Sunday, July 03, 2016

What kind of superintendent does Joplin R-8 need?

The process for selecting a replacement for former Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff began Tuesday night with the selection of Ray and Associates, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa. company, to handle the search.

The ultimate choice of a superintendent, however, belongs to the seven people who sit on the Board of Education.

Ray and Associates will cast a nationwide net to find qualified candidates and there should be a considerable interest in this job. The naysayers in the community are saying no one will want this job because there has been turmoil in the district over the past few years.

That does not seem to bother Ray and Associates, which recently handled the search for a new superintendent for Kansas City Public Schools and Kansas City has been bogged down with serious problems for decades.

Representatives from Ray and Associates told the board Tuesday that the board and the Joplin community would come up with specifications for what they want in a leader. After that, the search firm would seek candidates who fit those specifications.

So what do we want in a new superintendent?

Considering what this community experienced in the seven years of the C. J. Huff era, and what it continues to experience through the things that he has done and the members of his administrative team who remain in place, it seems there are some areas in which we should all agree.

We need an educator, not a businessman

Obviously, the next superintendent is going to have to be someone who can handle finances, considering the woeful state the district finds itself in due to the excesses of the Huff Administration. That being said, it is time that Joplin hired someone who knows what it is like to be in the classroom. For the past several years, the two leaders of the school district, Huff and former Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer, were people who set their sights on administration from the day they began their educational careers, with neither spending more than a couple of  years in an actual classroom. We can't repeat that mistake again. The most important job of any school district is to educate the children and that education takes place in the classroom.

That was forgotten for years in the R-8 School District as decisions were made with only the appearance of consulting those who were in the trenches. Not only did Huff and Besendorfer have scant experience in the classroom, but they surrounded themselves with people who had taken the same path and left teaching behind when the first opportunity presented itself.

This led to the disastrous decision to provide laptops to all high school students and iPads to all middle schoolers, forcing the teachers to gear all lesson plans through those devices, and casting textbooks and many library books aside.

From all appearances, the administration was more interested in establishing Joplin as a school where something called "21st Century education" took place. The teachers would have preferred that Joplin be known as a place where actual education takes place.

Instead of providing more space for books in what used to be called libraries, decisions were made increasing space for all kinds of different open areas that could be called innovative. Books became the casualty of this kind of thinking.

The lack of a teaching background certainly contributed to administrators' decisions to outsource professional development to whatever outside group was willing to take the responsibility off their hands. Under normal circumstances, administrators would seek feedback from the teachers about what kind of professional development is needed in the district or in their particular buildings. Veteran teachers should have been consulted because they know their schools better than anyone. Instead, veteran teachers were treated like the plague by the Huff Administration, which ran off more than half of the faculty in a four-year period, leaving the district with more than half of its teachers having five years or less of experience.

While it is vital to have a superintendent who can handle finances, it should be remembered that the superintendent is the educational leader for the district. Consider that JHS Principal Kerry Sachetta was promoted to assistant superintendent to allow Interim Superintendent Norm Ridder to concentrate on education and the classroom during his second year.

That is the primary area where leadership is needed.

We need a real communicator, not a public relations operation

The next superintendent must be someone who can communicate with people in the school system and in the community.

Over the past few years, that communication process has been completely one-sided. A leader does not necessarily have to be a great speaker to communicate,but he or she has to be a great listener. If the new superintendent comes in with a number of set ideas and is unwilling to adjust those to what the Joplin community wants, it will not be long before we are looking for a replacement.

Obviously, there are going to be times when an educational leader has to do things that are not going to please the teachers or the community, but this community will respect someone who is honest about the reasons for taking such actions and does not try to dazzle us with a taxpayer-funded spin operation.

With this school district facing a grim financial situation, the best thing a leader should do (actually it should be done before the new superintendent arrives) is to shut down our communications operation and go back to the old fashioned :"the buck stops here" approach.

While it might be necessary to have someone knowledgeable in writing news articles to provide press releases for the district, that certainly does not call for a communications director making $68,000 a year and an assistant, a communications specialist, making $43,000 a year.

Isn't it time that money was steered to the classroom?

The new superintendent needs an open-door policy, needs to be able to meet with the public both in group sessions and in a one-on-one basis, and needs to be willing to do something C. J. Huff was never able to do- admit when he or she has made a mistake. We all make mistakes. People can forgive most mistakes. What they cannot forgive are people who are unwilling to admit when they are wrong and try to finesse their way through situations with public relations gimmicks.

The superintendent has to be willing to be surrounded with strong leaders

One of the reasons the Joplin R-8 School District has fallen so far, so fast, is that C. J. Huff and Angie Besendorfer were not only uncomfortable with having people around them who were willing to question them, but they made sure those people were eliminated from the district as soon as possible.

What that ended up doing is leaving us with an upper administration team consisting mostly of people who were not qualified for the jobs they held and left the district with no capable replacements when Huff imploded.

Good leaders know that they need people who will challenge them and raise the questions that need to be raised before an action is taken. Sometimes people like that can help a superintendent avoid making a costly mistake. At the least, it provides the superintendent with another viewpoint to consider before making a decision. After that final decision is made, the assistant needs to be willing to go along with it, even if he or she disagreed, but the superintendents (and leaders) who make the most mistakes are the ones who are unwilling to allow anyone to challenge them.

The board's decision to hire Sachetta as an assistant superintendent was designed to provide not only Ridder but the new superintendent with a strong leader with experience and a depth of knowledge of the school district. That kind of thinking is a welcome change of pace (as is the fact that no one was chosen from Huff's thoroughly discredited leadership team).

The community consists of more than the Chamber of Commerce and the civic clubs

While it is important for a new superintendent to get to know and work with the business community, there are far too many leaders in education and politics who limit their networking with the community to the Chamber of Commerce and civic clubs.

The new superintendent needs to establish relationships with the vast majority of people in this school district who belong neither to the Chamber or Rotary Club or any other service organization.

While the business community is important and provides the schools with much of the support they need for various programs and functions, the decisions that the superintendent makes will have a far greater impact on parents, children, and taxpayers who will never pay dues to any of those organizations, but who keep their businesses afloat by supporting them as customers. It should also be remembered that the changes that have taken place on the Board of Education over the past few years have come as a result of political action taken by many people who decided it was time to take back their school district- people who were not connected with the business leaders.

Put these people on an equal footing with those who are considered to be the "community elite."

Final thoughts

The decision that the Joplin R-8 Board of Education will make sometime in the near future will impact the children of this district for years to come. It is not easy to find an exceptional leader and it is especially difficult to find one who can come in and lift the spirits of a community that has watched while its treasury and the children's education have been plundered by self-serving opportunists.

The Joplin job will likely attract people who are willing to take on that challenge.

Let's make sure we choose the right one.


Charles Virgin said...

Yes, the next Superintendent will inherit somewhat of a mess. However, with the right person, he will have the opportunity to do great things for the students and staff of this district. The BOE has already started that direction. By promoting and hiring administrative personnel that will give a strong team foundation to guide this district and place it back on track. I am, in no means, under the influence that it will happen overnight. It took several years to get where it is now and it will take several years to fix the issues. But I fully believe that this BOE has nothing but the best interest of the students, staff and district as a whole.

Anonymous said...

As with the city, it will take more than one person to make the school district the best it can be. Perhaps now is the time to put the past behind us, come together as a community and build a district and a city we can all be proud of.

Anonymous said...

Your rambling post shows you gave no real idea of what a superintendent really does. No one will be good enough....and just FYI....not sure Sachetta is the right guy for the job but his dislikes Turner greatly so he has my vote.

Anonymous said...

838...must be written by Landis,Huff,or Sharp..all about personality not process or end product.Excellent piece Randy,535 and 736 are reasoned and hopeful.

Anonymous said...

When is the "grim" financial mess going to come to light? You keep talking about it and all your buddies are on the board now but we've yet to see the panic button hit. You would think if the district is getting ready to go off the cliff all of the board members who truly care about the district would be screaming from the mountain top about it every meeting.

Thank you. said...

Please allow me to respond in kind.

Blah blah blah blah blah Turner not know stuff blah blah. Blah, blah blah blah blah Turner bad blah blah blah. Blah blah me know moe dan u blah blah. Blah blah you keep me trollin..blah blah, blah blah! Blither blither look at me!

I hope this clears things up.

Anonymous said...

Hilarity....6:46 is obviously one of the great intellects of our time. I won't even signify that comment with a response. As for 3:12....yeah, a typical Turner apologist. Always amazes me.....gotta be a huff or Landis supporter if they speak out against me. Because no one could EVER THINK ANYTHING DIFFERENT than I do!!! Yeah, of course. That's the good ol' closed minded thinking I'm used to on this blog.

Anonymous said...

The new superintendent needs to be the polar opposite of Huff.

Ron said...

Randy, I noticed that you characterized the school's decision to provide laptops and iPads as "disastrous." It seems that more and more schools are doing this, including the schools my kids attend, and I'm wondering what mistakes Joplin made that other schools can avoid. It appears that integrating this technology can sometimes work. What could have been done differently to help it succeed? Why didn't it work in Joplin? I assume the "disaster" label wasn't just because teachers had to make changes to their lesson plans.

Anonymous said...

The district had already been transitioning towards more and more technology. Teachers were required to train with it and, of course, some were more interested than others. It also fit some subjects more than others.
After the tornado, technology was mandated in a way that made some instinctively push back and others so upset they just told the kids to do it themselves since they (the students) knew more about using computers than they did. Some teachers felt like they had been dumped into the pool without knowing how to swim. There were some pieces of support set up but they were not enough and often, were not trusted.
If the continued gradual implementation of the laptops and other technology had continued, it probably would have been accepted a little more. There was no transition, there was just a sudden shove to use this (generous) gift of laptops.
Technology should be used to enhance teaching. Teaching should not be all about how much technology you can use.

Anonymous said...

Case in point. Math.

There are wonderful programs that do a great job at replacing worksheets and homework. There are also sites that greatly illuminate material.

However, the initial learning and subsequent reference/refreshing is highly superior in a traditional text book. Navigation is easier, and the structure is simply better.

Anonymous said...

If only they search firm would reach out to a fired teacher for help. Then they would have all the answers.

Anonymous said...

You are spot on!!!

Anonymous said...

Ron 6:56: as if Turner is any type of authority to be answering questions on the implementation of technology in education. To think so is completely laughable. Sorry but he isn't qualified to answer your question. And yes, nearly all districts are successfully integrating technology into the classrooms. They simply know how to do it better and the teachers act more as leaders and have a more positive outlook on education. The "disaster" is that apparently teachers were ill prepared for the process and how to utilize and monitor technology.

Dee said...

I have a East and one at the high school, without books it has been difficult to assist my children when the have homework. Everyone learns differently, case in point at East iPads and yet there was not a single textbook on them. The only saving grace was the camera shots of homework when new teachers misplaced paper homework assignments.

Anonymous said...


Turner was using technology in the classroom long before the rest of us ever thought about it. He created real world writing activities that the students loved and we're proud of. My kids loved his class and went on to do well in high school and college. The difference is that he used technology as one tool of many in his teaching toolbox. You come off sounding like a Huff troll trying to defend the screwed up mess they made.

The mess made in R8, one of many, is that no matter what administrators say to the contrary, technology was the only tool teachers had, or for most of them, still have. It's easy for them to say that teachers don't have to use the computers, but they don't give them anything else to use. It was too much too fast. That's why so many of us found districts with a more reasonable approach. It wasn't that technology was bad, but it was just too much of a good thing. I found it impossible to keep students on track, and I'm sure everyone else did too. There are too many distractions and not enough discipline. My friends there tell me it hasn't changed any.

I am not sure what you mean about teachers acting more like leaders. Joplin used to have many teachers as leaders, and many of those teacher leaders were good at what they did. But when every little thing you do is dictated to you, teacher leadership begins to diminish. If you want positive teachers, you must provide an atmosphere that is not threatening and allows for some creativity. That was certainly not the situation when I was a Joplin teacher.

I sure hope, 7:47, that you will step up and show everyone in Joplin how to implement technology correctly. You seem to be an authority on the subject. In the meantime, I would remind everyone that more districts are adopting technology because state testing requires computers, and that most districts don't throw out everything else in favor of technology. Research how many districts have put 1-1 aside and have resumed using books. It's very interesting. Moderation in all things applies to education as well as every other aspect of our lives.

Anonymous said...

@ 8:45

Turner was using technology in the classroom long before the rest of us ever thought about it. He created real world writing activities that the students loved and we're proud of.

Please explain how writing exercises are "using technology"..