Item 1: More than a third of the principals in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools - 57 out of 159 - have left their posts this school year.
Item 2: CMS is getting rid of 52 year-end exams after spending $2 million to develop them.
Item 3: At their retreat a few weeks ago, school board members unanimously voted to look for a "change agent" in their search for a new superintendent.
Opinion 1, after thinking about items 1 through 3: If there's one thing our schools don't need more of, it's change.
In the long term, yes, CMS needs to grow stronger. But for the time being, we need a superintendent like Ron Swanson on "Parks and Recreation": a public servant devoted to doing as little as possible.
That runs counter to our nature, and to the way most managers are taught. Nobody gets excited when you say you want to come in and keep the engine running. They get excited when you talk about reform, and shifting the paradigm, and challenging the status quo.
And all those things sound great - until you try to apply them to 138,000 students, and 18,000 employees, and all those parents watching.
Some changes, CMS can't avoid. If one part of the county grows so much that it overflows the schools, you have to move some of those kids somewhere - a new school, or an existing one with space. That disrupts the lives of a lot of families, but it makes long-term sense.
Other changes come from the ground up. Thirteen of those 57 principals who are no longer at their schools retired early - partly because retiring in February helps their benefits under a quirk in state rules. The rules ought to reward principals who finish out the year. But that's not CMS' doing.
Still: 26 principals left to become principals at different schools, and seven more took other jobs in CMS. Maybe that's normal turnover in a business, but it's higher than normal even in CMS - just 37 principals moved two years ago, and 41 last year. But at a school, where each academic year is a distinct unit, changing principals in midyear leaves parents wondering why the principal left - and where to get answers.
Ditching those year-end tests feels more like scaling back an overreach by former Supt. Peter Gorman. Gorman made the tests one of the bullet points of his time at CMS, but it turns out state tests (paid for with federal money) duplicate much of the local tests. Some folks pointed that out early on. But the county put in its own tests anyway.
And none of that includes the smaller but still irritating changes CMS makes most every year - adjusting bell times, moving around lunch periods, tinkering with holidays.
This all stems from the collision of people with short-term incentives. Superintendents don't stay long - four or five years, usually - and so they feel pressure to make big changes fast. School board members face re-election every four years, so they try to come up with new ideas. Principals want to move up, so they jump at better jobs while they're open. Parents with means can put every school on a one-year contract, with a constant threat to move their kids to private schools.
As Gorman said not long after he got hired: "Every single day in every household there's a referendum on CMS."
CMS is constantly winning awards as one of the best big-city school systems in the country. But we're so close to it that it's like putting your face right up to the mirror. All we see is the flaws.
Which is why, instead of a paradigm-shifter, we might be better off with a new superintendent who shifts into neutral. And leaves it there for a while.