Minimum Competency: A novel about education, testing, life, and death in upstate New York
In Snyder’s Corners, a small dot on the western rim of New York’s Catskill Mountains, life is tough. Jobs are scarce, money is tight, and the best part of education is the state-ranked basketball team.
Jimmy Kalid, a ninth-grade English teacher at Kaaterskill Central School in the area’s centralized district, realizes something’s amiss. Despite impressive test scores, his students can barely read. Then his new girlfriend, Phyllis Nielsen, while substituting for the eighth-grade English teacher, makes a discovery that causes everything to make sense.
When Joseph Scalani, the nephew of a mob boss—and paper pusher in the State Department of Education—comes to town with evidence of test tampering, he’s hoping to shake down the perpetrators. Instead he meets a pair of incompetents: the bumbling Chief School Officer and his lackey. These two must scramble to cover their tracks, confounding a county sheriff, who rarely sees anything beyond petty theft.
As the mob, the school’s leadership, and the sheriff collide, each player rises to his true level of incompetence. Their only hope to unravel the mystery is the town’s singular pair of intelligent teachers – Jimmy Kalid and Phyllis Nielsen.