You gotta have a translator

Do be a conscientious citizen and attend government meetings; often there are very few citizens curious or interested enough to take the time. Important things are being discussed, and you are encouraged to visit, for instance, the Board of Supervisors when they have a session. Thatʼs on the first Monday of the month, most of the time.

The Rappahannock County School Board meets on the second Tuesday of each month. If you go to that one, be sure to bring along a translator, because you are going to a place where officials speak their own language. For example, look at the agenda.

The school folks are thoughtful enough to have copies of the agenda for that night available right near the door. The first bit of foreign language that you will encounter is the “consent agenda.” If you can figure out how that is different from the regular agenda, well, you move to the head of the class.

And to think we have not even reached the heavy going, jargon-wise.

Every human endeavor has its jargon, of course. Using their own words is the way each group cements its membership and sets the people in the group apart from the rest of society. Thereʼs cop talk and soldier argot and the languages of aviators and nurses and physicians. These languages are not only peppered with distinctive words, but many acronyms.

You will hear Rappahannock educators talking about AMO and GCI. You and I know the first of these as Latin for “I love you,” but in the school corridors AMO means “annual measurable objectives.” And GCI stands for “graduation completion index.” In everyday English the AMO and the GCI would mean something akin to “how they doin’?”

When board chairman John Lesinski took the job two and a half years ago, he encountered this different language. “You have to take it on yourself,” the chairman says now, “to ask questions. Sometimes you feel a little foolish, but you have to ask. You canʼt be overwhelmed by it.”

Letʼs put a few of most obvious foreign words and phrases on the table. Thereʼs “pacing guide.” There are companion “accountability systems” — one that’s Virginiaʼs and one that belongs to the federals, the Department of Education. There are “focus” schools, but there are also “priority” schools.

We donʼt have these in Rappahannock County, and we donʼt want them. These words are tags, denoting that the school in question is just that — in question, in danger of having accreditation come under threat. No, you donʼt want to hear your kid come home and say, “Hey! Guess what? Weʼre a focus school!”

Another favorite is “outcome-based accountability,” which is just what it sounds like, but no one ever reads a story about someone losing his or her job because he or she was found accountable for an outcome which was not up to snuff.

Most of us, when asked to consider a fairly large number of students, would probably talk about a class, a group, an assembly or even a whole bunch of them. But the educator would call this collection of people a “cohort.” We got this word from the Romans, who broke a legion of soldiers into cohorts. Now, though, a cohort is a statistical grouping.

Here are some others that you can adopt in order to make yourself sound as if you are, in an old phrase, “really in the know.” There are “flexibility waivers” and there are IEPs. A flexibility waiver is something the state can apply for.

You might have thought that an IEP is an Internet Entry Point, but you would be wrong. In the world of education, it is an individualized education plan.

The good news is that lots of the folks you will find in the Rappahannock schools have fun with this jargon. In a good-natured way they laugh at the inside talk, and laugh at themselves, too. The superintendent, Dr. Donna Matthews, cheerfully acknowledges what she calls the “gobbledygook” of educationese, while working effectively with — and around — it.