Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Thank you, Debbie Fort

When C. J. Huff was sent packing from the Joplin R-8 School District, the Joplin Globe, which had enabled Huff through his entire tenure, wrote an editorial praising all of the good people that Huff brought into the district.

There will be no similar Globe editorial praising the contributions of Debbie Fort, who left the Joplin R-8 Board of Education, head standing high, after serving the patrons of the district in a far more substantial and positive way than Huff.

Fort was the one who led the battle to clean up the mess created by Huff and those "good people" the Globe had praised.

As Fort took a seat in the audience Tuesday night, only one member of the Huff top administrative team was still in place, CFO Paul Barr, the only one who had been there when Huff arrived.

Fort, the former principal at Irving Elementary, had already contributed enough to the school district when she retired from that position after an eventful final few years that included having to move to the old Washington building after Irving was destroyed in the May 22, 2011 tornado.

From the inside, Fort had seen the disease that the C. J. Huff/Angie Besendorfer regime had spread throughout a district that before Huff's arrival had achieved Accreditation with Distinction four years in a row.

Her teachers were having one new initiative after another thrown at them by upper administration. Teachers, including teachers in tested areas, were being pulled out of class dozens of times during the school year to attend seminars and conferences. Weeks were being set aside to take practice standardized tests to prepare for the package of practice standardized tests the district had purchased to practice for the state standardized tests at the end of the school year.

A school district that had been building a reputation for educational excellence had, in the course of a few short years, turned into a playground for oversized egos and endless busywork meetings with no discernible results.

And while all of this was going on, Debbie Fort noted alarming trends that were being kept from the public- teachers were leaving the district in droves and money was being spent like it was going out of style.

The R-8 Board of Education had become a rubber stamp in the C. J. Huff cult of personality, basking in the reflected glory of the self-proclaimed hero of the Joplin Tornado. Fort decided to do something about it and there was nothing she could do about it as long as she was on the inside. She retired as a building administrator and began preparing a campaign for Board of Education.

Fort's first step into the spotlight came at the October 22, 2013 board meeting during the public comment period when she asked that professional and support staff employees who retire be allowed to donate unused sick pay to a pool to be used for employees with catastrophic illnesses.

"It would be better if (the retiring employees) could be paid for those days, but with our budget constraints, with our reserves being down to 14 percent and I have heard somewhere they are going down to eight to 11 percent, that may not be possible."

It was the first time anyone had spoken at an R-8 board meeting about the district's dangerously low reserves brought on by a combination of tornado recovery costs and massive overspending.

Fort launched a successful grass roots campaign for school board and was one of two newcomers, along with Lynda Banwart, elected to bring change. While Banwart quickly fell into lock step with the board holdovers including Mike Landis, Anne Sharp, and Randy Steele, Fort began asking questions at board meetings and pushing for answers, something that clearly irritated Huff and some of her fellow board members.

When Paul Barr made his infamous explanation on "might-as-well spending," Fort cast the lone vote against that $8 million in frills for the new high school.

A board which had historically only recorded 7-0 votes found itself having more that went 6-1 and as board member Jim Kimbrough began voting with Fort, it was often 5-2.

R-8 taxpayers were supportive of Fort's efforts and as the next two elections took place, the last remnants of Huff's rubber stamp board were gone as was Huff. Changes took place in the district. No longer were hundreds of thousands being spent on outside consultants and steps were taken to return decisions on teachers' professional development to the building level.

Bright Futures became a component of the district rather than the focal point upon which everything in the district operated and connections with Bright Futures USA were severed.

Norm Ridder, an interim superintendent with considerable experience, was brought in to serve as a bridge until the right person could be brought in to take over.

Not all problems were solved, of course, and there were hurdles and defeats along the way. 

While Huff "retired," Fort's vote against gifting him with an exorbitant severance package that paid him full salary for another year and a half, gave him an extra $50,000 in "consulting fees" to help prepare for lawsuits he caused, and paid for him to attend a National School Public Relations Association event where he was a speaker, was unsuccessful.

Teachers have continued to flee the district and despite the removal of the top layer of the Huff Administration, many building level administrators who were steeped in the Huff-Besendorfer philosophy are still in place and there is still a culture of fear in some areas of the district.

There are always problems in any school district.

Fort started a successful movement to take back the schools and was joined in her battle by others who ran for board seats and by the public, which supported her battle, voted for her and for other reform candidates  and then attended board meetings or watched them on television or online to make sure the board members were doing what they had been elected to do.

That movement requires active participation by voters and board candidates who are willing to devote their time to service,

Debbie Fort has provided that service and deserves the gratitude of every taxpayer in Joplin R-8 for causing a seismic shift for the better in the school district. Thanks to Debbie and those who supported her, though the road back is a long one, the journey is well underway.

Thank you, Debbie Fort!

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Baahhhaaaaa!!!! What a lame self-serving diatribe. Fort was awful, first as a building principal then as a board. What a vile, vindictive woman. Don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya! Good riddance!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Debbie Fort for not bringing back a rogue teacher like Randy Turner. Rather let pore Randy sit with its little snout pressed against the window looking in, immensely grateful that you didn't find it necessary to kick the creepy little critter some more.

Anonymous said...

Liar and manipulator. Another idiot traded for a moron. Good Riddance! Only thing is, not one person on the current board is any better. Koch...um excuse me, God help us.

Anonymous said...

Do you ever think that maybe someday you will stop whining about how you got caught and fired and simply move on with what remains of your pathetic life?

I don't see the point of this post other than to prove for the ten-thousandth time that you are a loser that deserved what you got, but maybe you have a sworn statement by Debbie Fort that if she had been on the Board of Education that she would have voted against firing you for violation of school board policy regarding you asking 10-12 year olds to download your pornographic novel impugning those they set to supervise your contacts with minors? Maybe changed someone elses' vote on the board? That pigs would fly and only your core enemies on the Board would have voted to fire you and you would have slipped through the cracks somehow and still be teaching?

No?

Hell No???!!!

So this is another "the enemy of CJ Huff & Bessie B. has got to be my friend" false-logic post.

You are nothing if not deranged and desperate. Not to mention without an ounce of self-respect.

Anonymous said...

Randy,you really got the ego elite types upset with your thoughtful recognition of Deb Forts role in cleaning out their ego ridden pestilence from the District.Thank you Deb...wish more folks had your courage.

Ms. Kathy said...

I had the privilege of having Debbie Fort as a teacher during my Master's Cohort. I can only speak to my personal experience with her. She was a tireless advocate for teachers and doing what students needed. She sacrificed a lot of personal time to with our cohort to help teachers become better teachers. I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for her! Thank you, Debbie Fort, I am a better teacher having learned under your guidance! God bless your current and future endeavors!

Anonymous said...

You people suck, try working with Huff and the old board that screwed this district up bad! Debbie was someone who stood up and said no more and with the help of a new BOE and Norm Ridder, me and the other folks who work for R8 are proud to work in the district and are not stressed to loose our jobs or give the kids a bad education. Debbie Fort, along with others, really helped the entire city, it's children, and the future of the Joplin School district by stopping the crap that brought troubles to this district. So, go head and give your opinions, it is easy sitting in the cheap seats and be that ever so intelligent outsider who could not do the job needed to clean up this district. Get off your butts and run for the BOE since you know so darn much about how it should be!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Since Debbie went on the board and until she left, what have been the improvements in...

Teacher Retention
Reserves
Lawsuits against the district

Grateful Taxpayer and Teacher said...

Thank you for honoring Dr. Fort in this way. It is very well written and every word is the truth. These negative comments by people who have no idea what it was really like, because they weren't there, do not matter at all. Dr. Fort is a true hero in my books and has my appreciation, gratitude and respect. Job well done Dr. Fort!

Anonymous said...

Trust me I was there and it is no tree working for this vindictive lady. I am speaking as an Insider and if you privately speak with most people that know her they will tell you that she is absolutely crazy.

Anonymous said...

1001...your bitterness needs medicatiin

Anonymous said...

Our district is in bad shape no doubt about it but these things are still trickling down from Huff and his crooked ways robbing this district the children the staff and everyone but the uppercrust who were paid so much to be yes men and women for all of Huff's insane outrageous ideas.They have left us in shambles and all the while our children's test scores and learning going down the drain at a cost so great to the tax payers it is sickening!!! Our children are still paying the price for THE HUFF FIASCO !!!! It is very disheartening to look at the turnover rate in this District it is so high it is very obvious to anybody on the outside or inside that there are serious problems when you have a district losing teachers faster than they can replace them and the only ones applying are young teachers right out of college that should say something very loud I am not saying anything bad about our new teachers I am saying it is a good thing when you have teachers that have many years of experience and teachers that are new and they can learn from each other and work together our district has lost that most of our teachers with years of experience are long gone for good reason I might add not to mention our support staff the turnover rate is just ridiculous there is a problem. As for Mrs. Debbie Fort no she is not perfect and yes she has made her mistakes but she was the first to say enough is enough and stand up and fight for the rights of the teachers and the support staff of this district and the taxpayers and to start questioning where the money was going and asking the hard questions somebody had to do it and she was brave enough to be there I am very thankful for that this District did not go bad in a day it took years and it will take years to make it great again but I believe we are headed in the right direction and with a lot of hard work and many taxpayers holding this board accountable and getting involved we can make a difference in our children's lives and the lives of the employees of this District we owe them that. I have been an employee at this district for over 10 years and I have seen many changes and yes I post anonymously that is because I need my job my kids attend this District I pray everyday that this board and these taxpayers will roll up their sleeves and get in and do the hard work and change this District back to a great District a good place to work it will not be easy but it can be done and in my eyes if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem and you have no room to sit and complain voter turnout was very low for this last Board election that makes me sad so many people are very unhappy but you are also unwilling to get out and make a change you would rather make excuses and that is very sad. Thank You Debbie Fort for asking the hard questions and for not being a Yes Woman even when it wasn't popular and you were criticized for doing so I pray our new board will continue this quest
to make our district great once again and start being accountable for their spending and the decisions they make there are so many futures at stake here ! Our children and staff deserve better!!!

Anonymous said...

She is a vindictive, controlling person. I saw her pick on kids, yell and scream at them and turn around and smile when she was caught by me. I fought for years to have Halloween parties instead of her fall festival day and every year I would never get returned calls or correspondence with the school board. She puts on a good front when needed, but the way I saw her treat children and teachers, I have no respect for her. I will not allow my child to attend MSSU because she works there. And when she was going to school to get her doctorate degree, she demanded to be called Dr. Fort. I told her when she had the paper in her fat hand, I still would not call her Dr., because she was jumping the gun on the title. That is all she cared about. She was a terrible communicator with the parents and didn't want us in the school, so we couldn't witness her mistreatment of people she didn't like. She is a pompous a__.

Anonymous said...

Yeah thanks Fort, for getting the hell off the board. You've made NO differences In your time. None. Fade away now....

Randy said...

I always hate to speculate, but is it possible, just possible, Anonymous 11:42, that it wasn't parents that she did not want in the school, but just you. I know, I find it hard to believe, too, since you seem to have a winning personality.

Anonymous said...

As it was with you turner.....you weren't wanted in school and you were shown the door. Another typical nasty comment from you when someone gives their opinion of someone else. What a sad life you lead.

Randy said...

One of the things I appreciate about Harvey's comments on my posts, though I rarely agree with them, is that he signs his name to them. I allow anonymous comments because many people are not in a position to be able to comment and put their name on it without putting their jobs in jeopardy. Many of the anonymous comments offer interesting thoughts. Then again, there are comments from other people, offering thoughts they would never have the courage to say to someone's face and which would never draw any readers whatsoever if these people were to start their own blogs. The person, or persons, who has been writing the anti-Debbie Fort comments, and it certainly cannot be more than one or two people, have not offered any legitimate criticism of her, just a lot of name-calling. The same thing is even more apparent when it comes to some of the most negative comments aimed toward me. I can take the heat. I have no problems with people disagreeing with me. This blog has been operating for nearly 14 years and continues to grow. On the other hand, if the best you can do is to keep insulting me because you have nothing interesting to say about the subject at hand, you have my sympathy.

Anonymous said...

Of course she didn't want me or any other parent in the building who called her out on her bullying children, teachers and parents she didn't "like". I got on her "naughty list" when I said to her very calmly, that screaming at kids isn't always the best way to get them to respect or trust you. And I have a sparkling personality, but you sir have shown yourself to be as vindictive as Mrs. Fort!

Anonymous said...

Again, another contradictory, self-serving post by Turner. Anyone posting anonymously who bashes Huff or any of Turner's enemies, well that's completely justified. However, if you post anonymously with opinions that are not in line with Turner's or if you have a different view of him or what type of person he is and it's negative, well then those just aren't interesting and are simply name-calling or insults. Sorry but you can't have it both ways. Your childlike responses to people that do not like you continue to show your true character.

Anonymous said...

Amen 10:44pm.