(Part three in a series of three stories on public education in Lee County)

Six months after a threesome of newcomers took their oaths of office and immediately steered the Lee County Board of Education in a rightward turn, the jury remains out on the question of whether the board’s seven members can find ways to work together.

There is reason to be optimistic.

Republican Alan Rummel and Democrat Jamey Laudate spent many hours together to assemble the coming fiscal year’s budget request for Lee County Schools. There is a tremendous amount of detail in assembling what is the largest budget request made by any agency in the county, and there has to be an agreement reached on how those dollars will be spent before the actual numbers can be plugged in.

Rummel and Laudate showed in the spring that it can be done. That’s a huge positive.

Halfway now into the first year of their four-year term, there have been times when the newest members of the Lee County Board of Education have shown insights into issues that could be the genesis for the kind of reforms that would help move the county’s schools in a positive direction. They’ve shown the ability to think through current issues and the desires they have to help students recover from the learning loss experienced, in large part, as a result of the pandemic could be transformative.

Board of Education Chair Sherry Womack said she wants Lee County’s schools to be the ones people think of first when looking for the best in the state. The raw materials to make that happen are here, she said. All that is needed is a spark to catalyze the reaction.

Rummel has made a good case for moving to data-driven decisions when possible. School districts across North Carolina report numbers on almost anything you can imagine, so learning how to mine and make effective use of the reams of data generated every day can provide the capability to drill down to the heart of any issue and see what is really going on. The solutions on how to address those things will flow from that data. And the more they can rely on the data, the fewer opportunities will be available for politics to become a factor.

This board has made some mistakes, some of them right out of the gate. The real question now is whether this group can learn from the mistakes already in the rearview. The lack of experience shown by these new members, combined with a hunger to immediately understand all the complexities and relationships of board policies, has the potential to create problems even bigger than those they attempted to solve.

Those desires caused them to stumble right out of the gate, resulting in precious time and effort to be squandered. To some, they have appeared to be trying to run before they can walk. When that happens, falling down is inevitable.

What has been missing since the election results were known last November, and even before then, is trust. An ancient truism suggests trust has to be earned because it cannot be bestowed. The public will be patient with newly elected leaders if they invest time into taking the time to learn what it is that they are supposed to do, and how they are supposed to do it.

New jobs carry with them a vocabulary to be learned, acronyms to be memorized and copious amounts of information that must be mastered within a short amount of time in order to perform at the highest level. It’s known as a “learning curve.”

That initial learning curve is often described by incoming elected officials as being a mile wide but only an inch thick. Gaining proficiency and the deep understanding of the political arts that successful practitioners must master takes longer. That’s what is meant by a “steep” learning curve.