SableGate: Once More into the Breach

The theory that the Mt. Lebanon School Board in effect fired Margery Sable because she was pushing a meaningful system of performance reviews for teachers has some traction, at least if my weekend conversations with fellow Lebonians (Lebonians?) are useful guides. People (i.e., parents) around town with more day-to-day contact with the schools than I have agree that (i) it was well-known that M. Sable was hired with an explicit mandate to shake up a district that had grown complacent over flattening test scores; (ii) M. Sable brought a direct, even abrupt, personality to the district; and (iii) the teachers really, really didn't like her. Conflict over instituting performance reviews fits with what some perceive as a larger pattern of conflict with the existing administration. Example one: Faced with scores that suggest that the District was really failing its students in teaching them to write, M. Sable implemented a new writing curriculum right away -- rather than studying and waiting and gradually introducing new material. My daughter now writes in every single one of her courses, something that she and her classmates dislike, but something that I think is terrific. Example two: I'm told that students of kids with special needs have long faced terrible resistance from the District in receiving many kinds of instruction and resources that these parents think are appropriate and necessary. The District's view is that if the parents don't like the District's "no" decision, then the parents should sue the District. Some parents do sue; the District wins almost all of these cases. M. Sable was apparently supportive of a proposal to allow parents and the District to mediate these disputes, a solution that most lawyers would recognize as time and cost-effective -- and one that is explicitly aimed at preserving goodwill among parents, teachers, and administrators. But the District (who? I don't know) has apparently shot this down.

None of this is a defense of Margery Sable per se; as before, I'm speculating here. The value of test scores as educational benchmarks, peformance reviews for teachers, wholesale curricular changes, and services for special needs kids are complex issues that deserve thoughtful, complex analyses. And I have yet to hear anyone come to the defense of her personal style.

My fellow Lebonians also tend to agree, however, that these are essentially policy disputes, not "personnel" matters, and they are precisely the sort of thing that the public has every right to expect to be aired publicly and to be resolved by men and women whose sole interest should be the welfare of the citizens of the municipality and the kids in the schools. If these sorts of disputes really precipitated Margery Sable's departure, then that result is all the more shameful. It's certainly true that in many cases, an abrupt style is the only way to reform a moldly status quo. The School Board couldn't have been surprised by her approach.

Therefore, some speculate, there must have been something more. Something combustible. As one person suggested to me, maybe Margery Sable has compromising photos of someone. Or she learned the dark secrets of someone's past.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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