Monday, June 28, 2010

School's out for the summer

High weird shifts into high gear


Summer is here, the moon is full, and Goochland’s school administration continues to fix things that weren’t broken.

Last Wednesday, Lynne Venter, director of finance for the school system tendered her resignation to take a position with the Fairfax school system.

On Thursday the of student services specialist job was posted on the school website as an open position

Venter’s loss is a serious blow to the dwindling credibility of the school system. Her knowledge and experience made her an integral and valued part of the school administration.

These two job openings seem to indicate that the people responsible for running day-to-day school operations are voting against Goochland with their feet and running for the exit.

At the June 22 school board meeting, the board voted to rotate the principals of Randolph and Goochland Elementary schools. Stacy Austin of RES and Diana Gordon of GES have both worked long and hard to build good teams at their respective schools and must now start over in a year already overflowing with challenge.

Notice of the action was reportedly not included in the school board packet made available before the meeting, so those in attendance had no idea what was going on until it was over.

Sneaking this change in at a meeting when a lot of people are away is reprehensible. The stealth of the act confirms its sleaziness. Adding further tensions to a school system already stressed by the elimination of so many programs and teaching positions is irrational at best.

Reportedly, one school board member impugned Austin’s professional integrity to a parent by way of justifying the switch. That would seem to be a violation of Austin’s privacy and school board confidentiality policy. It’s a wonder that lawsuits have not been filed. School board members seem to believe that they are accountable to no one, except perhaps Dr. Linda Underwood, superintendent of schools.

This is outrageous. Has any member of the school board bothered to personally and independently verify the rationale Underwood used for this switch?

Austin and Gordon are well respected by the teachers in their schools as well as parents, students and the community at large. Is this switch yet another example of Underwood’s need to exert power? She obviously has no idea how to create a collaborative and mutually supportive organization. See Goochlandparents.com for more information about the school board meeting.

The parents of gifted students are frustrated that the school system has given little thought to how the needs of these students will be met. Visit the school website at www.glnd.k12.va.us to view the vapid and information-free slide show of the new “plan” for gifted education.

What is going on here? Is the school administration sabotaging the education process in Goochland? If so, they’re doing a pretty good job.

It almost seems like Underwood is trying to get the county will pay her to go away.

Many parents believe her dismissal is long overdue. What will it take for the school board to send her packing?

How did Underwood get the job in the first place?

Although the school board alleged that it was searching high and low for prior superintendent Frank Morgan’s replacement, in the end, they elevated Underwood who had been assistant superintendent.

After Morgan’s departure was announced, a random, unscientific sampling of teachers from most county schools indicated that they would prefer a new face to succeed Morgan. Underwood, they contended, was doing a good job in the second chair, but was not what they wanted in a superintendent.

Rumor has it that Underwood told the school board that if they did not elevate her to superintendent, she would leave and take all of the best teachers with her.

Many of those same teachers probably received reduction in force notices during teacher appreciation week and are now looking for other jobs.

We are still eighteen months and one budget cycle away from the possibility of a new school board after the 2011 local elections.

In the meantime, Goochland’s kids must put up with a school system lurching into deeper dysfunction. Affluent parents disgusted with the machinations of Underwood and “the boys” will move their children to private schools, or their families to functioning school districts. What of the people with no other option? For a few shining years Goochland’s schools moved ahead of the pack. Now, thanks more to a leadership vacuum than budget shortfalls, that achievement may become history.

Why is the school board permitting this to happen? In times of crisis, like these, administration, teachers, staff and parents must pull together to negotiate the rapids. Instead Underwood, seemingly with the approval of the school board, is rocking the boat, hard.

She needs to go over the side before the whole boat sinks.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Was Ms Underwood provided with an opportunity to explain this decision?

Just playing devil's advocate - let's not forget that this is a personnel issue for which public comment is not required. Can you imagine if every school or government personnel position was reviewed by the public?

It could be that this is a career enhancing move for one or both principles and perhaps they are being groomed for advancement. This rotation "could" be a good thing for them and for Goochland schools. Everything changes - sometimes it is best to embrace it and make it work to succeed. Support the principles at all the schools!

Pat

Anonymous said...

Dr. Underwood has repeatedly refused to give any explanation for the switching of principals, other than it happens all the time. In discussing this move with a former school administrators from other locales, they indicated that this type of move is typically done in order to chase one or both principals out of the system all together.

Mr. Meng told a parent that the reason for the switch was declining test scores at one of the two schools. Before that conversation even ended, the parent pulled up said test scores and proved his statements false. Mr. Meng then told the parent that the school board and superintendent knew what was best for their child, and that the parent thought that they knew what was best for their child, but they didn't.

But aside from the emotions that go with the principal switch, what has become clear is that the number of questionable actions taken by both the school board and the superintendent now can be counted by the dozens.

Unpublished items appear in the agenda minutes before (if that much) public meetings, despite being cleared with the board chair the day before. Uneven discipline is handed out to teachers/assistant principals for the exact same offense (immediate termination versus waiting months until the school year ends). The superintendent uses the email system to deliver false messages intended to "rile up" one set of parents against another. Reports submitted to the Va Dept. of Education that misrepresent the schools actual costs. A work environment exists where teachers are fearful of losing their jobs. Repeated requests for information regarding salary categorizations from the Board of Supervisors and parents are ignored. Failure to properly plan for programs eliminated goes on for over a year. Students come and go from the GHS/GMS complex during the school day unchecked. Administration chooses to save face regarding discipline and drug issues within the high school rather than deal with them head on. Questions submitted in writing to the school board and administration go unanswered despite repeated requests. The school administration seems to not be able to retain a director of finance, going through 3 in a 3 year period. The list goes on and on.

Individually, many of these items are not actionable. When all of these items that occured in less than one year are listed together, they paint a clear picture of mismanagement.

The schools are in disarray. Your property values are effected by them, and not in a good way.

I'm all for optimism and second chances, but the glass is bone dry and no one can remember when the second chance was wasted.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Underwood's stock response to this when asked was:


"Mr. Austin and Mrs. Gordon are excellent educational leaders and will continue to lead Goochland Schools with the same knowledge, skill, and professionalism they have demonstrated so ably in the past.

Change is difficult and this decision was not made lightly or without examination of a multitude of factors. I am confident that they will exert their considerable leadership skills to the benefit of all students at both RES and GES."

But the burden was on her to explain when the vote was cast at the SB meeting . Instead, she gives a stock answer one week post date and told parents on the night of the SB meeting nothing of this change.I am certain that all of the children of both schools will take comfort in "change being difficult" rather than have a transitional process.

While I can understand giving someone the benefit of the doubt . Dr. Underwood has been given that time and time again and she repeatedly smacks down opportunity to err on the side of caution and instead ignores the parents and constituents of our county.
This is the highest paid employee in the school system , the greatest cost of the county paid with our tax dollars . If we haven't the right to question...who does? This is not an autocratic society or school and the sooner Dr. Underwood learns that the better.

Anonymous said...

Most critics of Goochland County Public Schools' current tumult do support the principles at all the schools, as well as the principals! When taking an advocacy position, as I am to the previous comment, I believe using my full name adds to my argument's credibility. That said, who are you, "Pat?" How does the public know that your comments are not planted as a subterfuge? Either way, I suggest you check your spelling and reveal your true identity.

Respectfully,

Michael M. McDermott
Maidens, Virginia

Kristin said...

Regarding the principal swap . . . .

As I leader, I try to anticipate what people may have concerns about. A leader would be more pro-active in addressing those concerns head on, rather than seemingly trying to slip something by the public. It should be no surprise to Dr. Underwood or the board that a move like this, that impacts 1/4 to 1/3 of our student population, might raise some concern.

That said, I know a number of parents have emailed questions to Dr. Underwood about the decision. The only responses I've seen were quite vague & general answers. I don't expect personnel matters to be publicly aired, but again --- I'd expect a leader to take the time to point out the advantages of such a high-profile change in the schools.

I do support Mrs. Gordon and Mr. Austin. I think they have built strong programs and excellent staffs at their schools. I have no reason to believe that they won't continue to be successful in their new schools. However, such a move IS disruptive to relationships built between principals and staff, principals and students, and principals and parents. I'd like to know that the move was made for *some* benefit that outweighs that disruption.

Kristin McNaron

Anonymous said...

Yes, Dr. Underwood had ample opportunity to explain her decision at the School Board meeting, but chose not to. This switch was not disclosed to the public either before, or during the meeting. I checked the agenda before leaving that afternoon, and noted that while an entire new section on GCPS goals and objectives had inexplicably been inserted into the agenda packet dated June 17 on the afternoon of June 22, there was no sign of the additional personnel item, which could only have been posted literally minutes before, during or after the actual meeting.

While Dr. Underwood went to great lengths to read the entire declaration on paying VRS benefits for employees hired after July 1, there was nary a whisper about the contents of the important replacement personnel item, which meant that even those members of the public who attended the school board meeting, had absolutely no idea that the switching of the RES and GES principals had been approved until after the meeting.

Given that a member of the school board has apparently claimed to a number of parents that the test scores at RES have dropped significantly since Mr. Austin took over, if this switch is intended as a career enhancing move, I seriously doubt it is intended to be in Mr. Austin's favor. A number of parents have already evaluated the SOL results, which entirely refute this allegation, and are questioning what figures could possibly have been used to support this claim?

It has been my personal experience, with 3 children in GCPS over the past 10 years, that Mr. Austin is one of the best educators and leaders in our school system and our community. He knows every student in his school by name, they care for and respect him, and he sincerely cares about their individual success. I have more limited experience with Mrs. Gordon, but agree with you wholeheartedly that we should support the principals at our schools. Unfortunately, this last minute switch under the cover of darkness does not seem like support for these two leaders of our community. It feels more like they are being undermined, and made less effective in their positions.

And yes, parents have indeed asked why Dr. Underwood decided to make this switch at such a critical time, with 10% of the teaching positions eliminated for next year, massive budget cuts to programs and supplies, and the need to plan for the reintegration of the elementary gifted students to their home schools in August, with no clear academic goals or measurable objectives to speak of for these students to date. The best response received from the Superintendent for switching principals so far is "many reasons". We're still waiting for an elaboration as to why, under these already difficult circumstances, it is necessary to create further disruption in two schools which appear to have been functioning perfectly well to date.

Jane

Jane Christie said...

Yes, Dr. Underwood had ample opportunity to explain her decision at the School Board meeting, but chose not to. This switch was not disclosed to the public either before, or during the meeting. I checked the agenda before leaving that afternoon, and noted that while an entire new section on GCPS goals and objectives had inexplicably been inserted into the agenda packet dated June 17 on the afternoon of June 22, there was no sign of the additional personnel item, which could only have been posted literally minutes before, during or after the actual meeting.

While Dr. Underwood went to great lengths to read the entire declaration on paying VRS benefits for employees hired after July 1, there was nary a whisper about the contents of the important replacement personnel item, which meant that even those members of the public who attended the school board meeting, had absolutely no idea that the switching of the RES and GES principals had been approved until after the meeting.

Given that a member of the school board has apparently claimed to a number of parents that the test scores at RES have dropped significantly since Mr. Austin took over, if this switch is intended as a career enhancing move, I seriously doubt it is intended to be in Mr. Austin's favor. A number of parents have already evaluated the SOL results, which entirely refute this allegation, and are questioning what figures could possibly have been used to support this claim?

It has been my personal experience, with 3 children in GCPS over the past 10 years, that Mr. Austin is one of the best educators and leaders in our school system and our community. He knows every student in his school by name, they care for and respect him, and he sincerely cares about their individual success. I have more limited experience with Mrs. Gordon, but agree with you wholeheartedly that we should support the principals at our schools. Unfortunately, this last minute switch under the cover of darkness does not seem like support for these two leaders of our community. It feels more like they are being undermined, and made less effective in their positions.

And yes, parents have indeed asked why Dr. Underwood decided to make this switch at such a critical time, with 10% of the teaching positions eliminated for next year, massive budget cuts to programs and supplies, and the need to plan for the reintegration of the elementary gifted students to their home schools in August, with no clear academic goals or measurable objectives to speak of for these students to date. The best response received from the Superintendent for switching principals so far is "many reasons". We're still waiting for an elaboration as to why, under these already difficult circumstances, it is necessary to create further disruption in two schools which appear to have been functioning perfectly well to date.

Jane

The Truth Teller said...

These problems of late are not the fault of one person or even one board of people. The problem is the public school system as a whole. I have never seen an organization so willing to “eat their own” as the public schools. Good teachers and administrators are all too often forced out while lack luster “yes” men and women are retained and in many cases promoted. The Superintendent is all powerful and School Board (who is supposed to be the voice of the parents) is pathetically weak and powerless. Teachers and administrators have successfully fought off all attempts to have their pay and retention based on job performance. As a result their futures have become very vulnerable to politics and are completely limited by who they are friends with at the central office.

This monster can not be tamed by simply firing the Superintendent or electing new School Board members. This monster must be tamed by strengthening the entire system. Disband the School Board and make the Superintendent a constitutionally elected office. Attach education funds directly to the child so the child’s parents can decide which school he/she should attend.

Strengthening the system in ways such as these would give the parents the ability to make improvements where they are needed and also the ability to prevent change in areas which have negative impact their children. Unfortunately, I suspect we will just keep complaining about the monster as we helplessly watch as the names on the Goochland Public School office doors change.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to direct you to the story on the blog just under the story regarding the school system. It is an article regarding the audit woes that have cost the county dearly in recent years. In it you will read the following comments:

"More pointedly the competence of county administration was often questioned, which questions were regularly ignored or perhaps, in hindsight, stonewalled for reasons only known to the one/s doing the stonewalling."

Hmmm, if you've been following the school board over the past year, this should sound vaguely familiar. How about instead of being "sheople", we actually QUESTION AUTHORITY going forward and think on our own.

Had one of these principals been moved to the Middle or High school, or assistant superintendent position, then a "career enhancing" move might have applied, and I'd agree. However, there is little to gain from a personal developmental perspective to move a principal from one elementary school to another. As a matter of fact, the risk of making such moves highly outweighs the potential rewards, as this move is highly disruptive for all (principal, student, teachers and parents) especially when both of those schools are models of how all the other schools should be run.

Of course Ms Underwood could explain herself, she has a blog afterall, she has a voice messaging service that she could utilize to send out her personal message, or she could have had the courage to announce this while school was in session and have an open meeting to discuss this. But why should the citizens expect her to suddenly become a beacon of exceptional communications skills, when she has shown so little aptitude for such skills to date?

Sometimes it is good to question authority, otherwise you end up with hundred thousand dollar checks in your pencil drawer; or defective piping associated with the largest utilities project the county has ever undertaken; or an inability to speak to various costs components of your school system nor the history behind those numbers because you've employed 3 directors of finance in 3 years.

Let me be the devil's devil advocate, potentially this "could" be a move to disrupt the excellent relationships these principals have with the community, relationships that neither the superintendent nor the school board come close to sharing. Potentially it is a means for the Superintendent to undermine some of these educational leaders because she senses they are more powerful/beloved than she, and that their position within the local community is preventing her from unchecked autonomy. We already know the School Board lacks any courage of their own. Potentially this is yet another divisive tactic by this individual, who doesn't live in the county, and has no kids in the school system, to further divide the citizens of our county. Potentially the Sup is doing this to stir up controversy with the BOS because she did such a poor job at positioning the schools this year and they refused to advance her agenda, potentially she's looking to pull some of the dumbest moves possible in hopes of someone buying her out of her contract.

Yes, you are correct, everything changes - but sometimes the risk far outweigh any rewards, and this happens to be the case here. More often than not, people will support ideas if they are communicated effectively with the associated cognitive reasoning and well thought out foundation measurements for their success or failure.

Elvis

Anonymous said...

I believe their is a larger issue that transcends Dr. Underwood's decision to reassign school principals. There is a growing contention among her staff about the placement and empowerment of young staff members. It seems Dr. Underwood has a predilection for promoting young teachers (in their 20s or 30s)and placing them into key positions within the central office staff. I would simply call into question the experience levels of the Teacher Induction Specialist, the Special Education Supervisor, the Specialist of Elementary Education, and the GIST Coordinator. All four positions will be housed in the Central Office Building starting on July 1st.

Although it could be argued that these 'core advisors' are bright and eager, Dr. Underwood has been known to value their thoughts and opinions over her more experienced directors/coordinators. If Dr. Underwood's decisions seem erratic and unfounded, it is because she is soliciting the advice from individuals with as little as 2 years teaching experience and those without any experience in educational administration.

Anonymous said...

Is it true that Ms. Underwood is getting a $31,000.00 raise and that's why she didn't want to give a line item accounting of salaries in the administration?

Anonymous said...

No, the reported pay increase was an error by the Richmond Times Dispatch for the 2009 figures, which made it appear that there was an increase. In fact, her salary remains the same - $121K basic salary, plus an $18K annuity, plus a $14,4K car allowance, plus full health benefits for her and her husband. Have I left anything out?!

However, it is absolutely true that Dr. Underwood refuses to disclose the 2009/10 breakdown of salaries and benefits for the schools by the function and object codes provided by the VDOE in accordance with the Code of Virginia. These salaries and benefits account for about 80% of the entire school budget, and the County budget to be published on July 1st would seem to be incomplete without this comparative information. Even though the County Administrator, the Board of Supervisors and the public have requested this information on numerous occasions, Dr. Underwood simply will not supply it in this level of detail.

Kind of begs the question why Dr. Underwood is so very reluctant to disclose exactly how public money has been spent....wonder if it has anything to do with those administrative positions the public claimed were being unlawfully funded out of the intruction category, or perhaps it is related to the use of temporary Federal stimulus funds to finance permanent positions?

Jane.

Anonymous said...

Yes. The Richmond Times Dispatch on June 13, 2010 listed local School Superintendant's salaries for years 2009 and 2010:

Underwood's salary for 2009: $121,808

Underwood's salary for 2010:
$154,209

Anonymous said...

No, the Times-Dispatch under-reported her salary from last year, making it look like she got a raise this year.

Anonymous said...

Odd that the Times Dispatch would make that mistake only on Goochland's figures... And I have not seen a retraction/correction.

jd said...

Actually, Goochland was not the only locality with misreported figures for it's officials' salaries. There were at least a half dozen corrections printed just a day or two after the original article.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I haven't visited the page in a few days. One little "devil's advocate" email and everybody jumps in with both feet. I think it's excellent, and very exciting that people are finally getting riled up about local government. My child is out of the school system, so I'm a bit more emotionally detached, though still interested in what is taking place in Goochland.

To the person who posted right after my original post - you make some pretty strong accusations. I'm not doubting you, but there's an ethical obligation to provide corroboration for serious accusations, such as sending out "false messages."

To Michael McDermott, thank you for the zinger and the spelling lesson. My bad. I did mean principals. Sorry to break up your conspiracy theory, but I'm not a plant. I am Pat (Patrick) Gannon of Maidens. My goal was simply to spark some interesting discussion and do what so few ever pause to do - and that's to take a look at both sides of the issue. I'm not a supporter of the Supervisor or the School Board. Besides - they aren't the problem. All of us are the problem because we placed the people in office who created the sitatuion that you are all now so disdainful of. Perhaps more thought will be given to elected positions like School Board in the future.

I agree fully with the Truth Teller. The system is broken. In fact I'll take it a step further and point out that in addition to structure and administration, the curriculum is also broken. We teach knowledge, but we don't teach wisdom. We teach memorization, but we don't teach logic, and how to think. We need classes that make students better human beings with classes that teach having power with, rather than power over, peaceful conflict resolution, personhood and 'self' creation, engaging creativity, celebrating self, valuing others, diversities and similarities, mind power and creative consciousness, honesty and transparency, science and spirituality. These should be full time topics, not something crammed into a 4th grade Social Studies class. The "data" is all out there. We need to teach kids how to retrieve the data, and what to do with it. We need to teach them to automatically QUESTION EVERYTHING.

Look at our world, our earth, our society. Mankind is not doing very well as a species. We have forgotten that we are all ONE, and we are destroying each other and our world through our lack of focus on what's really important. Surely we need to change the way we teach our children, because the way it was done before does not appear to be working very well.

Everything needs to be changed - beginning with the concept that man is inherently evil due to the efforts of a talking snake - and instead teach that man is inherently good. Children raised to believe this can change the world.

Pat Gannon
Maidens, VA

Anonymous said...

Wow! I haven't visited the page in a few days. One little "devil's advocate" email and everybody jumps in with both feet. I think it's excellent, and very exciting that people are finally getting riled up about local government. My child is out of the school system, so I'm a bit more emotionally detached, though still interested in what is taking place in Goochland.

To the person who posted right after my original post - you make some pretty strong accusations. I'm not doubting you, but there's an ethical obligation to provide corroboration for serious accusations, such as sending out "false messages."

To Michael McDermott, thank you for the zinger and the spelling lesson. My bad. I did mean principals. Sorry to break up your conspiracy theory, but I'm not a plant. I am Pat (Patrick) Gannon of Maidens. My goal was simply to spark some interesting discussion and do what so few ever pause to do - and that's to take a look at both sides of the issue. I'm not a supporter of the Supervisor or the School Board. Besides - they aren't the problem. All of us are the problem because we placed the people in office who created the sitatuion that you are all now so disdainful of. Perhaps more thought will be given to elected positions like School Board in the future.

I agree fully with the Truth Teller. The system is broken. In fact I'll take it a step further and point out that in addition to structure and administration, the curriculum is also broken. We teach knowledge, but we don't teach wisdom. We teach memorization, but we don't teach logic, and how to think. We need classes that make students better human beings with classes that teach having power with, rather than power over, peaceful conflict resolution, personhood and 'self' creation, engaging creativity, celebrating self, valuing others, diversities and similarities, mind power and creative consciousness, honesty and transparency, science and spirituality. These should be full time topics, not something crammed into a 4th grade Social Studies class. The "data" is all out there. We need to teach kids how to retrieve the data, and what to do with it. We need to teach them to automatically QUESTION EVERYTHING.

Look at our world, our earth, our society. Mankind is not doing very well as a species. We have forgotten that we are all ONE, and we are destroying each other and our world through our lack of focus on what's really important. Surely we need to change the way we teach our children, because the way it was done before does not appear to be working very well.

Everything needs to be changed - beginning with the concept that man is inherently evil due to the efforts of a talking snake - and instead teach that man is inherently good. Children raised to believe this can change the world.

Pat Gannon
Maidens, VA