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All posts for the month March, 2012

The Strong Superintendent school board – Part 5

Published March 27, 2012 by justicewg

I’ve presented a lot of disadvantages to the strong super in these posts, but I have to acknowledge that there is a reason that some people prefer it. A quick story:

One day in 2004 members of the school board in the small district of Dover, Pennsylvania, voted to teach “intelligent design” in the high school. A group of parents brought a lawsuit, contending that this was not science. Eventually the parents won, and the board members were voted out of office. But because the school was required to defend the actions of the school board, the district ended up paying more than a millions dollars to the plaintiffs. This was a crippling cost for a small district.

A school board that deferred to a strong superintendent who was cautious would never have gotten into this fight. NEOLA would have advised the school board about the obvious repercussions of the policy.

This is not a guarantee way to keep the school out of trouble, a super with a fringe ideological bias can lead a district into trouble just as deep as Dover.

A short summary of the ways that a strong super philosophy has harmed the school.

1. The board is isolated

Years of pushing away parents from having their say in the decisions the board makes has isolated the board from parent input. They might have conversations with parents in passing, maybe read a few emails, but that is not the way to get broad assessment from all segments of the community. A recent example was the March 2012 special board meeting during which the board was shocked to hear the level of bullying occurring in the schools, a board that had been keeping communication open would not be surprised by parents.

2. Fast and easy is not the way to find excellence

Being a school board member is not easy. Irate parents and groups with conflicting interests make continuous demands on the board. The small fee board members are paid is little compensation. Allowing the superintendent to run the school means fewer meetings, less documents to read, less stress. If the reason a board member took office was to use their unique skills and experience, and not to sit passively and rubber stamp a fifth vote, board members must become active participants, and encourage all parents to join the decision making process.

 3. Cut and Paste Schools are not the way to find excellence.

NEOLA brand education might be the way to avoid the worst failures a school can blunder into, but it is not the way to build the highest quality school. When we care about our health, we don’t go to fast food restaurant chains. Why would we send our children to “fast food education” schools?

4. Smart parents are pushed away by the board

The most unfortunate part of the way the board works is to neglect the resources at hand. Grandview has many talented people who work in education (because of nearby OSU). The board has a history of pushing these highly talented parents away. It is not an easy process to work with a sometimes fractious public, but the way to find true excellence is to work with these talented parents.

The future of the school board

The Grandview school board has some obvious problems with the way they relate to the parents in this school district. The board members are intelligent adults, they can change the way Grandview schools operates if they hear parents ask for more openness. If you read this article and agreed change is needed, but want someone else to do the work of going to board meetings, want someone else to send emails, no change will occur. You have to speak to be heard.

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The Strong Superintendent school board – Part 4

Published March 27, 2012 by justicewg

The strange case of the re-retired superintendent

This incident is unique in that it both showed the failure of the “strong super” theory, and became a textbook example of how the board ignores input from parents.

In July 2003 superintendent Allen was allowed to retire then be re-hired, both with a bonus and a STRS buyout. This was not a vote of intent, this was a finished deal. Between the bonus and the buyout Allen was looking at a +$100K check. (and he would continue as super, taking in both his normal wage and retirement income). Given the hard economic times, and the fact that the board would not allow any teachers a similar deal, this was very controversial. As usual, the board didn’t ask for any public comment before the vote.

In April of 2004, it was announced that a special meeting would be held to discuss the retirement. The details of why this meeting was scheduled are unclear, but it can be guessed that the board broke the law when it didn’t have the public meeting before the vote. Before this public meeting occurred, Allen changed his mind and the retirement was off the table.

Jump forward to July of 2005, and Allen’s retirement was back on the table. This time there was a public meeting, and it attracted a large crowd. Speakers were heavily against the plan to allow Allen to retire and be re-hired at the same wage. They spoke of the unfairness of allowing Allen a deal that a teacher could not get, and of the bad timing (this was shortly before the 2005 levy). The teacher’s union spoke against giving Allen anything more than a teacher would be allowed.

Allen was given everything he wanted by the board, he was allowed to retire, take retirement pay, and be rehired at the same wage. It was an unstated assumption that Allen was given this sweet deal and a two year contract as a way of guaranteeing he would stay with the school.

Allen dumped the school and left for the London, Ohio system in the middle of the contract. Throughout, Allen received nothing but extravagant complements from the board. Even with the unquestioning support the board gave Allen, he still bolted for another job when it suited him. So much for the board’s theory of management.

Another important lesson from the Allen controversy was the outcome of Allen’s hearing. The board went into executive session, and disagreed on the pay to be offered Allen. The board could have returned from executive session and made a split vote on Allen’s retirement. This would have made public the internal dispute between board members. Instead, for the first time in the history of this board, they created a sub-committee to work out a compromise. At the next meeting they again voted unanimously to give Allen the generous retirement benefits.

The lesson the board learned from this incident was that listening to parents leads to conflict between board members. The board views internal conflict as a negative in all instances. The board’s solution was to isolate themselves and give parents even less chance to have a voice. Read the rest of this entry →

The Strong Superintendent school board – Part 3

Published March 27, 2012 by justicewg

Examples in the board’s past behavior

At the start of this article, I made a strong accusation about the school board. I said they give the superintendent carte blanche, and that the always unanimous board is not very democratic. Is it really that bad? I can back it up by listing the actions of the board. I’m starting from well in the past, but remember that the board membership has changed very little in the past 10 years. Read the rest of this entry →

The Strong Superintendent school board – Part 2

Published March 27, 2012 by justicewg

A critique of the board’s philosophy

Let’s examine the board’s theory that a strong superintendent is good for the school. Later I will have many examples of how the school board has failed by adopting this theory. Right now I want to have a high level discussion of the strong super. Why would board members want this? What could go wrong?

Read the rest of this entry →

The Strong Superintendent school board – Part 1

Published March 27, 2012 by justicewg

(Update for 2015) The following is a long essay about the historical problems with the school board at Grandview Heights, if you need a tl/dr version that has some current issues and names the problem with the correct term (Policy Governance), then start by reading a 2015 post that shows how bad things can get. Then return here for the full historical version.

Relax. Grab a cup of java. I have a story to tell, it’s a little long, but worth the time. If you are a Grandview resident, this stuff is important, doubly so if you have kids in the schools.

Grandview Hts. has an unusual school board. You might have noticed that because of all the unanimous votes, for years at a time. If you study the board a little closer, there are stranger things going on.

I’m going to examine the way the school board works, and the way they fail the community. This is the nickel version:

The Grandview school board is filled with members who have a governing philosophy that places the wishes of the superintendent above the will of the parents, a “strong superintendent” policy. They allow the superintendent to have a free hand in running the school, block proposals from outside, and fail to enlist or inform the citizens of Grandview before making policy decisions. They think that asking for input will empower troublemakers. This results in a crippled democracy that doesn’t do a good job of serving the parents or the children in the school.

That’s a pretty strong criticism of the board, but if you stay with me until the end of these posts, I think you will agree with me. Read the rest of this entry →

School bullying meeting opens eyes

Published March 16, 2012 by justicewg

A special March 13 board meeting with parents who described the bullying and harassment their children endured was a eye opening experience for the school board.

Throughout the 3 hour meeting anguished parents described the torrents of abuse some of their kids had to put up with on a daily basis. This was more than the casual abuse that might be expected from “normal” taunting and teasing. Parents talked about incidents where death threats were given, threats to beat kids by packs of kids, and actual physical beatings off the school grounds. Harassment using online forums like Facebook were common complaints. They talked about meeting with teachers and administrators at the school, and while they were sympathetic, little was done to help. Some parents turned to the police with reports – and as they described it, they were “given the brush off”.

Parents talked about the attitudes of some other parents who disagreed with choices made by coaches, and the threats they made, sometimes going so far as to break the windows at the homes of coaches (one of these coaches was Grand Douglass, the present school board president).

Bullying at Grandview is not a new topic, the school has had programs and policy to deal with this topic for a number of years. The school website even has a section where bullying incidents are reported, in a simple “number of cases in a six month” format. The problem is that this report shows very few incidents. If the parents at the meeting are to be believed, the actual numbers of incidents are much larger.

Look for much more on this topic as the community and school board reacts to the stories these parents told at the special meeting.

Some newspaper stories about bullying.

Edison school staff get input from students on bullying issue  November 2, 2011

Second meeting on bullying scheduled Grandview, March 9, 2011

New Albany middle-schoolers plan anti-bully walk March 21, 2012

Anti-bullying experts focus on respect during visit  Bexley, December 7, 2011

(Later) Although there was some statements made by school board members that seemed like they were in favor of changes at the time of this 2012 board meeting, there was no obvious change in school policy announced by the school board.