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.

Where it all started

The late 1990’s were a period of high activity for the school board. Depending on your outlook, you might call it “vigorous democracy”, or “school board in conflict”. There is a large article yet to be written about this period, but here are some highlights.

Former board member Brian Cook was active in making policy for the board, and suggested changes that met resistance by some in the community. He also though that the superintendent at the time, Paul Kulik, was not keeping costs in check and implementing the policy of the board. Board member Suzanne McLeod, in a controversial move opposed by the other four members, disclosed publicly that there was some talk of not renewing Kulik’s contract in closed administrative sessions. This caused a group of parents to bring a petition before the board, signed by 650 residents, asking the board to retain Kulik. The board did sign Kulik for an extension of his contract, but he left to work for Franklin Co. in 2001. The supporters of Kulik felt that Cook had driven the super away from the school, and that the board had been too intrusive in the running of the school.

This conflict over school personnel decisions and the policies the board members promote is a standard part of how school boards function. It can get messy and overheated, but this is the way democracy works. There were some in the community who though that this was a failure of democracy, and they wanted a radical change.

The Strong Superintendent Group (SSG)

After the petition in support of Kiulik, a group of parents came together to change the way board candidates run for office in Grandview. They said they wanted to have a close look at the careers of potential office holders, in order to discourage those with little accomplishments (but the careers of many of the school board members that this group endorsed have not been impressive). The real position that this group is looking for in candidates is allegiance to the idea of what they might call a “strong superintendent”. What they wanted was a super who would have carte blanche, without having to worry about complaints from parents and only the lightest hand from the board.

Documenting The SSG

Looking through the newspaper stories of the school board elections you will find few accounts of the SSG. They claim to be working for the good of the community, but that is so, why hide?

The most that has been printed about the SSG was in an article about the departing board member Ron Cameron. The following is from a This Week Grandview newspaper article printed 12-13-07.

Cameron’s decision to run for school board eight years ago came after he was part of an informal community group looking to bring change to the board. “There was a fair amount of acrimony at the time, and I don’t think people wanted to get involved on the board,” he said. The informal group was having trouble finding someone to run for the board, so Cameron, who was one of the group’s leaders, decided to seek election.

What did the SSG do to change the way the board operated?

One of the board’s most important accomplishments during the past eight years has been creating a strong sense of teamwork among the board and between the board and administrators, Cameron said. … The superintendents have been pro-active, he said. “When there’s a problem, they don’t say, ‘Oh school board, what do we do?’ It’s the superintendent saying, ‘Here’s the issue. Here’s two or three ways I see out of it. What do you think?'”

Missing from Cameron’s example of how the board and the super interact is acknowledgment that the parents in the school system may have solutions, and should be consulted. Also missing – any suggestion that the skills of the board members can be used to find solutions for school problems.

Although the composition of this SSG has changed over the years, it continues to meet, interview candidates for office, and tries to promote those who share its philosophy. More on the SSG later.

Next – A critique the board’s philosophy

(Update for 2015)

I’m not an educator or experienced in the terminology of the field, so I wasn’t aware that “Policy Governance” is the correct term for the way the Grandview school board operates. There are a large number of resources on the net that discuss the policy.

The Data Rigging scandal at the Columbus schools was blamed on the Policy Governance used by the school board. I wrote a post that explained how it went wrong for Columbus, and why it should be an earth-shaking alarm for what could happen at Grandview Heights schools.

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