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Chatham school board chairman Deb McManus presents convoluted response to the AP schedule debacle

By William "Chip" Pate Jr., Ph.D.
Posted Sunday, August 22, 2010

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Pittsboro, NC - Five weeks after asking the Chatham County Board of Education to change the school calendar so students don't have to walk from spring break directly into Advanced Placement exams, I finally received a response from school board chair Deb McManus. Given the board's failure, you can imagine the convoluted reply.

It began with a laborious description of the calendar process, which has no bearing on whether spring break could have been shifted one week earlier. The centerpiece of this paragraph was how the board considered an "electronic survey" that included responses from many who had no knowledge about the AP exam schedule or any stake in the scheduling conflict.

Oh, yes, and a paragraph about how wonderful and bright her daughters were when they took AP courses years ago.

Then, a turn for the bizarre. McManus suggested students might be better off because they can "rest, study and review" with a 10-day break before the tests.

Really? How, exactly, is that better than being able to study and review on your own AND in class with teachers?

That doesn't even take into account that many families use this break around Easter to visit grandparents, take a quick vacation or make college visits with their college-bound children — often-exhausting visits, no less. Nor the fact that even the most capable high school students I know revert to late nights awake and pursuits beyond the books during any break from school.

Does the school board chair actually believe teenagers will somehow miraculously transform into monks during spring break, spending a full week in solitary study?

It got even worse.

McManus suggested that teachers can "make themselves available for questions during the break." Many will, but let's consider this carefully: The school board is expecting its employees to spend their own family vacations doing long-distance tutoring. These are the same teachers who already work long hours beyond the school day, take students to weekend field trips and competitions, work without pay during the summer and spend several nights each semester selling tickets to sporting events.

Then, it was time for McManus to blame the teachers. "If our AP teachers feel strongly that this put their students at a disadvantage," she writes, "they should have spoken up." Frankly, I've heard nothing but frustration — even anger — from AP teachers I know, who said they did speak up through their administrations. It's simply not kosher to go over their principals' heads directly to the board.

But that's irrelevant, anyway. Whether or not that message got to the board as clearly and forcefully as it was felt, teachers should not have had to speak up loudly. School officials and the board had the information and should have made the right decision on behalf of the teachers and students.

So, McManus blamed nameless people in a survey, blamed AP teachers (falsely) for not speaking up and suggested all will be fine when teachers spend their vacations answering student questions. What she did NOT do was suggest any reason why spring break could not have been shifted one week earlier this one year or acknowledge that the board made a serious mistake, even when it's patently obvious that it did.

At least there was a good chuckle in her reply — an ironic email signature featuring a quote from the late business guru Peter Drucker: "Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things."

Let's be honest: If school officials and board members are serious about improving student achievement and the reputation of Chatham County Schools in our own communities — much less among families and businesses looking for a place in the Research Triangle region to relocate — this isn't the best strategy.

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Chatham school board chairman Deb McManus presents convoluted response to the AP schedule debacle
Chatham county school board chairman Deb McManus.
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