Proper role of stakeholders

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IN PAST COMMENTARIES the Beloit Daily News has made the point that Beloit's public school district is in trouble and clearly requires deep reforms to create change and improvement. Sometimes, that will result in dissent and division, but necessary change should not be derailed simply because it's controversial.

We meant every word of that.

Still do.

Even so, the degree of dissent and division can be better managed through thorough and open communication with key stakeholders.

WHICH BRINGS US to the district's decision in a restructuring plan to legislate out of existence the position of director of early literacy, currently held by Rachelle Elliott.

The move caught leaders of Beloit's acclaimed public-private partnership known as Literacy for Life Initiative flat-footed and by surprise. Two of the best known leaders - Stateline Community Foundation Executive Director Tara Tinder and Beloit College retired executive Bill Flanagan, who chairs the effort - expressed deep frustration in comments to the newspaper, upset at not even receiving a courtesy discussion before the decision was made.

The Literacy for Life program has rolled out to broad praise and participation, with strong support from business and community groups. No one can blame the initiative's leaders for feeling left out of the loop, and for harboring anxieties about what comes next.

LOOK, THE LIKELY assumption is that the district is not abandoning literacy efforts but Beloit's new school leadership has something else in mind. It makes sense to reserve judgment until the full picture emerges.

Having said that, there's a clear lesson here that school reformers should learn.

Some matters may be strictly internal and decisions can be made without a lot of public input. Others - the literacy program is a perfect example - are deeply embedded in the community and have strong constituencies and clearly identifiable stakeholders. Courtesy and respect dictate those stakeholders should be allowed the opportunity to weigh in.

The district belongs to citizens and taxpayers, not to educators or administrators or the school board. It's a mess. It must be reformed and improved. But it will be a lot easier to accomplish with community support. Don't neglect outreach.

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