On Friday, the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education handed Superintendent Winston Brooks an unpaid three-day suspension for tweets unbecoming the leader of the 30th-largest district in the nation.
Perhaps even harsher, members also logged him off Twitter – a day after he proclaimed his tweeting would go on.
And while some will debate whether the punishment is enough, this action by the board sends an important message to the district’s more than 10,000 employees, 90,000-plus students and hundreds of thousands of taxpayers. It made it clear that district leadership should strive to be professional, goal-oriented and compassionate in public forums – not snarky, petty and mean.
Three unpaid days for Brooks amounts to about $2,000 and change under the rationale he’s always on call. It’s a fraction of his contract, which pays $250,000 a year and runs through June 2016. But it is an unfortunate embarrassment for a career educator commensurate with the content of his tweets.
Brooks took to Twitter when his mind was “wondering” (sic) last week to suggest to a television reporter that state education chief Hanna Skandera “should head for the livestock truck,” then added “Moo, Moo, Oink, oink.” His alleged social media expert, Maralyn Beck, responded with emoticons of a pig and a cow. The superintendent apologized when confronted by his bosses the next day, saying “it was meant to be funny” and he “didn’t see it as derogatory as it was.” Beck has said she was simply “having a conversation without talking,” didn’t approve of the tweets and wishes she had called her supervisor.
However, the APS board saw the exchange for what it was: sexist, demeaning, bullying behavior that has no place in a public school organization. Much less at the top of that organization.
It’s not the first time Brooks has been at the center of a Twitter controversy; last month he re-posted photos from his chief financial officer Don Moya of a protester with a sandwich board portraying Skandera and the governor as vampires sucking the life out of education. Moya called the poster “awesome.”
How, exactly, do these tweets from top leaders advance a district in which barely half the students can read or do math at grade level and only seven of every 10 graduate on time? In a state that once again chalked up pathetic scores on NAEP?
They don’t. In contrast, Skandera’s Twitter feed is full of unretouched photos of educators, community leaders and school children, along with comments about all working on “making great things happen for … students.” Agree or disagree with her agenda, her public outreach sets the right tone.
Brooks has spent almost three years fighting Skandera’s education reforms, which of course is his right. But it’s clear that his tone, and his Twitter behavior, have trickled down to sycophants, including Beck and Moya.
It’s worth noting that APS has faced not one but three sex discrimination lawsuits in recent months, one alleging Brooks’ “pattern of treating women with disdain and disrespect.” The district gave a teacher more than a week of unpaid leave for venting frustrations about her classroom on social media. A “social media expert” should be aware of the prevalence of cyber-bullying and its too-often fatal consequences among young people.
Leadership starts at the top. The board stepped up to that with its message.
It is hoped that Brooks and his administrative staff will respond the right way and try to focus on how we can improve New Mexico’s dismal education statistics.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.