Friday, May 4, 2007

Par for the Gov

Pathetically, this is typical. Governor Fletcher had an opportunity. Sadly, he made an extremely questionable selection. Fletcher has stated he values education. Unfortunately, his choice reflects the exact opposite.

From the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Critics of the woman tapped to become the next Kentucky education commissioner say they are surprised she was considered for the post because she has a turbulent history with districts she's led in the past 13 years. Several parents and board members in districts in Scottsdale, Ariz., and St. Charles, Ill., said Barbara Erwin, 56, left their districts in disarray with what they described as a "dictatorial" management style that led to high staff turnover.

"You don't come in and explode the place and leave the place in rubble," said Bill Page, a St. Charles parent who has been critical of Erwin in columns he wrote for the Kane County Chronicle. "If you look at her history, she comes into a district, she turns it on its ear, causes a lot of turmoil, and then she's gone."

Erwin, who has 36 years of experience in education, is superintendent of schools for the 15,000-student Community Unit District 303 in St. Charles. Previously, she was superintendent of the Scottsdale Unified School District 2000-04 and of the Allen (Texas) Independent School District 1994-2000. She also was superintendent of the Tipton Community School Corp. in Indiana. She accepted the position in Kentucky last week. The board of education must ratify her contract at its May 9-10 retreat. Erwin is expected to start July 1 with a base salary of $220,000.

Anne Hickie, a former Scottsdale school board member, said some of Erwin's initiatives deepened divisions within the community. "Everything looks great on the surface; it's what's going on underneath that concerns me," she said. "She divided this community and made it very difficult for people to even work together. Divide and conquer, that was the mentality. If I were asked to vote on Barbara Erwin, I would not vote to hire her."

Kentucky state school board chairman Keith Travis said the firm handling the commissioner search "thoroughly" researched Erwin's background. "She's still our top choice," Travis said. "She's been in some roles with challenged areas and in solving those challenges there is going to be some fall-out from that. ... I really hope a few negatives don't overshadow all the positive that she has done."

Erwin said she was not surprised by the criticism. "Guaranteed, you can go back to every place that I've been and find people that are unhappy with decisions I've made," Erwin said. "When you make difficult decisions, you don't please everybody. ... There tend to be naysayers that are more vocal."

Mary Ann Blankenship, executive director of the Kentucky Education Association, said the group heard only a few negative comments about Erwin. "We talked with our counterparts in Illinois and heard a lot of good things," she said. "We were told their loss is our gain."

Christine Schild, a former Scottsdale board member, said Erwin paid about $8 million to buy out the employment contracts of about 170 teachers, administrators and other staff. Schild said Erwin also led the effort to fire a popular elementary school principal -- who allegedly changed six test scores to meet an improvement goal -- and spent more than $225,000 of the district's budget to do so. The principal was escorted off campus in tears, in plain view of teachers, parents and staff, Schild said. Erwin also proposed a plan later rejected by voters to build a sixth high school despite a decline in enrollment as students transferred to charter and private schools, she said. "It's her way or the highway," Schild said. "Morale just went in the sewer. ... Everything got cut to the bare bone. She was very dictatorial."

Schild said two years after Erwin left Scottsdale, she received calls from residents of St. Charles who were unhappy with Erwin's job performance since joining the district in 2004. Several St. Charles school board members, where Erwin is still superintendent, would not comment for this story, saying they feared retribution. During her tenure at St. Charles, Erwin helped create an electronic system that stores student and teacher profiles and testing data. The district also tripled the number of students that scored high on Advanced Placement exams and saw an increase in ACT scores and state test scores.

In Texas, Erwin is credited by spokesman Tim Carroll with raising achievement in the district and introducing innovative technology practices. She was an adjunct professor at Texas Women's University. Questions also surfaced yesterday about an honor listed on Erwin's rŽsumŽ and in a Kentucky Department of Education release, which stated that Erwin was named Texas Superintendent of the Year in 1997 and 1998. The Texas Association of School Boards Web site shows Erwin earned the title only in 1997. However, in 1999 she was the Texas nominee for National Superintendent of the Year, according to the Texas Association of School Administrators Web site.

Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said KSBA considered it reasonable and understandable for a state's nominee for the national award to consider herself that state's superintendent of the year, even if the nomination does not carry with it an award called state superintendent of the year. Hughes said KSBA had not vetted Erwin's rŽsumŽ, but that the association did not "on the face of it" see anything that suggested Erwin was not qualified to be Kentucky's education commissioner.

According to reports in the Dallas Morning News, Erwin was blamed for the loss of several teachers and employees. In an Aug. 14, 1999, article, critics said staff were quitting Allen schools because the atmosphere was intimidating and teachers were afraid to question Erwin. Carroll said yesterday that the turnover was the result of changes Erwin made. "Most people would look back and think the changes needed to be done at the time," he said. "With change comes resistance."

But critics in Scottsdale say Erwin left a legacy that was more harmful than beneficial. "After you look at her track record ... if your board of education still thinks she is the best candidate for the job, then I wish you luck," Schild said.

1 comment:

The Principal said...

Check out Kentucky School News and Commentary for more on the on-going skirmish. (http://THEPRINCIPAL.BLOGSPOT.COM)

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