It has taken me since November 18th to view a video interview of Kelly Griffith, Talbot County Superintendent of Schools. Why? Because I knew exactly what she would say. And, honestly, I didn’t expect to learn anything new.
I’ve known Kelly for a while, probably since she came to the system. I don’t dislike her. In fact, I enjoyed working for her when she was at Easton High School. I didn’t always agree with her, but she was a good principal. When she was selected to be Superintendent, I told many people she was the best choice.
Doesn’t mean I never saw or don’t see the flaws in her words and actions. I could share some stories of how she has negatively impacted the careers of dear friends of mine, but I imagine that anyone who has been in administration, may have impeded or stunted someone else’s career. Sometimes it’s based on professional reasons, sometimes it’s not. Survival of the fittest?
I always saw her as politically astute. She knew how to frame things in such a way to get people on her side. And she wanted to be open and communicate .I think her nine years as Superintendent may have changed her.
The Superintendent’s position itself has changed drastically in the last thirty years. So, callousness with any Superintendent may be exacerbated by how political the position has become. Add political pressures to personal personality traits, and you sometimes get a Superintendent that plays that game in order to keep the job and basically to survive. Very few people are strong enough in their convictions to fight that battle without sacrificing honesty and integrity to a certain degree.
The best Superintendent I worked for was a man who many hated. Some of them had legitimate reasons. He did some bad things to good people. He and I had words several times, and at one point I could no longer work in the administrative capacity in the system because I couldn’t do some of the tough things he wanted. But, you knew where the man stood. He wore his emotions of his sleeve, especially when he was angry. I often wondered if it was what caused his fatal heart attack.
And, he told the truth, even when it was harsh and hard to hear. He made positive change in the system by facing hard problems and imposing hard solutions.
But, as I said, there are not many like him who can do that job and throw political correctness to the wind.
Dr. Griffith can’t. I don’t think she exaggerates and fudges intentionally, because like most of us, she tells the story as she sees it. Unfortunately, it isn’t always the truth.
So, let’s get to the task at hand.
She had an interview on a local online publication. I watched it this morning. And there are some problems. I won’t call them lies, I will call them “inaccuracies.”
Decisions Regarding Masking Students in School: In the first part of her interview, Dr. Griffith discusses how the system came through the pandemic, how they kept students in school more than many systems, etc.
She describes how this Fall they had every intention to keep the kids in school without masks. Then, suddenly, the numbers of cases reported by our health department were in the red and SHE made the decision to require masks. This was prior to the State Board mandate.
First problem. When members of the school board were questioned about the masking decision, they told people who asked that it was a Talbot County School Board decision by “consensus.” Which is it?
Could be she is protecting the Board by falling on her sword, but I wonder because the question asked by the community was IF the Board made the decision and if they didn’t, why not? It was a question about authority. Many people who know more than I do say that it is the Board that should make the decision, not the Superintendent. Moving on. She states that they didn’t have ” one problem” with the implementation of mandatory masks. That’s a whopper and I can’t ignore it. Multiple children had problems. As I have recounted before, parents have told me about their children being screamed at by teachers for masking issues, about children riding busses for hours in bloody masks ( and on one noticed) because wearing the mask causes nose bleeds, upticks in cases of certain diseases caused by masks, etc. Come on Kelly, there has definitely been more than “one problem.”
She says they made the decision so children wouldn’t have to quarantine for 14 days. That, as the Facebook fact checkers would say, is “partly false.” No, there were no planned 14 day quarantines. There were ten and five day quarantines depending on whether a child had been vaccinated or not. And these quarantines were often given arbitrarily by school staff who seemed to spin the Covid wheel of “contact tracing,” sending children who sat in a classroom with another student who was positive home for ten days while allowing siblings of that positive student to return to school the next day. When parents questioned these incidents, some were threatened with being removed from the school property by school administrators. There were many other problems as well.
Which leads to the Superintendent’s claim of relying on “relationships and trust…having conversation…and being transparent” in order to solve the problems. I hope I’m not the only one telling her that there is a trust issue.
There is a trust issue.
There are many parents who no longer trust the system, and it’s not because of “misinformation” or “conspiracy theories.” It’s because they can’t get a straight answer out of either the Superintendent OR the Board regarding any of the issues in a public forum. Parents may be able to schedule a conversation with administrators ( as long as some of them are escorted by police?) but only ten at a time may address the Board and the Superintendent in a public meeting. The Board has arbitrarily limited their meetings to a room at the Board office that can only hold ten members of the public with “social distancing” at a time. They cite safety as the main concern. * They could move, they have plenty of places where they could get more people in to speak, but they choose not to. I know the rationale for that choice first hand after asking Dr. Griffith in an email. They have always done it that way and so it will continue that way. Oh, and they point the finger at the health department who promptly points their finger back at the BOE.
*By the way, the concern for safety is questionable if you look at the blog posted November 18, 2021 showing the Board meeting with members lowering their masks at every opportunity.
Dr. Griffith is correct when she says that the pandemic created some good for kids. She discusses the option of virtual learning which 37 people have taken for their children this year. Unfortunately, this option is not available for those children who have been contact traced and sent home for five to ten days. My question is, why? Still waiting.
To sum up this section of the video, the Superintendent glowingly described the system’s “attention to detail.” While I know that all possibilities cannot be anticipated, but I think the incidents above and many others show that the attention to detail was lacking and shocking.
Critical Race Theory in the Schools: Like every other Superintendent, Dr. Griffith claims “we don’t have critical race theory as curriculum, we teach History, Government, Civics and State Standards.” In this statement she actually tells the truth while not telling the truth.
Everyone who knows anything about school systems, knows that there is curriculum and there is what is actually taught. Curriculum is the “official” objectives being taught, when they are taught, etc. BUT, what is often left out of the official “curriculum” is what the teacher says, how he/she interprets objectives and which materials and lessons are involved in teaching those objectives. Where those lessons and materials originate is CRITICAL to finding the truth about what goes on in classrooms. The very fact that the State Standards are the basis for the curriculum opens the door for Critical Race Theory, regardless of what you call it.
More evidence is that teachers in the system go through cultural diversity training. Sounds harmless, right? What could be wrong with understanding the different cultures in our country if you teach? Nothing. ( By the way, ask the county to give you information about what is taught in this training, which teachers attend, who teaches it, what it costs, etc. You would fare better asking the CIA to list their covert operations in foreign countries.)
The problem with cultural diversity training comes when you tell teachers, especially young teachers, that they have “implicit bias” and racial prejudices, regardless of who they are or how they act. Add to it that the Superintendent says in her interview, “our educational system was designed by white men for white men. “
Let’s dissect this. The initial attempt at education in this country, way back in the 18th Century WAS designed and limited to white men. But, women and Black men and women also participated in that history. To ignore that fact ignores the accomplishments of Booker T. Washington, Catherine Beecher, Jane Addams, Mary McLeod Bethune and many others. But, this comment not only does that, but it implies that the system has not changed at all since then. This is ridiculous. It is also a condemnation of Dr. Griffith and any of the rest of us who have worked long term in the education system. If it is indeed the same system, then why didn’t she ( or any of the many Democrat governors/Presidents, etc.) change it?
Another flaw is that when you tell a teacher that they are a biased oppressor based on their skin color and/or background, you basically tie their hands to be effective in the classroom. No human, regardless of background or training, can negotiate every single implied ( an often non-existent) bias he/she has, especially in a class of diverse students. Should they carry a “checklist” of the different races/backgrounds etc and what does and doesn’t help them learn and consult it every time they want to do anything? Isn’t that racist in itself? Isn’t it better to approach students as individuals and get to know them and allow them to get to know the teacher?
Sorry, I digress into common sense and humanity.
She goes on to describe how we haven’t taught Black History, how the textbooks are flawed. ( Which, by the way, is weird because I was told the system doesn’t use textbooks, but online platforms. These are easily adaptable.)
I’m not sure, but in my years of teaching, Black History was definitely not only taught but highlighted.
It seems to me that Dr. Griffith is falling back on the old one liners that have been around since the 80’s. The avoidance of Black History is one. The second is something she cited as a reason for diversity training. She used the example of some cultures’ children being taught NOT to look adults in the eye when speaking. Kelly, that example has been used ad nauseum since the 90’s. Are you telling me that all the years of diversity training has not made teachers aware of that? Even worse, are you telling me that you have teachers out there demanding that students look them in the eye aggressively regardless of the fact that you have trained them not to? Not very effective.
It’s good to hear her say that the system is teaching students to think critically, to be active listeners, and see both sides. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence again tells me that is either not happening or it is not effective. Employers tell me that they have young workers, school aged or recently graduated, who not only don’t listen to the opinions of others, but shout them down or wish death on them. Yes, it happens.
Maybe that’s because their adult role models, such as the Board of Education and even the County Council, are not very skilled in actively listening and seeing both sides.
Parental Involvement in their child’s education Here’s where the rubber hits the road. While Dr. Griffth wants parents involved, she doesn’t think they need to be “intrinsically involved” in educational decisions. I’d like to know how she defines “instrinsically involved.” Does it mean that parents should be shut out of decisions that directly impact their child and what their child learns?
She mentions the Superintendent’s Advisory Board which is allegedly involved in giving parental feedback to the administration. For the life of me, I can’t find ANY information on who this group is, what they do, how often they meet and how they are selected. Neither can many other people I know. If anyone does know, please enlighten me.
She talks about parent representatives on decision making groups for curriculum at the state level. So, let’s see, out of all the parents in the state, a few parents are selected to help design curriculum? How are they selected? No one seems to know.
Family Advocacy Alliance Impressive that our group which has only existed for approximately three months was mentioned in this interview. The impression that Dr. Griffith got was that this was a group of parents whose main themes are “what are you hiding from us,” “what are you teaching our kids,” and ” I want these questions answered.” And, these people are really angry.
How does she know this? Well, she saw a video of our first meeting.
Funny thing is, we didn’t video that meeting, or any of them for that matter. But, someone DID video it. They didn’t tell anyone they were videoing the meeting. They did it with one of those little spy cameras. Hmmmm….Spy camera.
Honestly, if the person wanted to video the meeting, maybe she should have asked, especially if she was sharing helpful information about parental concerns to the school board and Superintendent.
But, that apparently wasn’t the case. You don’t covertly video someone unless you are attempting to catch them doing something illegal, unethical, or damaging. None of the people in our meeting were doing any of that. No, when you covertly video a person you are trying to get them in trouble with someone. Or maybe you are trying to intimidate them from speaking by sharing that video with people who could cause them harm.
All because they stated opinions in public, opinions they could not state in a formal, public meeting because of “Covid restrictions.”
What’s even worse is that the Superintendent would implicitly condone this by viewing the video and then mentioning it in her interview. One wonders who asked for the clandestine video taping, which, by the way, we have not seen. There are rumors, but I’ll leave it at that. Maybe she agreed with their tactics and motive? If not, she can let me know.
The Superintendent has an open invitation to any of our meetings. We don’t hide when and where they are. We’ve had Congressmen and State Delegates show up without express invitation. We let them speak.
That way she didn’t wouldn’t have to view a dishonestly obtained video taken by a hidden camera.She could ask questions, explain what is going on. Using a covert spy camera is just wrong. We are not a government agency or a drug company perpetratng fraud on the American people. We would have happily discussed issues with her. We aren’t hiding anything.
But, we WILL protect our participants from intimidation.
Also, she mentioned “mean emails” from parents. For a person with thirty years in the business, I’m surprised that she would think this unusual. There isn’t an educator alive who hasn’t had “mean” emails from parents. She said they made personal insults and that when she read the email back to the person the person admitted it was mean. Then she asked them to discuss the problem.
Doesn’t ring true to me. Just an observation. Maybe she did.
The final part of the video is Maryland’s plan for education going forward. It’s an interesting picture of all day Pre-K, increased accredidation for teachers, etc. Dr. Griffith mentions the teacher shortage. She never discusses why that might be happening. If she had been at our meeting she might know.
But that’s a topic for another day.
To be clear, I am not calling Dr. Griffith a liar. I am saying that she either believes exactly what she is saying, is saying what is politically expedient, what her lawyer told her she could say, or is locked into her view. We all do that. This is another viewpoint.
Link to the interview in RED.