Speak softly. Carry a big stick. Wonder if Payson Schools Superintendent Ron Hitchcock is a big fan of Teddy Roosevelt.
Certainly, the consensus-building, soft-spoken, new-in-town superintendent unsettled a lot of people this week when he made a clean sweep of the district’s principals —changing the leadership at every single campus.
Moreover, he moved decisively to implement his top priority: raising student test scores.
We confess to mixed feelings about the unsettling scope and speed of the changes.
We have already expressed our deep misgivings about the maniacal focus on standardized testing when it comes to evaluating teachers and schools. We certainly support holding schools accountable and making sure our children learn what they need. But we’re not sure that focusing so obsessively on test scores in math, reading and writing will adequately measure learning.
That said, Hitchcock’s focus on boosting the district’s scores makes sense. Federal reforms have turned the adoption of national tests into a high stakes game of chicken. Even worse, the meddlesome state Legislature wants to tie school funding and teacher evaluations to an even more crude regime of around-the-clock testing.
Hitchcock understands the downside to this pernicious trend — but he has little choice but to take it seriously.
So he hired Brenda Case as director of student achievement and converted Payson High School Principal Anna Van Zile into a testing and achievement specialist at the high school — taking advantage of her deep involvement in development of the national, Common Core standards.
We don’t want to second-guess those choices — we can only sympathize with the task ahead of the district. Rim Country Middle School received a “D” on the last state rankings based largely on student AIMS scores. The district as a whole was given a “C,” which we don’t think it deserved. But in the end, the district will have to play by the rules drawn up by the addled state lawmakers, who have drafted muddled state mandates while muttering mendaciously about must less burdensome federal mandates — hacking away at the budget all the while.
In the end, anyone who has spent time in the classroom knows that delivering a great education relies on giving an inspirational, caring teacher a small enough class and enough support. The rest is just flim flam flung about by lawmakers who have cut the education budget more deeply than anywhere else in the nation.
So we hope Hitchcock makes effective use of both his soft voice and the gnarled stick he seems willing to wield.
Let the voters decide
We hope the Star Valley Council will resist the temptation to pinch pennies and shortchange the voters.
Mayor Bill Rappaport’s abrupt resignation left the remaining council members with some hard choices — which they must make quickly.
The council will meet on May 7 to decide whether to name an incumbent councilor or a member of the community to Rappaport’s vacated seat. If the council doesn’t act by May 18, the town code requires a special election within 30 to 90 days.
We hope that the council will let the voters decide.
We realize that no one bothered to challenge any of the incumbents back in November during the regular election. Further, we realize that the famously frugal council may be reluctant to spend a couple thousand dollars to hold a special election.
Still, Star Valley faces enough crucial questions that we believe the whole town would benefit from the open, vigorous discussion an election will stimulate.
For starters, changes in the state law and chronic complaints by people collecting $200 speeding tickets have raised new doubts about the speed cameras, which have slowed traffic and reduced accidents. They have also contributed mightily to the bottom line of a town without a property tax nor any significant sales tax-generating businesses. Former Mayor Rappaport was an early, tenacious advocate for the speed cameras; the election could well test public support for their retention.
Moreover, we believe that the town faces some big questions in the next few years. The current council put a welcome end to the needless water wars with neighboring Payson — one of Rappaport’s most important legacies. But we don’t believe the town has grappled seriously with other problems it may well face as a result of the combination of shallow drinking water wells and aging septic systems. The town should pay close attention to the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District’s troubles with a contaminated well before dismissing that issue.
Again, an election could help advance the discussion.
So we hope the town council will put the decision about a new mayor where it belongs — in the hands of the voters.