New Rochelle Board of Education: Happy school boards are all alike; every unhappy school board is unhappy in its own way

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New Rochelle Board of Education: Happy school boards are all alike; every unhappy school board is unhappy in its own way

June 19, 2014 - 22:53

MartyDaly OnSchoolBoards

I saw this post by FUSE President Marty Daly on election day back in May and it got me thinking about Leo Tolstoy. I saved it and set it aside to ponder.

The famous opening line of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

The Anna Karenina principle describes "an endeavor in which a deficiency in any one of a number of factors dooms it to failure. Consequently, a successful endeavor is one where every possible deficiency has been avoided".

Daly's conceit in publishing the quote from LoHud is that there were candidates in the race that fit the description and that one of them was not Jeffrey Hastie. It was Marty's way of telling members to vote for Anyone But Hastie. But that is the usual GOTV nonsense you hear during a campaign.

But it got me really thinking: Is there a single person on the school board who actually fits the description of "thoughtful" AND "consensus builder" AND "leaves their ego at the door" AND "leaves their agenda at the door"? Could anyone answer "yes" to that question.

In this case, each board member has a deficiency in at least one of these factors and thus dooms them to failing to meet the Daly Standard.

Lianne Merchant - agenda (to support development connected to her husband)
Valerie Orellana - largely inactive, no track record
Dr. Pam Davis - largely inactive, no track record
David Lacher - ego
Chrisanne Petrone - not thoughtful
Naomi Brickle - agenda (regarding special education services)
Rachel Relkin - agenda (regarding special education services)
Jeffrey Hastie - not a consensus builder (yet)
Deidre Polow - the only board member who does not have their ego on full display, who does not make arguments as an ideologue, who has a track record, can build consensus and is thoughtful.

I would argue that board cohesion began to come apart not because of Jeffrey Hastie but because of Naomi Brickle. Naomi was just enough of a skeptic that Jeffrey has had, from time to time, a partner on the board. Because they invariably come together to present a minority point of view and are ineffective at insisting the board rigorously adhere to Roberts Rules of Order (designed to protect the minority point of view on a public body). The two of them are not enough to overcome the rest of the board so the best they can do if to disrupt board consensus which I think largely explains frustration with Jeffrey on the board. If not for him, Naomi would not stick her neck out issues like the Lacher Insurance issue and thus there would be no disruption.

So, there is one of nine board members who meets the Daly Standard with regarding to board members. And she is leaving.

The Daly Standard also says there must be mutual respect between the board and the administration.

Can mutual respect exists when the administration flat out lies to the board or withholds critical information from them? No.

Organisciak did this. Quinn does this.

Finally, the Daly Standard places cohesion above all else. But a cohesive board is only good if the board is doing the right thing, moving in the right direction. It means nothing if the entire board is agreed on the wrong things and heading over a cliff. Lemmings come to mind.

The idea that one board member or one election is going to make a district successful is a pipe dream. And that idea that there is some George Washington figure out there to unite the board pure fantasy.

Not only has the New Rochelle school district not avoided every possible deficiency but there are many deficiencies in too many factors for the district to do anything but fail.

This is precisely why Aramark still has a contract. Why John Gallagher still has a job working in the New Rochelle schools. Why corruption continues despite the best efforts of Interim Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff. Why John Quinn remains as Business Manager despite an abysmal track record.

As it seems unlikely that we will ever have a school board compromised of 9 cohesive members who are ego-less, agenda-less, thoughtful consensus builders or a philosopher-king for a Superintendent to lead the administration about the best we can hope for is mutual respect based on openness and transparency.

There is 1 Comment

Hello Bob,

After reading this piece, it made me think about a book I mentioned to you some time ago titled David and Goliath:… by Malcolm Gladwell. Here is a quote from the book. It all fits.

“But crucially, innovators need to be disagreeable. By disagreeable, I don’t mean obnoxious or unpleasant. I mean that on that fifth dimension of the Big Five personality inventory, “agreeableness,” they tend to be on the far end of the continuum. They are people willing to take social risks—to do things that others might disapprove of.

That is not easy. Society frowns on disagreeableness. As human beings we are hardwired to seek the approval of those around us. Yet a radical and transformative thought goes nowhere without the willingness to challenge convention. “If you have a new idea, and it’s disruptive and you’re agreeable, then what are you going to do with that?” says Peterson. “If you worry about hurting people’s feelings and disturbing the social structure, you’re not going to put your ideas forward.” As the playwright George Bernard Shaw once put it: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Excerpt From: Malcolm Gladwell. “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.”