Friday, March 16, 2012

CMS board in private conference on superintendent

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board has moved on to a private conference call with the consultants from PROACT Search,  who have 89 applicants for superintendent. After the closed session,  which is expected to take two or three hours, the board may release plans for upcoming interviews.

The five-hour public session ended without time for the board to talk about Project LIFT or the "theory of action."  Members spent the early afternoon jotting down ideas about what they mean by reform,  equity,  fairness, effective communictions and hiring a change agent.  Most of it was broad and hard to argue over -- things like wanting someone who is open to innovation but willing to keep what works.

"A change agent to me is,  'Do what we're doing and put a brick on the gas pedal,' " Tim Morgan said. "To someone else, it could be,  'We want a 180-degree reversal.' "

Eric Davis said he wants someone with the courage and vision to innovate. 

"Is the path that we're on the only path of courage,  or are there other courageous paths?"  Ericka Ellis-Stewart asked.

1 p.m. Some board members say interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh is the one who acted improperly when he emailed them to say two members had caused teachers to feel bullied and belittled during their school visits.

Vice Chairman Mary McCray, a former teacher and head of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, said if Hattabaugh had concerns about board members' behavior, he should have discussed it with the chair and the members in question, rather than emailing the entire board.  "I see it as staff (Hattabaugh) taking on the role to chastise governance," she said.

The rift stems from visits members Richard McElrath and Joyce Waddell made to Project LIFT schools about two weeks ago.  They raised questions about the philanthropic effort to improve nine westside schools,  about whether the project supports segregated schools and about a recent report from teachers on  "hard to staff schools."

Hattabaugh told the board today there's nothing wrong with board members visiting schools, but that faculty at Thomasboro, Allenbrook, Byers and Bruns complained to their supervisors about the way board members had spoken to them.  Hattabaugh said those complaints came to him, and he talked to the board members in question.  Hattabaugh said he also spoke with Chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart about the incidents.  On March 1, he sent the memo to all board members saying "the behavior reported to me by the staff at Thomasboro was so egregiously unfair to our teachers and staff that I cannot remain silent."

Eric Davis and Tim Morgan defended Hattabaugh's action.  "I think what our superintendent did was he defended our staff in the face of his employers,"  Davis said.

Waddell asked Hattabaugh:  "Did you feel you had retaliated because of an earlier incident?"  She later referred to "the incident with the deceased principal,"  an apparent reference to the suicide of Northwest Principal Barry Bowe,  whose death came in the midst of a CMS investigation of a security lapse at a school dance.  Ellis-Stewart tried to get Waddell to clarify the connection, but she did not.

McElrath said there "may have been something done wrong,"  but urged the board to focus on training on the proper role for board and staff,  rather than rehashing visits most of them weren't part of.  "If it means apologizing for anything that may have been done that wasn't intentional,  that's fine.  Let's move forward,"  he said.

McCray questioned the notion that board members can be intimidating to faculty: "As a teacher,  I know the intimidation factor that's out there.  Teachers are not intimidated by board members.  We're more intimidated by our principals and the superintendent."

Tom Tate agreed he doesn't know what happened,  but said the strong complaints from faculty are cause for concern.  "If I had been in a school and that had been the response to my visit,  I would have thought that I had done something terribly wrong,"  Tate said. 

Ellis-Stewart said Hattabaugh did not show her the email before sending it to the entire board,  and said she might have been able to mitigate some of the problems if he had.  Tate said that might be the lesson going forward:  If there are concerns about board behavior with staff,  any response should be crafted by the superintendent and board chair together.

Mary Kendrick,  the facilitator,  urged the board to move forward in a way  "so that no one is villainized in the process."

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10:20 a.m. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board is about to tackle some of the toughest issues on their plate and in the community: What do equity and fairness mean to each member?  Do they have the same ideas of educational reform and hiring a "change agent" as superintendent?  And how can they talk to each other when they disagree?

They're meeting today with Mary Kendrick, the facilitator who led the board's January retreat, to prepare for the superintendent search.  High on the agenda:  Looping back to some of the questions that brought tension to Tuesday's meeting.

Chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart said she hopes today's session  "continues the business of coming together as a new team,"  which includes three members elected or appointed after the superintendent search began.  Kendrick suggested the board focus on dialogue to help them understand each other, rather than debate to prove their own points.

Tom Tate,  the only member with more than two years' experience,  said both are essential.  "We have to enter into debate at times.  ...  I think we ought to admit that there are simply times when we want to convince each other that our way,  my way,  is the way we ought to go."

Joyce Waddell countered that debate becomes "a negative tool when it becomes an argument,  rather than an exchange of ideas."

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