Richland 2 schools superintendent Katie Brochu was grilled for nearly 90 minutes by school board members Monday night who suggested her administrations management style, approach to professional development and education initiatives were creating discord and failing to move the district toward higher academic achievement.
As a board member at every meeting, I hear about community meetings but I really honestly within my heart feel like we have lost or are losing the content in the classroom, said board member Barbara Specter, who recounted stories she had heard of teachers shuttling to professional conferences and leaving classrooms without substitutes. As a board member, Im not seeing how this framework is working... . I just want to know why is this so different than what we have done in the past? How is it getting us to the next level? Because it seems like everyone is in meetings and no one is in the classroom.
Board members Melinda Anderson and Susan Brill quizzed Brochu about the perception of distrust simmering in the district, and of a top-down management style that has left some teachers and administrators feeling there is little room for disagreement.
I know as board members we are getting some pushback from people in the community, teachers who have been around a long time, personnel, Brill said They dont feel like they have control over what they are doing or control of their environment because everything is coming top down.
Through the occasionally tense session, Brochu maintained a calm equanimity, deflecting charges that her administration was closed off and failing to move the district toward that next level that was touted when she was hired in July 2010. I dont think thats the case that everyone is in meetings, she told Specter.
I have not had anything directly that has come to me or said to me that theres a lack of trust between the district office and schools, she told Anderson.
I guess I would have to differ with you, she said to Brill. I dont believe we have a top-down approach so I dont believe that is exactly an accurate description.
Board members noted that SAT scores had fallen by 40 points and board chairman Calvin Chip Jackson said the states annual report cards showed at least two schools with troubling scores, an issue that he said had to be met with urgency. Richland 2 has in years past been a stand-out academic performer but now finds itself overshadowed in some arenas by neighboring Richland 1.
Board member Bill Flemming wondered what the shift from teacher focus to student focus really meant when it came to improving academic performance.
Great question, Brochu noted. Very often, we find that we teach on a teaching platform rather than a learning platform and what we are doing today or attempting - again we are not 100 percent there yet by any means, but we are making phenomenal strides - we are starting with the end in mind, what is it we want our students to do when they walk out that door at the end of the semester.
When we begin with the end in mind, we then can backward design what has to happen from day one in that class until the end of that semester, she said.
The called meeting session was held in advance of Tuesdays board meeting, when a review of Brochu - her first - will be made public. At least one of the school board candidates, Stevie Johnson, had pressed for that evaluation and Jackson, the board chairman, had promised at a voters forum last week that it would be completed before the Nov. 6 election.
Johnson could not be at the meeting because of illness in her family, but said reports from the meeting confirmed to her that her activism and questioning of Brochus initiatives had spurred, in part, the boards more critical examination of Brochus tenure. Johnson has been particularly critical of Brochus spending on professional development through the non-profit Schlechty Center.
To see them step up and seek answers was very hopeful, Johnson said by telephone. I am absolutely convinced that my activism over these last two years has persuaded them to come forward.
Jennifer Richter, a former teacher and administrator who is also seeking a seat on the seven-member board, said she wasnt satisfied with Brochus defense of her administration.
I heard the board members asking a lot of specific questions but I didnt hear a lot of specific answers, said Richter, who said she believes some district employees are nervous to speak out because they fear reprisals from the administration.
In addition to Johnson and Richter, Monica Elkins, Regina Corley and John Chief Propst are among five challengers for the three seats up for grabs this election cycle. Incumbents Jackson and Brill are seeking re-election. The third seat was created when Stephanie Burgess decided to retire from the board.