- Kathryn Patterson
ECP: Cobb County School Board's Web of Distrust
As the entire process of hiring a new superintendent played out over the past month, I became aware that from the start I did not trust the candidate, Dr. Michael Hinojosa. Before reading anything about the man, before his meet and greet sessions, and through no fault of his own, I simply did not trust the man. Why then, did I have such an immediate, strong reaction? Because the Cobb County School Board recommended him. Under the covers, Internet security runs on webs of trust. In layman’s terms, this concept means if I want to talk to you but I’m not certain if I can trust you, a mutual friend authenticates you as a trustworthy individual. Then I trust you, and I confer my own trustworthiness to you when I introduce you to new people. This is not a new concept - society itself runs on webs of trust. When a friend recommends an article for you to read, that recommendation is a strand on your personal web of trust. When a door-to-door salesman wants you to change garbage companies, he tells you that he sold your neighbors, to try and cash in on the neighborhood web of trust. Usually, a local school board would be at the center of a web of trust within a community. Instead, the Cobb County School Board managed to create something opposite of that - they created a web of distrust. This web of distrust works exactly like a web of trust, only in reverse. So, if the school board makes a decision, the community reacts skeptically, initially disliking the decision unless there are overriding reasons to like it. When the school board initially picked Dr. Hinojosa, the man walked into a situation where the majority of the community would not trust him, simply because the school board did. The ramifications of this distrust mean that the man gets no benefit of the doubt on statements, he gets no leeway from the community, and he works under scrutiny until he proves he does not need such scrutiny. In case this seems unfair to you, remember that trust, or distrust, is contagious. That’s how the web works. If the school board wants for the distrust to change, they will have to make some changes internally and externally. First, the school board needs to act in a normal manner. By “normal”, I mean act in a manner that is appropriate to the situation. Taking Dr. Hinojosa as an example, the school board approached the man and offered him the job for secret reasons. I know that they, the board, probably followed the letter of the law with this appointment, but it feels like they ignored the spirit of the law by having only one candidate. (As an aside, one candidate does not a candidate pool make.) Considering the closed door sessions on this topic, the allegations of misconduct from last fall, and the lack of public reasons for picking this particular man over anyone in either Cobb County or Georgia, the school boad’s behavior feels off to those of us on the outside. The fact that Dr. Hinojosa is from Texas, the place where some of the school board members already have shady connections, also adds to the feeling of unease. The entire situation leaves me feeling that there are backdoor deals being made, deals which are probably not for the benefit of the students or parents of Cobb County. The school board needs to stop this sort of behavior. They need to be completely above board with their actions, and be even more that perfect about following both the spirit and letter of the law in their actions if they want to restore the trust. And they should want to restore the trust, considering “Utilize community in decision making” is one of their own priorities, and that priority does not happen in an environment of distrust. They need to follow their own rules, specifically from Treatment of Consumers, SD-3:
Consumers should be clearly informed of matters relevant to their association with the Cobb County School District (District). District communications should be courteous and responsive.
Responses to telephonic requests should be made within 48 hours except for weekends and holidays.
Responses to electronic requests should be given in a timely manner.
All information collected, reviewed, stored or transmitted should be accomplished in a way that properly protects the privacy of the information. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have called several school board members, but the only one to return my phone calls was David Banks. In fact, for several months you could not even leave a phone message for Kathleen Angelucci. The same applies to emails. As for the school calendar, school board representatives need to represent their own constituents, and vote accordingly. If this means going back to the balanced calendar, so be it. But switching back to the balanced calendar will not restore the trust on its own, it is merely a step that needs to be taken. I hope the Cobb County School Board realizes there own mistakes, and begins to make changes. Otherwise, like the Police sing, “Every breathe you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, be watching you...”