Make it all about the ones not there

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Beloit needs its best and brightest to step up to stabilize school district.

THE EVENTS OF last Tuesday evening - leading to three resignations from the Beloit school board - were unexpected, though not beyond understanding.

For years, it seems, the School District of Beloit has been mired in ongoing disputes between board members, and, between board members and administrators. Sometimes, the cause appeared to be policy or procedural differences. Other times, the underlying issue was a power struggle. And, too often, it just came down to personality clashes.

Meanwhile, the many very real problems - weak academic performance, student conduct issues, high staff turnover - went largely unaddressed or, at least, effectively unaddressed. That's what can happen when adults stop acting like adults, and lose sight of the real reason they're there.

SO, IN A PHRASE, let's remind them: It's not all about the adults in the meeting room.

To the contrary, mostly it should always be about the people who are not in the board room. Included in that list are the students, their parents and families, and the taxpayers and voters who are footing the bill for everything.

They are not seated around the board table. They are not pulling down six-figure salaries as administrators. Generally, they're not even in the audience, or among relatively small groups of advocates who show up over this or that single issue.

Instead, they are busy with the daily routine of earning a living and trying to make a life, with parents trusting their kids to the district in the interest of getting the kind of education that allows youngsters to become successful adults upon graduation. That trust has been placed under considerable stress by the continuing dysfunction of district leadership.

Unless that directionless malpractice is cleaned up, the district will be hard-pressed to move forward.

TO THAT POINT, there's little to be learned and less to be gained by dwelling on what just happened. Instead of acting as a cohesive deliberative body engaged in fact-based policy-making and oversight, the board devolved into a fractured collection of individuals with competing agendas and clashing personalities. The net result - without pointing fingers at anyone in particular - was institutional failure.

What truly matters is what comes next. The first order of business is to find three talented replacements for the departed board members.

That will not be simple or easy. District dysfunction has been going on for years. The most recent board did not invent it, but certainly perpetuated it. No doubt, there's a good deal of trepidation among stakeholders about volunteering to join the circus.

We offer this thought. There's an old saying that anyone can steer the ship through calm waters.

What's needed now is talent - educated, smart people with a depth of knowledge and experience, accustomed to analyzing problems, gathering facts and applying creative solutions within organizational structures. Beloit has plenty of people who match that description. This is the time for those people to engage with the community's most pressing need.

HERE'S ANOTHER THOUGHT for those with the right skill set. This doesn't have to be a life-long commitment. The three positions vacated by resignation will be on the ballot in April for a more permanent replacement. There's nothing in accepting an appointment now that commits the appointee to running for election next spring. That decision can wait. Putting together a functional board now can't.

So we hope Beloit's best and brightest consider volunteering for the job. Yes, we know, the history over the past few years lends itself to discouraging the busiest and best people from applying. But a democracy ceases to function when stakeholders turn away. If Beloiters believe this is fixable - and they'd better believe that - those with the ability to change the course and culture need to step up now.

We've said it before and we'll say it again. Failing to fix this school district cannot be an option. The community's future is within the walls of the school buildings, right now, as you read this.

Beloit can build pretty buildings. It can up the public relations game.

But if the school district is allowed to keep stumbling along this meandering path of mediocrity, the rest of Beloit's effort will fall short. The linchpin of any successful community is training the next generation to reach ever higher.

AS FOR THE FOUR remaining members of the school board - Wendy Sanchez, Pam Charles, David Wilson and Kyle Larsen - this should be a sobering moment. The disarray must - and should - seem overwhelming. The board has imploded. The most recent superintendent, Tom Johnson, is gone. The search for a replacement disintegrated. Turnover continues. Leadership has been absent.

This situation did not just materialize out of the blue. Every one of you - those remaining, those departed - own a piece of it. Falling prey to petty concerns at the expense of larger goals has been endemic among school officials for years.

That must stop. Now.

Get committed to excellence, or get out. Get committed to accountability, or get out. Get committed to collaboration, or get out. Get committed to civility, and transparency, and fulfilling proper roles, or get out.

Where we are is an embarrassment.

Where we need to go is an opportunity.

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