Wednesday, September 02, 2015
Ridder survey: No complaints about principals, Central Office...in Mehlville
The results Dr. Norm Ridder will receive are going to differ from those he received in Mehlville, where he served as interim superintendent during the 2014-2015 school year.
As Ridder completed his year in Mehlville and headed for Joplin, the school district he left still faced numerous issues, including a declining tax base and teachers who were leaving to take higher-paying jobs in area school districts, including Lindbergh where former Joplin R-8 Superintendent Jim Simpson is at the helm.
In fact, the problem was so bad, according to a KMOX report, that a record number of teachers left following the 2015 school year- 55 out of 715.
Compare that to Joplin, which has slightly less than 600 teachers and has lost between 350 and 400 over the past four years, with at least two years of losing more than 100 teachers.
But as Ridder left Mehlville, he, school officials, and the community were confident that the strategic plan that was created using the same process that began in Joplin Tuesday night will help that district to emerge from years of having no plan and jumping from one random initiative to another.
That sounds familiar and was the same note Ridder sounded during Tuesday's board meeting when he promised "a sharp focus," and noted that R-8 teachers and staff have had to go through "all kinds of initiatives," leading to "initiative fatigue."
While the lack of focus in Mehlville before Ridder's arrival mirrors what he has walked into in Joplin, it is almost certain that the results of the extensive study here will not find the same level of confidence in principals and top administrative staff that was found in Mehlville.
As Ridder and the cabinet developed the district’s strategic plan over the last year, he emphasized that the administrators assembled by (former Superintendent Eric) Knost were the youngest and most talented he worked with in 40 years of education —comprising what board Vice President Larry Felton called the “backbone of the whole district.”
During the teacher and principal surveys for the strategic plan, the district received no complaints about principals or Central Office, which Ridder called unprecedented.
Ridder has most likely already discovered that upper administration and principals are not "the backbone" of the Joplin R-8 School District. While there are exceptions among the principals, most of the upper-level administrative staff did not reach their present positions through any type of superior skill set (many are not qualified for the positions they hold), but through the ability to say the word "yes." Many of them were promoted through the mislabeled "teaching/learning coaches," which for the most part have served as spies for former Superintendent C. J. Huff and former Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer.
Those positions were added at Besendorfer's request, paid for by removing the professional development money from the individual schools and casting the district's professional development committee into oblivion.
The survey in Mehlville showed that teachers were concerned about the lack of support they were getting, primarily because teaching positions and paraprofessionals had to be cut because of the district's financial condition.
Joplin teachers will also talk about a lack of support, but not because of positions that have been eliminated. Teachers have not been supported on disciplinary issues with students for the past several years as upper level administrators pushed for statistics that showed they were eliminating discipline problems because referrals were down.
R-8 teachers will also talk about a lack of professional development that could bring improvement to their classrooms and a culture of fear that has been created as these upper-level administrators, some of the principals, and nearly all of the teaching/learning coaches demanded complete support for one initiative after another and punished those dared to offer even constructive criticism.
(That culture of fear, I might add, resulted in two employees leaving the district and an attempt to force another one out, simply because the Huff Administration believed they were supplying information to the Turner Report. None of the three were giving me any information.)
Judging from the conversations I have had with many parents over the past two years, Ridder will quickly discover (and may already have) that despite the fact that his predecessor's administration placed its top priority on public relations, the relations it had with the public did not go so smoothly.
Ridder will learn that the lack of trust he has gleaned through his conversations with teachers is also a serious concern for the community.
Fortunately for Ridder, though he has noted that the current board of education has much to learn, he does not have to deal with Mike Landis, Randy Steele, Anne Sharp, and the others who enabled C. J. Huff for seven years. The current board is made up of intelligent individuals with backgrounds in business, politics, education, and a much deeper understanding of what data is meaningful and what data is meaningless.
And thankfully, the current board can also tell the difference between Bright Futures and steps that can actually lead to bright futures.
Thanks to all of you who have been spreading the word about Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud: Greed, Corruption, and the Joplin Tornado. The book is available at Always Buying Books, Changing Hands Book Shoppe, and The Book Guy in Joplin, Pat's Books in Carthage, and Cato's Connection in Lamar, and can be purchased in paperback or e-book formats from Amazon.com.