Saturday, December 19, 2015
How did Bud Sexson get hired in the first place?
Why did it take five and a half years to get rid of Sexson? After all, complaints about Sexson from parents have been a constant since he took over in August 2010.
The other question- How did he ever get hired in the first place?
I will accept part of the blame for Sexson lasting five and a half years. The Joplin R-8 Board of Education was ready to get rid of him in 2014, but I posted that information on the Turner Report and Superintendent C. J. Huff went ballistic. He had to keep Sexson and since this happened at a time when C. J. Huff got what he wanted by 7-0 votes, Sexson stayed.
This time, I waited until Sexson's dismissal (reassignment) had been announced.
How was he hired in the first place? You can blame former Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer on that. It was she who determined almost immediately after being hired that South Middle School (and then East Middle School) Principal Ron Mitchell had to go. It took two years, but eventually Mitchell was removed and it was announced to EMS staff in the spring of 2010.
At that time, Mitchell was one of the senior principals in the district and had earned a solid reputation in the community after taking over a troubled school in 2002 and restoring discipline, while hiring a top-notch staff.
That did not matter to Besendorfer or to C. J. Huff. Veteran principals and veteran teachers were disposable commodities during the Huff/Besendorfer era. Only three principals who were on board when C. J. Huff arrived were still there when he "retired." And one of those, High School Principal Kerry Sachetta, had been targeted for removal at the same time as Mitchell, but had the nerve to be named Missouri High School Principal of the Year the same year.
How Bud Sexson and Angie Besendorfer happened to become acquainted is not clear, but it was obvious that he was the choice shortly after the finalists were selected.
During the Huff/Besendorfer era, when jobs such as principal or assistant principal came up, the same procedure was followed each time. The finalists were chosen, then a committee was formed, always including teachers from the school. Instead of selecting five or six strong finalists, the list almost always featured one person who had already been anointed, another who would be a plausible selection, and four people who did not have a chance of getting hired.
I was a member of the committee that interviewed East Middle School principal candidates in 2010 and I wrote about it in my book Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud: Greed, Corruption, and the Joplin Tornado:
The problems at East Middle School began when Angie Besendorfer was able, after two years of trying, to remove Ron Mitchell as principal. Mitchell had dared to question some of Besendorfer’s mandates, though he invariably did as he was told. Questioning Angie Besendorfer was something that you simply did not do if you wanted to hold on to your job.
Though he had to follow her instructions, Mitchell did his best to protect his teachers and not let them know how bad the situation was getting in their school district.
When Mitchell placed me on the East Middle School leadership team for Besendorfer’s ALL (Advancing Leadership Legacy) meetings, I was not happy. I hated anything that took me from the classroom.
When the first meeting I attended, which was held in a conference room at the old Joplin High School, began with each school having to come up with a recipe for a perfect cake (which then would be used to create the perfect school system), I knew the true meaning of hell.
“Can you get me out of this?” I asked Mitchell.
“As long as I am in it, you’re in it,” he told me. During the second semester of the 2009-2010 school year, Mitchell called me into his office and told me he was removing me from East’s ALL team.
I didn’t say anything, but that was the first hint I had that Ron Mitchell, who had given me my first teaching job when he was principal at Diamond Middle School and then hired me to teach at Joplin South Middle School, was not going to be back in the fall of 2010.
He made the announcement at a staff meeting in the library a few days later. Another after-school meeting was held a few days after that, in which Besendorfer explained to the East faculty the process through which Mitchell’s successor would be chosen.
“You will have an important role in selecting your principal,” she said, then explained how the panel that would interview the candidates would include two East faculty members. After Besendorfer left, a vote was taken and seventh grade history teacher Jason Weaver and I were chosen to be on the panel.
The interviews were held a few days later in the administration building. Six finalists had been chosen. When I stepped into the conference room, I was handed a sheet of paper. “Here are the questions we are going to ask, Assistant Superintendent Steve Doerr said, “and this is the one you are going to ask.”
For anyone who had never been involved in one of these, it might have come as a shock that your questions were totally scripted for you, but this was the second time I had been chosen for such a panel. Eighth grade history teacher Rocky Biggers and I had been on the panel that interviewed assistant principal candidates when Jarrett Cook was chosen.
I considered my job to be to report back to the teachers what I learned through the process, even though the first thing we were told was that we were not to say a word to anybody. I owed my allegiance to my fellow faculty members and after having our principal fired for no good reason, there was no way I was not going to tell them what happened during these interviews.
I painstakingly took notes so my memory of what took place would be clear. The best interview that day was with Jarrett Cook, but we all knew that he was not going to get the job. Besendorfer was still unsure about whether Cook’s loyalty to Ron Mitchell would outweigh his loyalty to her. His time would have to wait.
Out of the other five, none were impressive, but it was obvious who the new principal was going to be.
It was Bud Sexson from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, who seemed to be reciting things that I knew were on Besendorfer’s wish list, even though he had the irritating habit of punctuating every sentence with the word “okay.” When we had finished asking our scripted questions, Besendorfer asked Sexson if he had anything he wanted to ask. Sexson, showing he had reviewed the school’s test scores, asked why sixth grade scores were so much lower than fifth grade.
Besendorfer was about to respond, but I jumped in, “At the elementary schools, they stop emphasizing anything except math and reading in the weeks before the MAP (Missouri Assessment Program) tests,” I said.
Besendorfer glared at me and said, “We do not do that in the Joplin school district.”
I knew I was right because I had talked to teachers from the elementary schools, but sometimes it is a much wiser thing to not push it, so I remained silent.
When the interviews were finished, I stood and prepared to leave.
Steve Doerr said, “I’ll take your notes.”
That did not surprise me. It was the same process that had been followed during the earlier assistant principal candidate interviews. I ripped the first three pages from my yellow legal pad until I reached the first blank sheet of paper and I handed them to Doerr.
When I arrived at East the next morning, I took my legal pad into a classroom where teachers had gathered, turned over that blank sheet of paper and started reading from my real notes.
I gave them details of the interviews and told them I had no doubt that Bud Sexson would be our next principal. I also told them that I did not have a good feeling about it.
Sexson was hired and a few weeks later, in a surprising move, the Board of Education hired Sexson’s sister as the new principal at Royal Heights Elementary School.
A new contract had been offered to the long time Royal Heights Principal Larry Masters, but the offer was suddenly withdrawn, as allegations were made in a closed session of the board that Masters cheated on the MAP tests. Masters had tenure as a teacher, so he had to be offered a place in the school district, a strange development for someone who had allegedly been fired for cheating.
There was no basis to the cheating accusations. Masters knew that he had been sandbagged by Angie Besendorfer and he began considering actions to take against her and the Joplin R-8 School District.
The removal of Ron Mitchell as principal and the hiring of Bud Sexson began a downward spiral which saw lack of support for teachers, an almost total elimination of discipline, continually plummeting test scores (largely because of the gimmicky "innovations" that were forced on teachers), and an almost complete disconnect with parents.
In both the school district and in the City of Joplin, there are those who preach that we should "move forward" and not keep revisiting the past. Moving forward is an absolute necessity, but so is looking back, especially when you consider that we will have candidates for the Joplin R-8 Board of Education who would love nothing better than to continue the legacy of C. J. Huff and Angie Besendorfer.
Though I taught English and writing for 14 years in the Diamond and Joplin school districts, my initial teaching degree enabled me to teach high school and junior high school social studies. One of the first things all of us learn is that we are taught history so we can avoid making the same mistakes that were made by others.
It is vitally important that we remember how people like Bud Sexson and recently reassigned Curriculum Director Sarah Stevens were put in positions for which they were clearly unqualified. Those are the kind of mistakes we cannot afford to repeat.
The only history of what happened to the Joplin R-8 School District and the City of Joplin from the tornado through the "retirement" of C. J. Huff can be found in the pages of Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud. The book is available locally 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. You can buy it online in paperback or e-book format at the Amazon links below.