We’ve got a bad feeling about this, Toto. At tonight’s Payson School Board meeting, Superintendent of Schools Ron Hitchcock will submit his resignation, which will take effect at the end of the school year in June. That’s bad news for our kids, given the delay and indecision his abrupt departure will inevitably cause.
The school board hired Mr. Hitchcock some 18 months ago to serve as an agent of change. Our students had accumulated mediocre test scores. Schools were dwindling into the danger zone on the warped but lamentably inevitable state rating system, with its disproportionate weight on standardized test scores of the weakest students. The district’s families were struggling in the face of the recession, enrollment was dropping, we faced the trauma of school closures and the district had foisted on the parents the cost of supporting sports and extracurricular activities.
Hitchcock offered some difficult remedies — and a clear focus. Like it or not, school funding and teacher evaluations must rest more and more on standardized test results. Like it or not, the district had to perform painful budget triage. Like it or not, the district had to prepare for onerous state mandates when it comes to teacher evaluations and school funding. Like it or not, the Arizona Legislature had abandoned schools and voted in the deepest education spending cuts in the nation.
Hitchcock tackled these problems with energy and clarity. He shuffled the school principals, installed volunteer coordinators and turned some of the best teachers into mentors for the rest of the faculty, with an unflinching focus on bringing up student test scores.
He also stumbled several times — and stirred up inevitable opposition with the sweep and pace of the changes instituted. We disagreed with his recommendation to sell Frontier Elementary School. We struggled to understand the logic in some of the changes, while never doubting Mr. Hitchcock’s devotion to the district and its students. We lamented the unseemly and divisive public fight about whether school principals really had the time to also serve as coaches.
Still, we were grieved when we learned of his intention to resign. Our schools balance now on a ledge. We can ill afford a year of indecision and delay, followed by the inevitable confusions and dislocations that come when you change leadership at the top.
The situation will put a great weight of responsibility on the school board to keep in place the best of Hitchcock’s changes, while also finding the pragmatic, inspirational, creative leader we so desperately need.
But in the meantime, the sky looks bruised and swollen as the twister bears down on us. All we can do is hope that it sets us down somewhere close to a road of yellow bricks.