Naked emperor? 'Glitchy system' triggers call for school leadership change
In the wake of the Hook's recent cover story Glitchy system: Inside the student software debacle, which examined the County's purchase of a faulty student information system and revealed potential conflicts of interest between school administrators and Schoolnet, the company that supplied the software, school board members have been bombarded with complaints from angry parents.
"We need new leadership for our schools, and we need it now," writes Carmen Garcia, founder of CASE (Citizens of Albemarle Supporting Education), in an email to County School board chair Steve Koleszar. "I hope you'll wake from your peaceful slumber and realize that, as a friend of mine brilliantly reminded me, the emperor has no clothes."
Garcia, who founded her group of County school parents last year in response to the implementation of the controversial 4x4 class schedule, contends that the student information system debacle is another mistake by superintendent Pam Moran.
"We have tried to warn you and the public about the huge conflict of interest we perceived as Dr. Moran's image and words were used to advertise SchoolNet's products," Garcia writes. "Now that the truth has been made public, I want to ask the Albemarle County School Board: What are you going to do about it?"
Parents are also demanding that Moran release the 268 emails concerning the school system's relationship with Schoolnet that were withheld following the Hook's Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request.
"Dr. Moran should be directed to provide everything requested under the FOIA," writes one parent in an email to Koleszar. "Please correct me if I'm wrong in the impression that Dr. Moran works under your direction."
Koleszar admits that last year's purchase of the Schoolnet student information system was a "serious error," but he insists that the instruction management program the company supplied "continues to be a valuable tool for administrators and teachers."
Not to all teachers. As reported, many Albemarle faculty have found the nearly $2 million package a "waste of time," and many refuse to use it.
Yet Moran, with awards from local and national organizations, has built a professional reputation as a technology innovator and has endorsed Schoolnet products in company press releases. Such circumstances have created unease among some local parents.
"There is no conflict of interest with Dr. Moran. She has not received any payments from Schoolnet," writes Koleszar in response to parent emails.
"The administration you are supporting so vehemently is taking jobs from the highest bidder and moving [them] to other communities or spending time endorsing specific products," writes parent Rebecca Dameron. "This does not serve our community."
Coincidently, Moran and her administration will be conducting a School Board work session on September 22 designed to encourage more spending on technology, specifically digital "learning spaces" and teacher use of technological "power tools."
"This is how the administration sells its ideas to the school board, during these work sessions" says Garcia. "As you'll notice in the agenda materials, they quote people who are in the business of selling technology."
Indeed, in an outline of the upcoming meeting, to be held at Monticello High School’s "media center," aka its library, Moran emphasizes the importance of 21st-century learning by referencing books by Diana Oblinger (a Microsoft executive) and Bernie Trilling (Oracle executive) and Charles Fadel (Cisco Systems executive).
"As the Hook pointed out, and the New York Times wrote, there's no real academic evidence to support the fact that technology enhances student learning," says Garcia. "And the administration doesn't include other viewpoints, just these from people in the technology business."
Garcia thinks there should be a freeze on tech spending– and she plans to say so after Thursday's presentation from Moran– until the administration can demonstrate exactly how the millions spent on the systems have improved student learning.
"The school board is under the reins of the school administration," says Garcia. "They are supposed to be policy makers, not politicians, yet they ignore our complaints and suggestions, and confer with the administration when controversies like this erupt."
Neither Koleszar nor Moran replied to a reporter's request for comment.
"Unfortunately, personal agendas have gotten in the way of what's best for our school system," says Garcia "There's nothing wrong with wanting to be ambitious, but Superintendant Moran is promoting herself so much as an innovator that the real issues are being neglected."
And what are the real issues? Garcia goes back to the one that initiated the founding of CASE.
"We have always just wanted to see smaller class sizes," she says. "It's not rocket science."