Most of us are familiar with a phrase from Luke 4:23, "...physician, heal thyself..." The colloquial meaning is that we should attend to our own faults in deference to highlighting others. In view of the protracted squabble between Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Jerry Payne and the school district's board of directors, we would offer a slightly attenuated version: "teacher, teach thyself" or perhaps "director, direct thyself."

Most of us are familiar with a phrase from Luke 4:23, “…physician, heal thyself…” The colloquial meaning is that we should attend to our own faults in deference to highlighting others. In view of the protracted squabble between Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Jerry Payne and the school district’s board of directors, we would offer a slightly attenuated version: “teacher, teach thyself” or perhaps “director, direct thyself.”

From the outset, Payne has ruffled district feathers. As all new managers are wont to do, he made a number of changes. That’s his prerogative. Moreover, the district needed him to make changes.

In looking back to his predecessor’s administration, Payne’s methods may seem heavy-handed. On balance, it’s far better to appear engaged, but clumsy than detached (such that the district coffers get looted by an employee) and retain one’s popularity (at least for a while).

While the board of directors may be resistant to certain extremes of leadership, the fact remains that the district stands perched upon a crumbling precipice. If ever there were a time for forceful leadership, it is now. Even so, the public board meetings predictably devolve into ugly, needlessly personal spews of invective. The most recent meeting provides a case in point. Any time board president, Herman Horace, is moved to exclaim, “I’m not going to have any more outbursts in this board,” the business of the district has been subordinated to personalities and politics.

There should be no outbursts at a district board meeting. There should be no provocation for such. The district administrators and officials should know better than to comport themselves in such an unflattering and unprofessional manner.

Not only does the work of the board stop for these self-indulgent tirades, the members do the students a disservice with their poor example. This isn’t a back-alley rumble. It is a venue for the exchange of informed ideas, wrought by educated people — people who the citizens entrusted with the care and education of their children.

Half a world away, an Italian cruise ship captain apparently ran his ship aground, killing several people before allegedly fleeing for his own safety. Metaphorically, the typical conduct of the PBSD board is not all that different. They ignore the magnitude of district problems in preference to their own petty quibbles. It’s undignified and it flouts their primary responsibility.

When we look at the overall performance of the district, it becomes clear why things are as they are. The teachers, administrative and support staff have been given a detailed example of what the board expects — or more properly, what it will tolerate. As such, for those besieged teachers who attempt to make the best of what resources they’re given, this poison dynamic is a double insult: do what I say, not what I do… and do it with less than you likely need.

Many critics like to remind us that the cornerstone of student achievement is active parenting. No school system, regardless of how well funded or how well managed can right children whose laissez faire parents undermine their efforts. This is true enough, but the reverse is also true. No parent can expect high achieving children when laissez faire teaching undermines their efforts.

In short, we need a district — particularly its leadership — committed to meeting its responsibilities to students, families and the community. As it now stands, what we have is every man for himself. That Italian captain would fit right in.