Wednesday, November 18, 2015
C. J. Huff had seven years to ruin the district; be patient with RIdder
It is easy to understand why people might feel that way.
It is also far too soon to start thinking that it is business as usual in the school district. C. J. Huff and Angie Besendorfer had seven years to ruin the district. The road back is not going to be an easy one.
Consider some of the problems that Ridder faces, thanks to Huff, Besendorfer, and the Board of Education that either rubber stamped everything they did, or in some cases, was kept in the dark.
-Most of the teachers who led the district to being honored with distinction by the state four straight years when Jim Simpson was superintendent are no longer in the system. More than half of the teachers left during a three-year period, leaving a district in which more than half of the teachers have less than five years of experience. When you have that many young teachers, with few experienced hands to show them the way, you have a recipe for disaster.
-The administrative team, for the most part, is made up of people who are not qualified for the positions they hold and many of them were promoted after failing in other positions in the district. The main quality that many of them exhibited to rise to the top in the Huff Administration was a willingness to do anything that Huff asked them to do, no matter what.
-Far too much money was placed in positions that have nothing to do with direct classroom instruction. When you have a district that has financial difficulties (more about that in a few minutes), you do not need an events coordinator, a public relations apparatus, or two full-time people in Bright Futures. We have had too many coordinators, too many executive directors, and too many social workers.
-We have a faculty that has been bombarded with initiatives and testing regimens brought into the district by this group of ill-equipped administrators who will buy into anything any consultant says because they do not know any better and don't have the ability to think on their own.
-We have a chief operations officer who has no background in education and yet has been given far too much power in the hiring of teachers.
-We are in far worse financial condition than CFO Paul Barr would have us believe. When Barr told the board at a recent meeting that the district has miraculously improved from about 10 percent in reserves to 26 percent, he should have received a Nobel Prize for fiction. The only way the total goes up to 26 percent is if FEMA and SEMA cover everything that has been turned in as "errors and omissions" and in many cases, these were not errors or omissions, but decisions that were deliberately made to veer away from the original plans. The district will be fortunate if those costs are covered (even though we should still be angry as federal and state taxpayers). Without the errors and omissions being added to the total, the district reserves stand at about 17 percent, much better than before, but nowhere near the miraculous recovery Barr was trying to sell us.
-Before he left, Huff did his best to reward his loyal administrative team, and at the same time, create more difficulties for his successor. As noted earlier in the Turner Report, Huff awarded raises to some of those employees, including an extra $15,000 a year to his public relations director. Administration sources are saying that in those last days after Huff announced his "retirement," he added a few more poison pills for Ridder by moves he took to make it more difficult (but not impossible) for Ridder to do anything with his executive directors, Jennifer Doshier, Jason Cravens, and Mark Barlass, without the district having to suffer. (In other words, Huff tried to put his most loyal team members in a position to pull off the kind of heist he did in his separation agreement should Ridder decide to cut them loose.)
Ridder has already taken steps that should reassure R-8 patrons. The removal of Sarah Stevens as curriculum director was an easy one. Reportedly, Stevens wanted a sweetheart buyout deal like the one Huff received. Instead, she will do grunt work for the remainder of the year cut off from any place where she could do more damage..
The board approved Ridder's request for surveys that will give him the evidence that he needs to take the next steps toward improving the culture of the school district. That information is scheduled to be shared at the December Board of Education meeting. At that point, a strategic plan will be adopted and Ridder will be able to begin moving forcefully.
One of the most distasteful things that the Turner Report has reported was the deal the board gave C. J. Huff to get him out of here. That deal has been used to criticize the current board, but unfortunately, it was probably the only move they had to make. Huff had to go before he did more damage. Their only mistake was letting Huff take a victory lap and do even more damage before he finally walked out the door (but stayed in the community where he could protect what he sees as his legacy, Bright Futures, and undermine the board members who pushed for his removal, and for that matter, Ridder.)
Change takes time, but consider how much has been done and how quickly.. Huff is no longer superintendent. Besendorfer has been gone for quite a while. In two years, the entire Board of Education has either been voted out, resigned, or decided not to run for re-election.
There was a reason why this job was offered to Ridder for two years. He not only has to clean up the mess Huff left, but he needs to rebuild an educational culture that Huff destroyed and create a solid foundation for whomever is hired to be the next superintendent.
It will not be easy, but the process is underway.
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