07/12/12 — So, meet: Keen's approach might be odd, but meeting wouldn't hurt

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So, meet: Keen's approach might be odd, but meeting wouldn't hurt

There is plenty of right to go around in the recent discussion over whether the Wayne County commissioners and the board of education should gather together to discuss the future of the schools.

Commissioner Steve Keen is right. There is no reason the two boards could not get together and talk about the future of the schools and what needs might be coming down the pike. A dialogue that is positive and has a working-together feel just might be what this community needs to form the kind of partnership that gets stuff done and catapults this county's schools into the upper echelons of education in North Carolina.

Commission Chairman John Bell is right, too. In the past, the county commissioners have been more critically meddlesome than partners in improving the schools. They have been abrasive and called into question every procedure, motive and even the judgment of district leaders.

The conflict resulted in this horrible stand-off period that resulted in bickering, name-calling and meddling -- and nothing that resembled working toward making the schools better.

And Jack Best is right, too. Why not go ahead and meet again? It might be a bust, but what if, this time, a real alliance is formed and something special accomplished.

So, in the interest of community service, we thought we would help both parties out by setting a few ground rules they could consider following:

• Listen more than you talk. Moving forward as a community requires all its leaders to focus on what's best, not what makes them look good. That means forging an understanding. You can't understand if you are constantly talking about what you THINK the real situation is.

• Leave the egos at the door. OK, we get it, you each have kingdoms you want to protect. And you might even suspect that the other party might not necessarily be your friend. Truth is, the commissioners do not know enough to run the county schools -- and it is not their job to do so. Truth is, the county does provide taxpayer money to the schools, which it is responsible for managing, and it is charged with making sure those funds are handled properly. This is no time for feather plumping, not if the goal really is a viable plan for the next step. You are going to hear some bad stuff, some wrong stuff and some unfair stuff. Educate if necessary and hold your tongue when you feel the urge to lash out. That's how you get from finger-pointing to substantive discussion.

• Think big. Think smart. Think long term. This is the time for talking about what-ifs, what's worked and what could be. You are not signing an irrevocable trust. Relax.

• Do your homework first. Come on guys, school business is complicated, but what we really should be talking first are facilities, support systems and how to attract the best teachers to Wayne County. That will make a difference. The rest is just window-dressing as far as forging the county's academic future goes.

And last, but not least:

• Don't be hypocrites. You both have PR people, so back off. You both have high-dollar CEOs, so back off that, too. You both even have layers of bureaucracy and requirements that are out of your control that the other does not understand. Resist the temptation to grandstand. It will get us nowhere.

And if you need some motivation -- a chance to see what can happen if a bunch of people really join forces to get something done -- look around.

This county's residents are famous for their hearts, their honor code, their determination and their ability to get stuff accomplished.

Perhaps you could model yourselves after them.

Published in Editorials on July 12, 2012 11:14 AM