Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The saga of the superintendent's job search

Well, let's start with the current news before back-tracking. Today the Virginian Pilot announced that Stuckwisch will not not pursue the job in Iowa:
On Tuesday, Stuckwisch withdrew his name from a list of four finalists for the Davenport, Iowa, superintendent job, ending days of speculation about the future of Portsmouth’s struggling schools.

“My staff, and people in the community caused me to rethink it,” Stuckwisch said. “It was really kind of overwhelming. I didn’t really expect it. I was here two years, and I felt like I was leaving way too prematurely.”
I don't think this is the end of the story, however. The article noted Stuckwisch's wish that the members of the School Board get their act together and work well with one another. I'm sure he's not looking for groupthink, just a high performing team.
“We were delighted to find out that he was going to hang around us,” said School Board Chairman James E. Bridgeford.

“We’re going to do our best to make sure he has the full board support.”

Before Stuckwisch left for the interview, the Portsmouth School Board made its own pitch to him. School Board members tentatively agreed to raise his base salary by $17,000 to $142,000 and expand his benefits if Stuckwisch stayed with the 15,800-student division.

In addition, some board members individually pledged to improve their occasionally hostile relationship.

Stuckwisch has asked that his contract specifically address some School Board meeting procedures that have occasionally led to arguments between board members and to his recent job hunt. Stuckwisch wants board members to give one an other and him some advance notice on controversial items that will require a vote, instead of springing them at the end of their meetings.

A similar proposal made by some board members this past fall failed to generate much support. Bridgeford said the board will discuss the issue at its next meeting on Feb. 3.
As I've noted before, that might be asking for too much. On Sunday, the paper noted that Stuckwisch has placed blame for some of his job dissatisfaction on the shoulders of the members of the Board.
But Stuckwisch has said that Portsmouth’s squabbling School Board is an obstacle to his work in the city.

“The issue for me is the board working together,” Stuckwisch said last week.
Earlier this week, the Board made a step forward. Well, they did, sort'a. They've started down the road to make relations between the City Council and the Board more harmonious.
After years of misunderstandings and bitter fights, the Portsmouth School Board and the City Council are seeking outside help for their annual pre-budget meeting.

Members of both groups have taken a Myers-Briggs personality test. They’ll meet for dinner Monday on neutral ground at the Holiday Inn . A mediator will oversee their discussions. And they will have to obey some simple ground rules.

Rule No. 1: No one can talk about the past.

Rule No. 2: No one can talk about money.

“I think this is extremely important that we be on the same page,” said School Board member Sheri H. Bailey. “I think structure is a good thing in a situation like this, because there’s not been any blueprint. I’m excited for what I feel is a real positive move.”

Last year’s meeting left many on both sides feeling frustrated.

Some School Board members complained that the City Council rarely supported education with money. School Board member Mark M. Whitaker accused city officials of racism, arguing that through the years the percentage of the city’s budget spent on education declined as Portsmouth’s minority student population increased.

City Council members left grumbling about comments school officials made about past decisions. Throughout last year’s budget process, then-Councilman Cameron C. Pitts and several others questioned whether the schools were using money efficiently.

But three new City Council members, including two who promised more money for schools, were elected in May. The city’s new Comprehensive Plan places education as a top priority. That’s left both sides optimistic about the future.

“We can move beyond the things that separate or divide us,” City Councilwoman Marlene Randall said. “I’m seeing positives. We’re all working for the same thing – a better quality of life for everyone. So it seems like we can all come up with an agenda we can live with.”
Not everyone on the Board is buying in to this new kindler, gentler way of doing business.
School Board member B. Keith Nance Sr. has declined to take the personality test and sent a letter to his colleagues objecting to the process.

“It’s the dumbest idea I have ever heard,” Nance said. “It is not germane to team building. Whoever is paying for this needs to be shot.”
I'm guessing Keith Nance doesn't understand the power of "type" when it comes to creating high performing teams. Or, perhaps he just doesn't want to learn anything about himself, or the people he works with.

At the meeting, the participants broke into song, or so the paper reported. Sadly, not everyone was there.
Three of the nine School Board members were absent, and at least two of them had protested the tenor of a mediator-led session on communication and personality differences.

School Board members B. Keith Nance Sr., Mark M. Whitaker and Linda D. Ridenour did not attend.

Nance called in sick at the last minute, Whitaker expressed no interest in the meeting, and Ridenour had a prior commit ment, said School Board Chairman James E. Bridgeford
Surprised? Ah, don't be. I'm thinking Nance and Whitaker can't play nicely. I'm not sure they know how.
City Councilman Ray A. Smith Sr. said he hopes that the three absent officials understand that the relationship between the two bodies is changing.

“The message from the six needs to go back to those who aren’t here that things need to change, that things need to be different,” Smith said.

Monday’s meeting was one in a series of sessions aimed at developing a better working relationship between the groups as budget discussions approach. They are scheduled to meet again in February.

Officials from both groups agreed that they want to get together more often, to develop a long-term vision for the city and work toward it, and to behave respectfully toward one an other in public.
Yup, that would be nice.

In the mean time, my neighbor is staying put and the City's schools remain on track under the leadership of a man with a vision.

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