Why is Meadowthorpe Going in the Wrong Direction?
Did Ineffective Administration Contribute to Lower Scores, toxic environment?
Did Ineffective Administration Contribute to Lower Scores, toxic environment?
As the Herald-Leader reported recently, William Wells Brown Elementary is not the only Fayette County school that is struggling. Some others have fallen from greater heights.
|Meadowthorpe Principal Joel Katte|
For example, the status of Meadowthorpe Elementary (where I was principal in the late 80s) has recently dropped from "distinguished," the highest category, to "needs improvement." Meadowthorpe principal Joel Katte told the Herald-Leader that teachers were reviewing the scores to figure out what happened. He doesn’t seem to know.
One area of concern was the program reviews, he said. The addition of program reviews — a self-assessment completed by a team of educators in each school that scores it against a state rubric — to the accountability formula lowered the state rankings of many Fayette County schools, according to Superintendent Tom Shelton.
While Katte and Meadowthorpe's staff know they have room to improve, they are looking at how they evaluated themselves, Katte said.
"We remain committed to strengthening our school-wide writing program as well," he said.
Assuming that FCPS Superintendent Tom Shelton is correct, and Fayette County teachers were faithful to the high standards intended by the Program Review (...while schools in other unnamed districts may not have been as forthcoming?), what does it mean that some of the lowest Program Review ratings came in the area of Administrative/Leadership Support?
On Friday, Meadowthorpe SBDM Parent Rep Erica Snow wrote the Superintendent and Board members about her concerns and frustrations.
To Whom It May Concern:I waited until midnight tonight to look at the achievement scores for Meadowthorpe Elementary. When I pulled them up on the state database, I was overcome with so many different emotions that I didn’t sleep the rest of last night. So this morning I woke up, put my emotions to the side and started looking at them from a mathematical point of view. I was a math education major at Brigham Young University. My senior thesis included dissecting hundreds of pages of data and comparing growth. When I was looking for improvement in our school I found some striking statistics.
- Our achievement dropped by 4 points: a 5% drop
- Our Gap dropped by 5 points: a 13% drop
- Our Growth dropped by 10 points: A 14% drop. (This accomplishment of achieving growth last year was so celebrated it appeared on T-shirts)
- Drops in each subject area ranged from 4% to 19% with only the area of writing seeing an increase of a marginal 6%
- Our program review category did not see A SINGLE proficient rating in ANY sub-category.
- More startling is that we dropped 25 percentile points.What do these scores mean to me?
- Despite having a CSIP in place, the teachers were not adequately supported in carrying it out. Our Gap group was severely neglected. GAP is addressed at an administrative level and clearly the administration did not follow through on the plan set in place by the SBDM. Two things that I am not sure happened were the “Saturday School” and the “Book Study.” Furthermore the policy not to “allow African American students to fail any classroom assessment” was not practical nor prudent given the outcomes.
- Program Review was a HUGE aspect of this report card. Since teachers were primarily responsible for showcasing their work in this manner, the program review is a direct reflection of how the teachers feel about their jobs. Clearly since we did not gain proficiency in any category, teachers were not getting the support and most importantly encouragement they needed from the administration. This is showcased more precisely in the Administrative/Leadership Support category with scores of 1.8, 1.83 and 1.86 in Arts and Humanities, Practical Living and Writing, respectively. Clearly our Administration and Leadership are not PROFICIENT.
- Professional Development was not adequately offered to teachers.
- I offered (beginning in 2011 and continuing to this spring) to the administration several times to do a math enrichment program VOLUNTARILY before school for any group identified as needing it (please see credentials above) and I was never given an answer. Our math proficiency dropped 9%According to my calculations these scores are a reflection on the lack of leadership and mentoring coming from an administrative level. The administration knew that the process was changing this year. The administration is responsible for the decline of a top 10 school in the state to one that now exists as a “needs improvement school.” The administration needs to be held accountable. For me, this means if the school is not making progress, and worse declining at this rate, the administration is no longer effective and needs to be removed. Other schools thrived under this years accountability system, so this is not a ratings problem. My opinion may be shared with any you deem appropriate.Sincerely,Erica SnowSBDM Parent RepresentativeMeadowthorpe Elementary
That teachers in the school assigned low marks due, in part, to a lack of leadership support is telling. Unfortunately, it also reconfirms the central complaint one hears these days.
KSNC has been hearing concerns from parents at Meadowthorpe since last May. Former SBDM Parent Rep Traci Letcher told KSNC:
I helped to hire Principal Joel Katte and now I have been working with other parents communicating to FCPS about our concerns. There are concerns regarding the (Franklin-Covey) 'Leader in Me' program cost of $50-80K, after-school program profit, along with a negative environment. As he stated in a fall (2013) staff meeting "I have gotten rid of most of you, and I only have a few to go." Sadly, only 15 of the 65 original staff members at the time of Katte's arrival remain at Meadowthorpe.
Letcher says FCPS paid $1,700 to Priest/Mediator Johnnie Ross this summer to meet in a public assembly to address Meadowthorpe parent complaints with the principal. Ross finished in August by concluding that 'trust is gone' at the school.
A "Corrective Action Plan" for Katte (The district recently put itself on a Corrective Action Plan) was put forth to parents/staff in June, but did not include a timeline, anything that addressed the money mismanagement allegations, specific consequences or the basic elements of a corrective action plan, Letcher said.
Katte took a professional development trip with staff and parents in March, and - get this - despite being a paid speaker for Franklin-Covey, Katte asked parents and staff to give him money for parking and gas!? the former SBDM Council member said.
The Franklin-Covey business apparently involved large sums...somehow. Did Katte receive reimbursements from FCPS and Franklin-Covey? "Meadowthorpe pays a license fee to Franklin-Covey each year for several thousand dollars, and this expenditure has never been approved by SBDM because monies are in activity funds," Letcher said.
If the Council never reviews the school's Activity Fund (which, if memory serves, is contrary to state SBDM guidelines) then the execution of those funds would lie solely with the principal - which would seem to present an intriguing string of possibilities.
Just as Superintendent Tom Shelton has been called out for his personal connections to a vendor, the parents think it inappropriate for Mr. Katte to be a part-time employee of the Franklin-Covey business called the 'Leader in Me,' which he promoted at Meadowthorpe, and apparently pays an annual fee with school Activity funds (and possibly after-school program profits?), which only he controls, and is reimbursed by the school district.
State Auditor Adam Edelen said such connections as Shelton's could be suspicious for "favoritism." It seems there should be a word for Katte's little business arrangement.
Letcher says she and other parents met with Shelton in May, and Lu Young again in June, regarding their numerous concerns: plummeting student achievement scores, equality of opportunities within the grades, a skyrocketing turnover rate among staff (which the parent have itemized position by position and figure to be around 73-77%), concerns over money, and potential conflicts of interest. Following the meeting with Young, Letcher said, "We were assured the money concerns would be addressed. But spending with no parent, teacher or SBDM oversight occurred this summer."
The school council consulted with Darryl Thompson at FCPS-SBDM regarding SBDM policies that were either missing or outdated, and outsourced the problem to the Kentucky Association of School Councils (KASC). The district reportedly sent former Crawford principal (and my former professional colleague) Debbie Tronzo to be with Mr. Katte for a school day, but to no noticeable effect.
Letcher said that FCPS Board member Doug Barnett met with them twice, but Melissa Bacon declined, referring any concerns to Shelton.
But many of the parents' complaints center around leadership behavior issues. "He has simply become ineffective as a leader because of scare tactics, threats of not renewing contracts, and focusing too much energy and resources on the 'Leader in Me' program," Letcher said.
The parents say they are energetic about public schools and believe the system can work for most students. They also say that they have been proud of many of the decisions made by FCPS. But they reserve the right to question their leaders.
Letcher recently summed up her frustrations in a letter to the board.
FCPS School Board and Superintendent Shelton,
Like many parents, I am also concerned about the future of FCPS. As I serve many community organizations and teach at the University of Kentucky, it has given me the opportunity to receive a lot of feedback about the state of FCPS in the past month. I have heard, "when the superintendent search occurs next year....", "what is the school board doing?" "is anyone fired yet?" Most of these comments are hearsay, but do reflect a common theme I have heard often in asking if our FCPS leaders are aggressively addressing state auditor concerns and the suspicion of school leaders this brings to our city.
Sadly, I'm afraid the planned negative comments at the next board meeting from different groups, will only add to the continued negative image of FCPS, which has grown immensely in the past month. This image impacts CommerceLexington, which I'm sure you have heard from, along with the University of Kentucky and other large companies trying to recruit top employees. Please stop placing people in the audience and provide an open public forum in multiple forms.
I am urging you to take aggressive steps rather than hosting meetings to explain what has been done by Shelton or one office. The community is looking for a large action or response which demonstrates respect for the auditor's report and the seriousness of your leadership role to actively engage in the solution process. The public meetings, such as Monday's special-called meeting, have served no purpose for the community and there seems to be no real sense of urgency.
Please stop having meetings which review reports and discuss financial sheets. Instead, produce meetings which show you have:
- · created a staff, community and parent hotline with an independent firm to receive anonymous complaints
- place copies of all financial documents at any meeting of finance, school board, curriculum, professional development online prior to meetings for transparency
- fire administrators, without fear of litigation, for the better good of the school, board office, or transportation garage
- everyone apologize and take blame, even though you might not feel it
- rotate school board meetings to school venues, as previously done in this district
- use the experts in your community at universities, financial institutions and publicize it
- over-publicize your notification to bids & bid out EVERYTHING, start over with the conflict consultant & auditorThe questions of your system began for me this spring when I approached the school board and Superintendent Shelton about my concerns regarding the aggressive leadership tactics and SBDM budget concerns at Meadowthorpe Elementary. A weak corrective action plan was thrown together in June for Meadowthorpe Principal Joel Katte with no success, and the atmosphere has become toxic for students & staff.Now, into October, I have learned not only about education law & what should be occurring at my district, but your lack of response has shined a brighter light on the FCPS School Board and Superintendent Shelton. I am embarrassed you have undervalued so many parent questions, complaints from Meadowthorpe or you have hidden behind personnel policy.Meadowthorpe's Joel Katte is not the only principal who is not a good fit for the next step in FCPS. While you have continued to ignore principal issues at Dixie Elementary, Deep Springs Elementary and others, many of your own employees have decided to stand up against your lack of change. There are a group of leaders in FCPS who are planning to present a 'no confidence of Shelton' vote request to FCPS at the next school board meeting. Seems it will be a long line that night, as I also am aware Meadowthorpe parents also plan to speak at the public input section.Please begin to make larger administrative moves in hiring/firing, demonstrate a willingness to change course and place all financial documents online. I plan on seeing you later this month at the next board meeting. Know each of you are a face to our public school system and right now, this is embarrassing to see you are not aggressively responding with apologies and action. Please take more aggressive action to lead us through this challenge.I don't need a response; the public needs to see you care just as much as we do.Respectfully,Traci Letcher, Meadowthorpe and LTMS parent