The Jordan-Elbridge school board controversy has been in the news again this past week--The Post-Standard's editorial today has a decent synopsis of the story. I played a minor role in the process, when I was brought in as the outside moderator for the big public meeting on October 6, when the board decided to set aside additional time for public comment before it fired its lawyer and went forward with proceedings against the high school's principal, among other actions. 800 people attended the meeting, and about 600 of them were really mad. Afterward, I wrote about the experience in The Auburn Citizen, and made a plea to the community to focus on healing as best it could.
It's rare that a political event makes me sick to my stomach, and I'm not talking here about the deflation I get watching a particularly distasteful negative political ad. I'm talking about something more visceral, a reaction to violence, akin to the feeling you get when you witness a car collision, or a couple having a vocal, bitter argument in the middle of the shopping mall. But that's the feeling I got that night as I watched members of the community rip into the board, and each other. This was despite the fact that the meeting went fairly well by some standards--everyone who had signed up to speak was able to speak, hear a response from the board, and then provide a brief rebuttal, and there were even some others who had not signed up who were also able to speak. But the anger in the room was deep and raw, and it flashed frequently. One of the community members who came up to me afterward told me that going in, he had fully expected physical violence to erupt before the meeting was over.
Local education is always a touchy subject. In this case, many in the community have rallied behind the dismissed staff, particularly the principal--that's to be expected when there is no information. And the principal has been encouraging the community in that reaction--the ginning up was clearly on display the night of October 6. Community members are furious that they don't know why this is happening, and they are rightfully worried about the future health of the school system. The board asserts they have good reason to do what they are doing, but that they cannot divulge their reasons for doing it because of legal concerns.
My hunch--and underline that this is just a hunch, based on things as murky as the vibes I picked up at the meeting--is that the board's disciplinary actions will be vindicated, if not its way of handling the communications regarding those actions. Investigators from the attorney general's office coming in to the district a few weeks ago to inquire about student records is a clue that supports that hunch. In this regard, the Post-Standard's editorial today, which seems to locate the main problem in the secrecy of the board and the government being "run on autopilot" may be a tad off the mark, I think. To repeat, this is based on a hunch and I could be wrong.
The biggest tragedy though, and what made my stomach turn on October 6, and what I wrote about in The Citizen, is that the community is now headed down the path of a nasty divorce, with itself.
Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.
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