Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Board relationships

Another in my accidental series of Board misjudgments. A small independent school's elementary principal was having problems with a young, male and somewhat charismatic male teacher. "Joe" arrived late, did not plan, called vulnerable students names, failed to attend meetings. So the principal began to apply pressure.

The staff handbook defined what it called bad practice on a scale from minor such as failing to change a display or check student notebooks, to those which would bring instant termination such as striking a student. Joe exhibited most of the minor offenses, taking care not to stray into major. However, one of the major definitions was "repeated instances of a minor transgression".

The elementary principal met with Joe repeatedly, each time documenting the meeting, his comments, and his actions, or more usually his inactions. In particular, conversations about his refusal to plan lessons and his treatment of specific students were recorded. Joe was also separately given a formal written warning by the preschool principal for endangering a preschooler's safety, incidentally breaking a specific state law concerning preschoolers.

The decision was made by the school's director not to renew Joe's contract for the following year.

Soon thereafter, the principal's competency was challenged at a Board meeting by one particular Board member. She was accused of staff bullying and of creating a climate of fear and the school's director was instructed to investigate her performance. He reported to the next meeting he found no evidence of either and that he had full confidence in her. A week later he received a written directive from the Board Chair to terminate the elementary principal. Failure to do so would be insubordination. Apparently a secret Board meeting was held to which he had not been invited, despite being a member of the Board.

He refused and so he was terminated. In his absence, so was the elementary principal. That was followed by the resignation of two teachers who had been at the school for nearly ten years, two for almost five, two more for three. A year later, several others resigned.

And the relationship issue? Apparently, and reportedly, Joe had been having a relationship with one particular Board member. She confused her private life with her role as a Board member, and she failed to observe the limits of her role concerning the school's operational matters. Because of her, within twelve months the school lost its director, elementary head, four of its most senior teachers, five more teachers, and over a third of its enrollment.

Both the Board chair and that particular Board member have now gone. But the kicker is that one year later, the new school director decided not to renew Joe's contract.

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