Wednesday, July 23, 2008

School Cynicism

When I first began working at the Flyer, I covered education. Basically, the woman I replaced as calendar editor liked that beat, and though I didn't have any particular affinity for educational issues, it seemed as good of a beat as any.

(In general, I think education is considered a good assignment for cub reporters. Most of the people you cover are educators so not only don't they mind answering dumb questions, they actually see it as part of their mission in life. The beat also will get your feet wet re: construction issues, budgets, data sets, and, if you're a lucky little reporter, scandal.)

It's been a while since I've really covered education in any depth, however. Since Janel Davis relocated to the D.C. area, I've considered John Branston our key education reporter.

Despite all that, I agreed to interview new Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash. The resulting interview, weeks in the making (you have no idea! and I don't think it's fair to go into on the blog, but if you see me out and you want to hear an interesting story, I'll by more than happy to share), is currently up on the Flyer's website.

Once I actually got to talk to him, Cash was easy to talk to. But I have to say, I think a lot of the things he said sound very similar to what Carol Johnson said during her first interview with me. We're going to work hard, hold people accountable, change the perception of the school system, build coalitions ...

And while all those things still sound good, I guess I've gotten more cynical.

When I first started thinking of questions for the new superintendent, the one I kept coming back to was: Why would anyone want that job? (I'm not the only cynic. Most people I asked who weren't the superintendent had one answer — money.)

It seems to me that they're set up to fail, getting a hero's welcome the moment they step in the door (and, okay, maybe they deserve a hero's welcome for wanting to step in the door in the first place) and then we find out they're just as human, just as flawed, as everyone else.

I mean, we're talking about a billion dollar operating budget here.

I'm sure that Cash will work hard and build coalitions, but even with a public mandate, I'm not convinced it will make a difference.

And, obviously, I'm not sold on that changing perception thing, either.

But I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

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