On May 28, 2015, C. J. Huff announced his retirement, while Mike Landis, who had been on the school board for 15 years resigned in a cowardly act that delayed needed changes such as the removal of Chief Operations Officer Tina Smith for another year.
The following are from the Turner Report coverage on that day:
C. J. Huff resigns
C. J. Huff is announcing his resignation during a press conference this morning.
The regular principals' meeting was moved up to this morning to give Huff the opportunity to make the announcement to them before the press conference.
\Reportedly, the Board of Education has reached an agreement with Huff to buy out the remainder of his contract, which was scheduled to run through 2018.
More information to come.
Note: As it turned out Huff's resignation (or firing, if you prefer) turned out to be a "retirement" as part of the separation agreement. Also, no press conference was held. I received a testy e-mail that morning from the district's p.r. person Kelli Price saying there would be no press conference and berating me for getting my facts wrong. I have always wondered why I never received e-mails from her all of the times I was getting everything right.
C. J. Huff: It's time for me to be a dad and a husband again
During a gathering with principals and administrators this morning and in a letter to staff, Dr. C.J. Huff announced his plans to retire from Joplin Schools effective June 30, 2015.
"This has been a difficult decision for me to make," Dr. Huff said. "But, it's time for me to step aside based on two primary factors. First, I love my family dearly and have missed them greatly. They miss me too. It’s time to be a dad and husband again. Second, I’ve had many opportunities in recent months to visit with my principals, as well as with many, many teachers and support staff. It is crystal clear, Joplin Schools is on the right track. I've seen amazing work going on in classrooms and buildings across our district, and I will leave knowing that our kids and our community's future are in good hands. I am proud and honored to have worked with this team for the last seven years."
Dr. Huff began his career with Joplin Schools in 2008. During his tenure, the district has experienced more than $325 million in construction projects and facility improvements. These include the completion of three new middle schools and the reconstruction of several schools, including two elementary schools, a middle school, a high school and a technical school, after half of the school district was damaged or destroyed in the May 2011 tornado. In addition, renovations have been completed at nearly every school in the district and thirteen community safe rooms have been constructed across the district with a final safe room scheduled for completion in October 2015.
Upon his arrival to Joplin Schools, Dr. Huff was tasked with improving a dismal graduation rate. In 2008, the graduation rate at Joplin Schools was 73.3%. That rate has improved to 87.5%. Dr. Huff has also led the district through a devastating natural disaster - the costliest tornado in the nation's history, as well as the worst economic disaster since the great depression and the controversial and most significant national education reform movement in decades. Dr. Huff has served 19 years in the education field as a teacher, principal and superintendent.
“We have seen a great deal of change over the last eight years, and that has taken strong and dedicated leadership," said Board of Education President Jeff Koch. "Operating at a sustained peak for such a long period of time can make the work/life balance unequal. We will continue to draw on Dr. Huff’s expertise over the coming months and know that with a steady foundation, there can be a smooth transition. We appreciate Dr. Huff’s guidance through many challenges and accomplishments and wish him the very best in the future."
Note: This was the official news release of Huff's "retirement." As it turns out, this release and the exact wording of it was part of the separation agreement.
C. J. Huff to teachers: I was not fired
Last night I spent two hours staring at a blank piece of paper trying to figure out what to say to the most amazing group of people I’ve ever had the privilege of serving. Over the next few days, the rumor mill is going to fire up. We’ve seen it time and again. I want you to hear from me first these words that I have so struggled to find up to this point. In short, it’s time for me to step aside.
At the Board meeting Tuesday night, I submitted my retirement letter to Joplin Schools Board of Education effective June 30. I was not fired, disciplined, given an ultimatum, or asked to resign. This was my decision, and one that I have been considering for the last several months based on two primary factors. First, I love my family dearly and have missed them greatly. They miss me too. It’s time to be a dad and husband again. Second, I’ve had many opportunities in recent months to visit with my principals, as well as many, many teachers and support staff. It is crystal clear, Joplin Schools is on the right track, and, without question, you’ve got this.
Over the last seven years, I have been witness to unprecedented acts of determination, compassion, faith and love…not only for our children, but also for one another. To say the last four years have taken a heavy toll on all of us would be an understatement. We’ve been through a lot together. I can’t imagine a school district anywhere in this great nation that has accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. You stayed the course. You never waivered in your commitment to the children of Joplin Schools. That has been your focus…no matter what.
Simultaneously we have faced the most costly tornado in our nation’s history, the worst economic disaster since the great depression, and the most significant AND arguably the most controversial national education reform movement in decades. It was no small task by any measure, and the bottom line is we got through it together.
I’d ask that you t ask that you take a step back this summer, take a deep breath, and look around you. What we have done together can never be taken away. Nor can what you have done individually - the sacrifices you have made, your collective commitment to excellence under extreme circumstances, your willingness to take risks, your patience, your understanding…always hopeful, always looking ahead, striding towards the finish line of a recovery effort that has been a marathon at a sprint pace. We’ve crossed that finish line.
More important than the construction we have all endured that has resulted in many beautiful buildings and additions is the programming we have put in place. The joining together of JHS/FTC and the unique programming opportunities is truly a one-of-a-kind learning experience for our kids. This along with the strong partnerships we have created within our community ensures the long-term continued progress towards our vision of college, career, and civic ready graduates. From a systems standpoint, everything (and I do mean everything) from the great work of our support staff, to the work of our Parents As Teachers program, to our preschool, through the work of our elementary and middle schools is lined up with our expected outcomes for our graduates. I’ve seen it first hand. What you have done and are doing is amazing.
Karen Evans, Joplin Schools 2015 Teacher of the Year, sent me an email yesterday that says in a two sentences what it has taken me this long to articulate (Karen…forgive me, but it’s worth sharing).
“When you look back over the last four years, you can see how all the changes to our district, good and bad, are all working towards the good. I always remember that the hardest things I go through result in the best thing that ever happened to me.”
– Karen Evans, 2nd Grade at Kelsey Norman
I think we would all agree these are wise words and a good reminder to us all. To my Joplin Schools family, I want you to know that, as an educator, you have all been the best thing that has ever happened to me. In closing, I love you all. Thank you for the many words of encouragement, the hand written notes, emails, phone calls, etc. We propped each other up when we could have easily fallen apart. My family and I are committed to Joplin. My children attend the best schools in the country and are taught by the best educators in the world. I can assure you I will be there every step of the way cheering you on.
Stay the course.
Note: Huff won consistent to the end. During his entire time in the Joplin R-8 School District, he never had the inclination to level with the people who worked for him and he was still laying it on thick as he announced his departure.
Mike Landis resigns
The Joplin Globe is reporting that Mike Landis has resigned from the Joplin R-8 Board of Education.
Landis, who has been on the board since 2001, was the last remaining board member from the group from those who were in office in April 2013.
The resignation comes on the heels of the resignations of his fellow board member Randy Steele and Superintendent C. J. Huff.
From the Globe article:
"During the past year, it has become increasingly obvious to me that the board is turning in a direction that I feel is not in the best interest of kids of Joplin Schools," he wrote in his letter to the board president. "Political agendas have taken the place of what the focus of the board should be, which is setting policy for the school district."
Landis said in his letter that he has worked with great board members over his 14-year service.
"However, when the members of the board are getting down in the weeds and trying to take the place of administration, then I know it's time to move on," he wrote.
Note: And since his resignation, Landis has done nothing but interfere with the board and continues to attend almost every meeting. He is also one of the driving forces behind the recent attempt to divide the community over the district's separation from Bright Futures Joplin.
The classy departure of Mike Landis
Unfortunately ,that class was kindergarten.
Landis was the last of the board of education that abdicated its responsibility over the school district when it handed Superintendent C. J. Huff a blank check following the May 22, 2011, tornado and told him he did not need to consult the board before making decisions.
"Joined at the hip," Huff referred to it during an October 2011 speech at a Missouri School Boards Association banquet.
With board member Randy Steele resigning, Landis, for a brief moment, was the only person left from that 2011 board. Phil Willcoxon and Jim Kimbrough opted not to seek re-election, while Ashley Micklethwaite, who was board president at the time of the tornado, resigned when her job took her out of town. The voters soundly rejected re-election efforts by two consecutive board presidents, Jeff Flowers and Anne Sharp. In the interim, Micklethwaite's replacement, Dawn Sticklen, also resigned after she enrolled her daughter in the Webb City R-7 School District.
The last two to go were Steele and Landis.
Four new board members, Lynda Banwart, Debbie Fort, Jeff Koch, and Jennifer Martucci, have been elected over the past two years, as the voters made it clear they were tired of out-of-control spending and administration actions and policies that have driven more than 300 teachers out of the district over a three-year period.
Steele and Landis ignored that wave of change, continuing to vote for such items as eight million dollars in "might-as-well" spending, and nearly $100,000 to replace gym seats that were the wrong color,
Steele resigned Wednesday claiming he felt "threatened" by people who wanted Jim Kimbrough to return to the board to replace Lane Roberts. They sent him letters, they called him, they threatened to attend board meetings. Apparently, listening to the people when they did not see things the way he did was not something Randy Steele wanted to do.
So he quit.
Landis, as usual, was thoroughly despicable in the way he handled his departure. It was these "new people." They didn't know that when you get on the board, all you have to do is drink copious amounts of water, whisper and giggle with the superintendent while someone else is talking and complain in a shrill voice, "That's not how we do things."
Landis''s resignation letter spelled it out:
During the past year, it has become increasingly obvious to me that the board is turning in a direction that I feel is not in the best interest of kids of Joplin Schools, Political agendas have taken the place of what the focus of the board should be, which is setting policy for the school district.
When the members of the board are getting down in the weeds and trying to take the place of administration, then I know it's time to move on.
While Landis was upset with board members "getting down in the weeds," he showed during the April board meeting that he had no problem whatsoever with a superintendent getting down in the gutter.
Landis, who was conducting the meeting as sitting vice president since Anne Sharp had been voted off the board, did absolutely nothing to stop C. J. Huff as he verbally attacked board members Debbie Fort and Jennifer Martucci.
Now, thankfully, both C. J. Huff and Mike Landis will be in our rear view mirror, a reminder of days when substance was sacrificed for show and teachers were wrapped in an six-and-a-half mile ribbon and sold down the river.
A new day has dawned for the Joplin R-8 School District. The challenges are enormous for those who remain, but the people are engaged and ready to enter the game and help the children succeed, while the obstacles have decided to take their ball and go home.
Note: It was the next day that we discovered that Landis and Lynda Banwart had cooked up a plan to have the Jasper County Commission appoint replacements for Lane Roberts, Steele, and Landis. After all, they apparently assumed that the voters were not smart enough to make the right decisions.