Thursday, November 06, 2014

No Comment from Shelton - H-L Explains

On election night KSN&C sent three questions to Fayette County Schools Superintendent Tom
Sheton. The way it usually works, district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall forwards the questions to the superintendent (and perhaps she suggests potential responses; perhaps not), and by the next day KSN&C receives a response back.

But something was different this time. Shelton never responded to Deffendall's message. So there is
no comment from the superintendent on this year's election.

We asked:

  • Does the superintendent have a comment on tonight's election?
  • Does he believe that the public is sending a message by returning his two most vocal critics to the Board? 
  • If not, what message can be drawn from tonight's election results?
Some KSN&C readers have questioned where the Herald-Leader editorial board was coming from with their apparent support for those board members who have supported the superintendent throughout, and even after, the state auditor reported on the district's long-standing, unremediated, toxic working environment. It's one thing to slap on a happy face for the public. But it's quite another to do so while ignoring copious evidence of chronic mismanagement and continuing to support the adult under whose leadership the mismanagement occurred. At some point, accountability is called for - if it's about kids. As one KSN&C reader suggested, the board is not supposed to overlook; their job is to provide oversight.

In their own defense this morning, the editorial board explains where they're coming from, but I'm not sure it gets us any closer to an understanding.

When members first began publicly questioning Shelton's administration, it started off gently enough. Questions were asked. But answers were found lacking - particularly by Amanda Ferguson. In frustration, she walked out of a meeting one day, because in her judgement, had she stayed she might have vented something she would later regret. Later Ferguson and Barnett blocked the superintendent's request for budget approval. Emotions ramped up and spilled out on both sides, to the point where Vice Chair Melissa Bacon embarrassingly accosted STEAM Academy PTSA President Sharon Mofield-Boswell in the hallway after a meeting was over. 
Yet somehow, in the Herald-Leader's collective consciousness, Ferguson and Barnett got tagged for their failure to go long quietly - losing the paper's endorsement in the process - and the majority seemingly got a pass. In fairness, no majority members were up for election this year, so one supposes it is possible that those members might not have been endorsed either. But I don't know anyone who believes that. The paper appears soft on accountability in this case. They acknowledge the possibility that Shelton's contract might not be renewed, and stop.

The paper correctly says that all members should create a collaborative community, but provides no guidance for what a member should do when faced with evidence of mismanagement - which ultimately hurts programs for kids - and a majority that refuses to deal publicly with those concerns. Has the Herald-Leader forgotten the League of Cities and what happens when board members get too chummy? It seems that school board members are held to a different standard than other public office holders whose failures are properly exposed with a journalistic zeal.

And there's one thing the editorial board misses completely. The word is already out about the leadership dysfunction within the district. The best way to attract talented administrators and teachers to the district is to restore Fayette County's historical prominence as the flagship district in the state. That is going to require confidence in a strong leader who goes beyond acknowledging the toxic climate in the district, and who actually fixes it. You can't outsource leadership.

Still, if one objectively compares the Fayette County Schools with other public districts of its size and type, Fayette County looks pretty good. I'd take 'em anytime. There is still a lot of talent in the district and good things are happening for kids. 
There is still a lot  to build upon. But that will require the majority members of the board - as the more powerful voting block - to alter their approach. And that will open the door to cooperation from the minority, which must follow.

This from the Herald-Leader Editorial Board:

Crucial work ahead for school board 

The Fayette County school board has a lot of work to do: redistricting; deciding whether to renew Superintendent Tom Shelton's contract; addressing the findings in a critical report from the state auditor.

All loom large, in addition to the constant work of serving as the citizen voice in setting public school policy.

Because Amanda Ferguson and Doug Barnett successfully defended their seats Tuesday, the board that will undertake all this work will have the same five members who have aligned into camps, bickering with each other, sniping about whether they do or don't have faith in Shelton's team.

This must change.

To start, the board might consider the first words of its own mission statement: "Our mission is to create a collaborative community that ensures all students achieve at high levels..."

Simple enough, but there is no way to achieve that mission unless board members themselves operate collaboratively and at a high level.

That can, and should, include disagreeing, asking difficult, even embarrassing questions.
And it must include doing that professionally, attacking problems not individuals.

This matters for a lot of reasons. First, of course, when the board functions well the district works better and kids benefit.

But there other reasons.

For example, public schools depend upon public support and a fractious board can undercut that support.

It also makes it difficult to recruit educators to the district. If, for example, Shelton's contract isn't extended, the board will have to recruit and hire a new superintendent. A talented administrator would be reluctant to join a district marked by internal board squabbles.

Congratulations to Ferguson and Barnett on their re-elections.

And thanks to all board members for taking on this difficult job.

But take it on they did, and now they must all work hard together to do it well.


Anonymous said...

The district is already losing top-notch people due to the disfunction at central office.

Anonymous said...

may not be around much public support...need someone that building level admins can buy into.

Anonymous said...

Email just sent:
"Dear Administrators:
It is with mixed emotions that I write today to announce that I will be leaving the Fayette County Public Schools to become the next Executive Director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents. I interviewed for and was offered this position on Tuesday afternoon, and I will be leaving effective December 31, 2014.
Although I did not enter into this decision lightly, I must share with you that I am very excited by the opportunity to work with other superintendents and impact educational improvement on a broader scale. As administrators, you know the calling that led you out of the classroom and into leadership. It is that mission that pulls me now.
In order for Kentucky to continue its progress in education, we must advocate at the state level for adequate resources in our classrooms throughout Kentucky. I feel a personal and professional responsibility to my fellow superintendents across every region of the commonwealth, and I can’t wait to build even stronger connections and relationships with this esteemed group of selfless leaders.
I hold each of you, as leaders in the Fayette County Public Schools, in that same high level of esteem. While the board begins a search for a new superintendent, you will continue to carry the mantle of maintaining focus on our students. This past year has been challenging, and we have many mountains yet to scale – eliminating the disparities outlined in the Equity Scorecard, developing a new staffing formula, and addressing the budget and finance issues outlined in the state auditor’s examination to name a few.
We have talented and committed employees who truly care about all children. We have families who want to work side by side with us to educate all children. We have unparalleled community support and resources. We have a Board of Education that will go to the mat for students. Working together, the adults of Fayette County will do amazing things for kids.
Thank you for all you have done and all you will continue to do in the future.
Tom Shelton, PhD
Fayette County Public Schools
(859) 381-4104"

Anonymous said...

I guess now we'll find out if the problem was the Board or the management. We'll get a new superintendent. That will tell the tale.

Anonymous said...

Poor Melissa. What will she do now that she doesn't have Tom to do her thinking for her? Her only independent thought now is to mourn his departure! Perhaps he needs a "yes" woman at KASS and will take her with him.