Douglas school board delays vote of confidence
During her annual evaluation on Wednesday, Superintendent Carol Lark asked for a vote of confidence from school board members, and she didn’t get it.
That vote of confidence was to take the form of a one-year extension to Lark’s existing $123,000-a-year contract, a measure that board members voted 6-1, with board president Cindy Trigg opposed, to postpone until Aug. 11.
Lark, who was hired in 2006, has a four-year contract that expires in June 2010. She requested that contract be extended to June 2011.
While board members voted to postpone the decision, they did vote 6-1, with Sharla Hales opposed, to approve a satisfactory evaluation of Lark. Board Vice President Tom Moore later clarified that he’d misunderstood the vote and in fact was in favor of denying the satisfactory evaluation. Both Hales and Moore questioned Lark’s leadership skills and pointed to an apparent conflict between Lark and her administrative employees. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Hales said.
She said that during the evaluation process, she asked 21 administrators, both on-site administrators and district office staff, two basic questions.
“The first question was, ‘Is it in the best interest of the district to extend the superintendent’s contract?'” Hales said. “The second was, ‘Have you observed a substantive understanding on behalf of the superintendent in regards to issues facing the district?'”
Hales said that on the first question, three people said yes, 16 said no, one had concerns, and one was undecided. The numbers were roughly the same for the second question. Hales also said that several employees, including teachers, classified staff and members of Lark’s management team, expressed concerns about potential retaliation from the superintendent.
“The theme from more than one person, whom I consider credible sources, was that Carol gets angry when people make her look bad,” Hales said.
However, on Thursday, Lark refuted that claim.
“That is absolutely false, and there is no validity to it,” she said. “I have had conferences with people and have been very professional. It’s never been my style to retaliate against any employee. They might not have liked what they were hearing in the conferences. Administratively, I have great support. I’m not going to comment on the cabinet. There are one or two people who are not happy with my leadership.”
Sue Shannon, principal of Whittell High School, testified in support of Lark during the hearing. Shannon extolled the leadership skills Lark displayed during the consolidation of the Lake schools.
“There were rumors and beliefs, and things that had been promised, and Carol approached them honestly,” she said. “She allowed me to be a leader on site.”
Board President Cindy Trigg also defended Lark. She described a work environment of infighting and insubordination where terms like “roadblock” and “sabotage” are thrown around.
“Employees need to work with the superintendent without bucking her,” Trigg said. “Someone has to be in charge. There needs to be an acknowledgment that employees work for the superintendent, and that it’s not appropriate to create problems.”
Trigg said her goal is to never take one side in a debate, but to always keep in mind the students of the school district.
“For all the reactionary issues this year, budget cuts and reduction in forces, there was student achievement,” she said.
At the beginning of the hearing, Lark laid out her accomplishments, including passage of the continuation bond, overseeing budget cuts, successful radon mitigation, and an increase in students passing their high school proficiency exams. However, while reading test scores have seen a rise in the elementary and middle schools, there have been drops in math and science performance in some grades, according to Criterion Referenced Test data. The high school dropout rate has also increased from 3.1 percent in 2006 to 4.6 percent in 2007.
In an evaluation summary, three board members graded Lark on a 2- to 5-point scale, with 5 being the highest and 2 the lowest. In student achievement, Lark received a 3.43 score. In perception, she received a 3.82 score, and in progress on priorities a 3.96 score.
Trigg urged board members to extend the contract. She said doing otherwise would create a “lame duck” superintendent and would send a message to future superintendents and employees that insubordination is OK.
“You can’t let them think that the Indians are running the camp,” she said.
But Moore said that it’s Lark’s job to have control of her staff.
“The superintendent has the responsibility to take control of these issues and get them resolved,” he said. “The dam has broke and the information is out. The district has a problem. Administrators have severe concerns about what’s going on at the top. The district office has the same concerns. It could be a case of employees not happy with the cuts. I would accept that if the numbers weren’t overwhelming.”
Board member Keith Roman lauded the superintendent for her work on the continuation bond and adequately yearly progress, as mandated by federal law. He said that Lark’s leadership style is based more on consensus-building than decision-making, and said it was the board’s duty to give her some guidance.
“I think we need to spell out direct solutions in regards to what we see as a major problem area,” he said. “If we don’t spell it out, then it’s not going to happen.”
Moore said the current contract gives Lark a year to turn things around.
“It gives her plenty of protection,” he said. “If she can turn things around, then it’s a win-win situation.”
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