Richland 2 Chief Linked to Educational Consultants

Richland – As reported in last week’s edition of The Voice, an Efficiency and Effectiveness Study (E&E study), conducted by the Evergreen Solutions consultant group and commissioned by the Richland 2 School District, was full of vocabulary unique to the teaching model of the Schlechty Center, a private professional development consultant for school districts that has close ties to Richland 2 Superintendent Dr. Katie Brochu. Evergreen Solutions, which was recommended by Dr. Brochu, had not previously recommended programs and initiatives supporting Schlechty Center initiatives. In fact, Evergreen Solutions had not even conducted a district-wide E&E study prior to the study it conducted for Richland 2.

The connection between the Schlechty Center, Evergreen Solutions and Richland 2 Superintendent Dr. Brochu has raised some eyebrows, and the relationship between the District and professional development has been in question since Brochu’s hire. It is the same professional development program that was used in her previous district.

Prior to her first superintendent position, Brochu was a principal in Georgia under Superintendent George Thompson. In 1994, Brochu took the helm of Sumter County Schools in Georgia, a 4,500-student district. In 1995, Thompson left his superintendent position to become senior associate of the Schlechty Center based in Louisville, Ky. In 1997, Thompson launched the Superintendents Leadership Network (SLN), with Brochu as a founding member. Thompson has since moved from senior associate to president of Schlechty Center.

The SLN received its funding from the Bell South Foundation to increase technology benefits to schools in the Southeastern part of the United States. The SLN broadened its focus to national public schools with the support of Cisco Systems, a worldwide leader in networking that aims to transform how people communicate and collaborate. Several times a year, member superintendents are invited to attend private conferences hosted by the Schlechty Center with the purpose of networking and sharing practices with one another. A recent reply to a Freedom of Information request to Richland 2 seeking membership costs reported that “no membership fees are paid to Schlechty Center.” Schlechty Center is a private organization that does not have to publish their membership dues. An investigative reporter for the Dalton (Ga.) Daily Citizen reported in May 2010 that Schlechty’s membership fees vary by district, but that minimum membership fees are $60,000 annually. If the elusive comprehensive professional development report that was requested of Dr. Brochu months ago by the Richland 2 School Board had came to fruition, perhaps the public would have easy access to this information.

Schlechty proponents are outspoken critics of national education standards and the new Common Core Standards that are currently the model for most school districts. Schlechty’s concern is that in the current system, teachers spend an inordinate amount of time teaching for success on assessment tests (whether state or nationally required) and that the measurement on the test is not indicative of the student’s grasp of knowledge. Schlechty advocates collaboration and high technology integration in schools.

During the first year that Schlechty Center handles professional development for a school district they seek to teach teachers, administrators and district personnel a new language. Schlechty takes it a step further in that every student should have material presented to them in a customized approach that gives them ownership of the subject and a willingness to delve into it further without teacher prodding. The lessons are called “Work.” A book written by Schlechty founder Phillip Schlechty, “Working With Work,” is the foundation of the WOW conference series that many Richland 2 teachers have attended multiple times around the country.

In an interview shortly after his book “Inventing Better Schools” was written, Schlechty was quoted as saying, “If we fail, the education of our youth will increasingly be in the hands of sources and forces totally outside the ken [range of knowledge] and control of the family, the local community, or even the state; for increasingly, the de facto educative agencies are those agencies such as national electronic media that take for granted that students are customers whose attention must be earned and whose commitment must be deserved rather than commanded. When family and communities lose control of the education of the youth, they have lost control of the future, and with this loss of control comes, almost certainly, the demise of democracy and the rise of a totalitarian system of information control. School reform is a civic matter as well as a matter of economic concern.”

Like the SLN, the Standard Bearers Network is a program for school districts willing to follow the tenets of CEO Phillip Schlechty and President George Thompson. Richland 2 has been doing Standard Bearers work for the last couple of years. Last fall, a group from Richland 2 (Sue Mellette, Chief Academic Officer; Nancy Gregory, Director of curriculum Instruction and Professional Development; Denise Barth, Principal of Catawba Elementary; Alison Mathews, elementary teacher) travelled to FIFE School District in Tacoma, Wash., to see firsthand how entire school districts can do the “work” of transforming entire communities and the transforming nature of Schlechty.

FIFE school district has 3,500 students, five schools and, according to School Digger data, is currently ranked 140th out of 216 districts in Washington. Richland 2 has 27,000 students, 39 schools and, according to School Digger, currently 20th out of 75 S.C. districts.

If Schlechty Center has been pushing these design models for education for 20-plus years – why are only 1 percent of the school districts in the United States using the models? Why are so many of the Schlechty users from small, under-performing districts? Why won’t the Board supply a comprehensive list of the professional development fees paid to Schlechty and others? Why has the Board been so silent on the direction of our district?

Where are the community partnerships that have been mentioned as a foundation pillar by Schlechty? Why has the public not been kept informed of this process, which has been in the works for nearly three years? The Board has heard concerns and been asked for explanations that might have been settled with an open forum, but for nearly three years the District and Board have stubbornly refused to engage in an open dialogue.

Also of great concern to parent groups has been the assumption by Schlechty that the Superintendent and Board are experts in education and willing to do the research and stay abreast of local, national and global trends.

Schlechty Center, their language and philosophy have become embedded into the fabric of Richland 2 school district. Since the point is not to reform (make improvements) but to transform the district into an entirely new animal with leadership coming from the District Office and community building coming from the School Board, the time has well come for both to have transparent dialogue with the public.

The inquisitive, ground-breaking and collaborative work expected from every student has not been replicated between the District, the School Board and the community.

Next week, a look at the district and board’s new promotion of Schlechty and at what the district is spending with Schlechty for personal development.

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