Schools director to attend Calif. conference

Friday, February 13, 2009

County Schools Director Stan Curtis will be in California Tuesday through Feb. 22, at the American Association of School Administrators National Conference on Education in San Francisco.

While he says he wishes it wasn't so far away, Curtis is excited about going to one of the nation's largest education conferences.

"The top education minds in the country will be there. I feel like it's a good opportunity for me and our district, a chance to make some good contacts," he said. Curtis noted that quite a lot of Tennessee directors of schools are going and they already have a meeting set up. The executive director of the Tennessee organization of school superintendents and some of the board members will be in San Francisco, too, and Curtis anticipates they will meet to talk about new directions in the state legislature, including a possible return to elected superintendents.

"As an appointed director, I'd have to be against that," said Curtis, adding that he knew the Tennessee School Boards Association was not in favor, either.

There will be sessions for new directors like Curtis, a talk on building a board-superintendent partnership, a networking roundtable for rural school leaders, and even a program on "How to cut your budget without getting hurt."

Curtis is especially looking forward to hearing Robert Marzano speak on Saturday. Curtis wrote his dissertation on Marzano's work, and implemented Marzano's ideas when he was principal at Hampshire Unit School. Marzano has more than 35 years' experience in education and the central theme of his work has been translating research and theory into practical programs and tools for K-12 teachers and administrators. He is the author of the groundbreaking book, "The Art and Science of Teaching: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction."

Curtis' trip to the conference in San Francisco was one of the topics discussed at a school board work session last Monday.

Board member Craig Michael called the trip to the conference "a poor decision," and said it looked bad for the director to take an expensive trip to the West Coast when people here in Marshall County were suffering losses of jobs and income.

Kristen Gold, vice chairman of the school board, pointed out that the director's contract requires him to engage in professional development activities and $5,000 is set aside in the budget for this.

After the trip to San Francisco, $4,200 of the $5,000 will have been spent, and Curtis said he has not asked for any more trips out of state.

"I want to hear what you get out of the conference," said school board chairwoman Ann Tears, and Curtis promised to make a full report.

The other business of the hour-long work session was to re-visit points three and four on the "Timeline of Director's Inappropriate Actions" that Craig Michael presented at the Jan. 15 school board meeting.

First up for discussion was point four, which concerns the principals' evaluations that Curtis prepared; evaluations which Michael characterized as "conflicting and inconsistent."

Curtis explained that he wanted to give the principals feedback on how people - including supervisors of instruction, teachers and parents - perceived them.

"Are you saying this was a wake-up call with no consequences?" asked board member Randy Perryman.

"Yes," replied Curtis, "I wanted to give them perceptions and my expectations. I guess some agreed and some didn't. How do you lead stakeholders toward what we need to do as a district? I told them this was a self-reflection thing."

Michael said that principals he had talked to were very concerned, while Tears said she had received both positive and negative comments, and Gold said she had not heard any negatives.

"I personally don't think there's anything needs to be done," Gold said.

"It's a work in progress to help us improve," said Curtis. "It's not intended to be punitive."

Point three relates to Curtis' Memorandum of Expectations to principals, which contains the sentence, "If you cannot abide by these requirements, then please resign or retire and do not force me to reassign you."

Tears reported that principals' comments to her included, "He's the boss" and "I'm doing the best I can do," but went on to say, "I question the choice of words - I don't want it to come back on us."

Gold said that the principals she had spoken with didn't take it as a threat. "One said 'that's a fact: if I don't do my job I know I can be transferred or terminated'."

"Curtis might say he could have done it different," commented board member Mike Keny.

"When you put something on paper you have to live with it for a long time," said Michael, adding, "With the last director we had an issue with intimidation and fear, but he never put anything on paper."

"There should be a better way and Dr. Curtis understands that now," said Tears, effectively closing the topic.

The group moved on to another of Curtis' statements in the "Expectations" memo: "No more extracurricular practices during the school day."

Curtis later explained to the Tribune that he intended this to take effect in the 2009-2010 school year.

"There's room to look at changes and improvements," said Gold. "We want to look at every way to move toward academically focused schools, but I don't know how it's possible to move all the sports to after school. The principals and coaches will have to work it out and make some compromises."

Logistical problems of shared gymnasiums and ball fields without lights were mentioned, along with students' after-school jobs.

"Have you talked to the principals for their input?" asked Perryman.

"Most don't want to do it," replied Curtis. "We're still talking about solutions, and looking at increasing the time on task: in some schools only 50 percent of the time is spent on instruction."

"You said you don't know how to make the schedule work best and that's understandable," said Michael.

"The retire-resign comment, followed by that on practices...if you want input, get it before you send out something like this," he exclaimed.

The group moved on to discuss the trip to San Francisco, and then adjourned.