The ‘culture of fear’

Nov. 7, 2014

We used to see it in schoolhouses in the ’70s and ’80s. Some teachers lived in fear of old-school principals who could wield unchecked power on a campus while system officials were distracted by assignment and budgets and the like.

This week’s resignation of Supt. Heath Morrison brought to light more fear, but this time at the administrative heart of the system. Fear seems to be the only explanation for why good-hearted people failed to protect others around them, with whom they worked.

Fear may also be why obvious wrongs went unreported to school board members, who are legally responsible for oversight of the district.

Fear of sharing the truth appears to be the only explanation for why those who for months or years have sought transparency in how CMS operates with the public’s money were not given the information they sought.

The most pressing big-picture issue facing the system and its top leadership is to reshape not policy, but culture. CMS needs a level of transparency that a host of its former leaders have found inconvenient, or threatening, or anathema.

A coalition of board and staff and community leaders can press for this culture change to occur. Such pressure can be mounted without violating any of the conditions built into the board’s acceptance of Morrison’s resignation. The community should not accept those gag rules as grounds for anyone to sidestep or sabotage this effort at confronting the need for culture change.

A beginning should be made with a joint appearance and statement by a small host of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s public, private, corporate, faith and education leaders. They should come from all walks of life, and all areas of the county. They would coalesce in advance around a simple statement, such as:

“We rededicate ourselves to creating in this place a school district that educates all children, nurtures the lives and dreams of all children and adults within its reach, and is accountable for all the resources devoted to this effort.”

– Steve Johnston