Schools director criticized, apologizes

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Y'all need to find someone else to run this school system!"

That's what Dr. Stan Curtis, director of Marshall County Schools told the school board during a work session last week, according to board members who heard him say it.

Curtis then pushed back from the table and walked from the room, two board members reported.

"All those of us who were here Monday night left kind of shell shocked," board member Mike Keny said during a subsequent board meeting.

Craig Michael, another board member, brought up Curtis' conduct during the "new business" portion of the school board meeting Thursday.

"We took a chance on a likeable individual," Michael said. "We're not helping him by allowing actions to be devoid of consequences. I don't think we need a manual to understand this is not an appropriate response."

"These are not opinions, but facts," Michael said, as he passed around a memo titled "Timeline of Director's Inappropriate Actions," and moved that six items be discussed and noted in Curtis' personnel file.

* The first was the incident at the work session.

* The second was a letter to parents that was supposed to have been distributed by all the schools. The letter tells parents to "make every effort to get students to school. School nurses can determine whether students are sick enough to go home." It is signed, "Respectfully, Marshall County Board of Education," but no school board members saw the letter before it was distributed, and the school board members' names at the bottom of the stationery are not those of the current board. Michael's memo states, "Curtis... is responsible... for this inefficiency and incompetence and should have had administrative procedures in place to prevent such events."

* The third was a Jan. 7 memo to school principals who were given a variety of orders, including "No more extracurricular practices during the school day. Assign coaches to teach academic classes," and concludes with the threat: "If you cannot abide by these requirements, then please resign or retire and do not force me to reassign you... I do have the authority to change one's position."

* The fourth is assessments of principals, where, Michael writes, "strengths and areas to strengthen are not based on data, but are conflicting and inconsistent."

* The fifth and sixth refer to Curtis' conduct at a school board meeting in September, when he said, "It does not matter what the board thinks" and at a school board retreat in May when Michael alleges Curtis refused to "have his direct reports present at budget preparation meetings."

"You are doing him a disservice if you allow a pattern of disrespect to develop," Michael said.

"I agree," said board member Mark Wilkerson. "There has to be an understanding of who works for who."

Vice chairman Kristen Gold and chairman Ann Tears were inclined to ask for more facts and information while Keny wanted to give Curtis the benefit of the doubt.

"I still think he's the man to lead us," Keny said. "We've got to work closely together to get our school system to go forward in a positive way. If we start tearing ourselves down now we're going to get in trouble."

Wilkerson apologized to the audience for talking about problems between the board and director of schools in an open meeting, but said, "This is the only way we can discuss this; we're following TCA code."

The group in the board room included a number of teachers, and six county commissioners: Seth Warf, Billy Spivey, Mickey King, Larry McKnight, Linda Williams-Lee, and Reynelle Peacock Smith.

"We're just trying to work on what we need to work on," explained Tears.

In the end, a motion to put items one and two in Curtis' file, do some further study on numbers three and four, and remove five and six, was passed unanimously.

At the very end of the meeting, after it had been decided to cancel school for Friday, Curtis begged the board's and audience's indulgence and said, "I would like to extend my sincere apology for my behavior at the work session. I apologize to each member of the audience that night. Please accept my apology so that we can work together for the good of the Marshall County schools."

"We all make mistakes," Michael said.