave. Tax dollars follow. Students lose. Take a look around at counties, once lands of milk and honey, brought to their knees through bad hiring and corruption leading to indictments and wastelands.
Black, Hearst Magazines superstar, required a waiver to get her job. She possessed no requisite experience to run NYC schools.
Black is a poster child example of Jim Collins' argument that it is the "who" that matters. Get the right people on the bus and in the right positions; get the wrong ones off.
2011 NYC Education Commissioner David Steiner remarked that Black's deficiencies in formal qualifications were "offset by the appointment of a chief academic officer to serve by her side" who had a background in "successfully leading complex organizations."
But public schools proved no cake walk for this pair. Within hours of Black's resignation Steiner resigned as well. One by one they fell from the bus.
It takes schools years to recover from bad hiring; some students don't.
Now, one year later in NYC schools, a nepotism scandal rocks the system under new Chancellor Dennis Walcott, successor to Black, who also needed a waiver to get the chancellor job. They never learn.
Angel Namnum, a $190,000-a-year executive director, pressured one of his pawns to create a position for his wife, according to a report by special schools investigators.
Walcott said Namnum, who began his career as a substitute teacher in 1987, has been fired.
"It is obvious to me that Mr. Namnum abused his responsibility and privileges to secure a job for his wife, who was clearly unqualified," Walcott added.
After being fined $1,250 by the Conflict of Interest Board in 2008 for securing a principal's job for his brother, Namnum grew bolder, then unemployed.
NYC conflicts of interest law prohibits employees from using their positions for financial gain for themselves, relatives and friends.
When systems forego the meaningful work of student achievement and abandon best practices the results are a lack of public trust, decimation of morale and lower student achievement.
Ironically, of the 1.3 million students in the U.S. graduating class of 2011 who did not graduate, 73,000 of them, or 5.6 percent, were from NYC schools.
It was smart to get Black, Steiner and Namnum off the bus. Unfortunately, 73,000 students went with them.
Jeff Meadors represents District 1 on the Newton County Board of Education. He may be reached at Jeffrey.firstname.lastname@example.org.