Divisiveness must end

Published 6:19 pm Friday, June 21, 2013

As a member of this community and education profession for the better part of the last three decades, I have watched a number of changes occur — some good and some not.

The ongoing attacks on our public schools — specifically targeted leaders — are some of the more abysmal. While freedom of speech is a right of each citizen, there is no place for individuals who are disrespectful, malicious, carry personal vendettas and malign the character of leaders, teachers and our profession.

Over the last several years, a small group of self-anointed vigilantes has made threats, engaged in personal attacks, distributed the equivalent of “wanted” posters in the community, claimed that our schools are unsafe and unfit, and portrayed leaders and staff as incompetent good ol’ boys and gals who are self-serving and prejudiced when decisions not to their liking are made. Rather than impartial citizens who guard against injustices and unethical conduct, this group has taken words out of context, spread untruths and propaganda, stated publicly that their mission is to run specific individuals out of town, and then chastised those same leaders for not sitting down at the table to talk. This group is not interested in improving the community or our schools. As one of the spokespersons said after a recent public rant, “How was my performance … how’d I do?” And that’s exactly what this is to the group-a performance, a charade, and a game. A game played by a few who hide in the background and manipulate others.

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Your school system employs people with all of the fine character traits and flaws that human beings possess. None is perfect. However, they are collectively one of the hardest working, dedicated groups in the business who have the best interest of students, this community and the improvement of the system at heart. As public servants who work with children, educators are under constant scrutiny. They are upheld for having high expectations by some and accused of having low expectations by others, told to hire the best candidate for a job and berated if the person recommended was not the friend or relative they wanted hired, congratulated for handling an issue well while simultaneously being threatened for mishandling the same issue and praised for being transparent while being criticized for being too open.

It is unfortunate that employees cannot respond to the allegations levied against them. Privacy rights typically prohibit comment. What this system is doing and commenting on publicly, however, are the many initiatives in place to address areas of concern. Problems are not swept under the rug, as has been suggested, but are dealt with — and that’s the rub. The system is addressing its weaknesses, holding its employees accountable, promoting safety, ethical conduct and high standards, seeking the opinions and involvement of stakeholders in the process, and working to make Decatur County Schools move from good to great.

The vigilantes can continue their mission. They waste our time and your tax dollars — but that is the plan. Or, you can decide that you prefer a community where people treat others with dignity and respect and seek to improve quality of life. You can decide whether these self-appointed watchdogs have legitimate concerns or are simply working personal agendas and trying to discredit others. You can decide whether the individuals speaking on behalf of other organizations are doing so with the endorsement of those groups or in violation of their own internal bylaws.

You can decide whether you agree or disagree with their allegations and whether they should divert the focus away from helping children and toward their own personal gain. You can end the divisiveness but only if you act. Here’s hoping that you do choose to become part of the solution to improve our schools and restore statesmanship, professionalism, and civility in our community.

Dr. Suzi Bonifay

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Decatur County Schools