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Editorial: The task ahead
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Editorial: The task ahead

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It's been a dizzying week for the Davenport School District.

A little more than a week ago, the state board of education voted to take over management of the district. Dissatisfied with how Davenport was tackling a plan to deal with flaws in its finances, special education department and the disproportionate punishment of minority students, the state sidelined district superintendent, Robert Kobylski.

Last Thursday, the state board temporarily replaced him with T.J. Schneckloth, who will be the interim superintendent.

Schneckloth didn't come out of nowhere. A district employee, he was the interim superintendent after Art Tate abruptly left two years ago.

Still, critics of the district were aghast. Even state board members questioned the idea of tasking an employee of a flawed district with fixing its problems, particularly one who works for the man who'd just been replaced. But state department of education officials don't believe Schneckloth was part of the problem; they said they thought he did a good job previously and they need someone on the ground to effect change. The state acknowledged Schneckloth's relative inexperience and appointed mentors from the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency, which itself has had problems with the state.

To say all this is a perplexing turn of events is an understatement. It is no less so for the lack of communication that has come from the state and the Davenport School Board on this matter. Anybody tuning into last Monday's local school board meeting looking for an explanation or reassurance was sorely disappointed. One board member threw some unhelpful snark at the state, but any real discussion was lacking.

Some in this district believe Kobylski, who has been dealing with the chaos of a pandemic, was hung out to dry. Others wonder if the state is using Davenport to send a message to other districts that have bucked the governor's office on returning to in-person classes.

In our discussions with the education department, however, it is clear that after three years of dealing with Davenport, officials there have lost patience. It wants the district to accomplish the goals set out in a mutually-agreed upon, multi-faceted action plan, and officials say the September progress report was significantly flawed.

State officials tell us the district has made progress on the underlying issues. It cut spending, and on Thursday, Amy Williamson, the education department's point person on this, told us the latest figures show the district has made improvement in reducing the disproportionate suspension and expulsion of Black students. But it's not yet where it needs to be.

The state has substantive expectations, and this management change will last at least six months.

Schneckloth has a big job ahead of him. But so does the state of Iowa; it now has a much bigger ownership stake in this problem. With control comes responsibility.

State school board members and the education department acknowledged last week a need to communicate with the community. That's good. The sooner they come here and do it, the better.

The state's takeover is an unprecedented development, and people here need to know why these specific steps are the right ones. They deserve the chance to ask questions and get answers.

We truly hope Schneckloth and his team are successful. Students and their families, along with taxpayers, deserve no less. All of us need to see a day when the Davenport Community School District resolves its problems, has the cloud of conditional accreditation lifted and finds a path to equity, normalcy and success.

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