Spampinato’s fate on the line?
SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit School Board members were set to meet today at 7:15 a.m. at the district’s central office to resolve the escalating contention surrounding superintendent Lynn Spampinato.
The hasty scheduling of the meeting and its timing after an emotional board meeting Wednesday night suggested a change was in the works, but board members were tight-lipped about agenda specifics.
The public meeting comes on the heels of the late Wednesday executive session the board called to discuss the embattled superintendent who was issued a “no confidence” vote by the Summit County Education Association (SCEA).
Tensions have been mounting in Summit School District since the fall, but teachers, staff, administrators and parents reached a critical point this week with the teachers’ no-confidence vote announced Tuesday and a school board session Wednesday that ended with the closed-door meeting.
The board hired Spampinato last summer and she proceeded to usher in academic change to improve the system from good to excellent.
In November, the board that hired her on a 7-0 vote, changed with a new election and term limits.
Many teachers, staff and parents became enraged at the process through which Spampinato has brought about change.
“I think Summit County could be the highest-performing school district in Colorado,” Spampinato said at the school board meeting Wednesday at Summit Cove Elementary School.
“I know change is hard. But life is hard, and you have to do what’s hard to get where you want to go.”
The SCEA, the teacher’s union, contends that Spampinato’s brand of change has taken place too rapidly and without adequate dialogue.
“I believe the current style of management is like changing tires on a moving school bus without assessing which tire needs to be changed,” district administrative assistant Jan Losh said at the meeting.
Losh likened the tire-changing crew to the district’s staff and the bus’ occupants to its students.
“The bus is beginning to careen out of control,” Losh said to the enthusiastic applause of teachers in the room. During Wednesday night’s meeting, board members circled their child-sized chairs in Summit Cove Elementary’s cafeteria to discuss solutions to the current tension in the district.
After nearly four hours of public comment and board discussion, the board met privately in an executive session to discuss “personnel” matters.
The executive session did not conclude until after midnight. According to interim board president Kristy Johnson, today’s public meeting is a continuation of that discussion. “There is a business item, so some action may be taken, more than likely,” Johnson said.
A time for change?
Change has come to define Spampinato’s tenure as superintendent, and the topic of change dominated board discussion and public comment on Wednesday night.
Among the changes led by Spampinato is a new reading program which will see its way into the hands of the district’s elementary students this fall. The program better meets the requirements of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and better caters to all types of learners than the existing program.
SCEA co-president Carrieanne Pitts agreed that the new reading series is a good program, but said that the decision and program selection process were rushed.
The district’s Math Curriculum Team is searching for an improved math program that will enter elementary schools in the 2005-06 school year, or earlier at the discretion of each individual school.
Early in the school year, Spampinato convened the Middle School Task Force, a group of teachers, parents and administrators whose job was to design a plan to boost academic achievement at Summit Middle School.
The task force proposed an expansion of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program to all the school’s students; a revamped schedule fortified with more academic time; a switch from hexters to quarterly grading periods; and a daily advisory period to help students with time management and other organizational skills.
The school board approved the move to full-school IB earlier this month, but no formal decision has come of the three remaining recommendations.
“There is lots of change, and it’s so chaotic,” said one middle school teacher. “We’re talking about doing all this by next year. Let’s do IB first and then look at other things.”
Perhaps the most controversial change proposed by Spampinato was the elimination of 2.4 physical education (PE) teacher positions in the district to accommodate an enrollment drop and to make way for more academic time at the middle school.
The board tabled the issue, but Spampinato said she felt that the majority of dissent among teachers stems from the proposal.
Teachers dispute that claim.
On Wednesday night, the board wrangled with the question of whether it had charged Spampinato with enacting sweeping change upon hiring her.
“When I interviewed with this board, I was very candid, because you don’t want to have a bad match,” Spampinato said. “No one said Summit County was in crisis, but you did put problems on the table. “I said, ‘I do not do maintenance work. If you’re happy with where your district is at, I’m not your girl.’ I was emphatic,” Spampinato added.
“We were very clear when we started the interviews that the district was not broken,” said board member Jay Brunvand.
Summit Cove PTSA president Julie McCluskie applauded Spampinato’s efforts to increase the quality of academic instruction.
“We are thrilled with the board’s direction to raise the academic excellence in this county and the steps Dr. Spampinato has taken to achieve this goal,” McCluskie read from a prepared statement signed by a dozen other parents.
“We recognize that change of this magnitude may be difficult, but the end result for our children is worth the effort.”
Summit Cove parent TJ Dufresne also spoke in favor of raising the bar.
“When I moved here, people said, ‘You’re going to have to move by the time your child gets to middle school,'” Dufresne said. “The board needs to help us move our children to academic excellence.”
Pitts and her SCEA co-president, Janet McDermott, insisted that the organization’s vote of no confidence on Tuesday does not stem from a fear of change among teachers.
“In Summit School District, the teachers strive to be excellent every day, and we embrace change that will impact the success of our students,” said McDermott and Pitts in a prepared statement.
“The changes that are being dictated by our superintendent are not moving our school district in a positive direction.”
Crisis in communication
“I believe that some of the critical issues are not what has been happening, but how it has been happening,” interim board president Johnson said.
“Lack of buy-in, lack of collaboration – in my mind, those are really the issues. Leadership, to me, is about shared vision, trust and building relationships through collaboration.”
A portion of Wednesday night’s school board meeting was dedicated to uncovering issues that have simmered beneath the surface of board members’ interactions with the superintendent, the public, the teaching staff and each other.
In a facilitated conversation, board members acknowledged communication problems and tensions within the board – issues mirrored by the district as a whole.
“We never sat down as a group and said, ‘Hey, what are we doing? Are we going in the right direction?'” board member Jon Kreamelmeyer said Thursday.
“I think we do have direction, but it certainly is not going to hurt to have us sit down and re-evaluate a little bit, especially with this tailspin going on.”
Kreamelmeyer and fellow board member and fellow retired teacher Bob Bowers said they felt they’ve been in the dark since they joined the board in November.
Throughout the meeting, members of the public, staff and board lamented excessive rumor-spreading and politicking that has plagued the district.
“In addition to the obvious personal costs I have previously mentioned, I left the school board because of actions and special agendas on the part of some board members and some members of the SCEA,” said former board president Marshall Denkinger, who resigned last week. “So, let’s stop with the rumors. Let’s stop with the misrepresentations … Let’s stop with the primary focus on adult issues in this educational community.” (For a full text of his comments, see page A12).
Spampinato agreed that open communication has been lacking.
“I’ve never had any experience in a small town,” Spampinato said. “Something about city living makes people more direct. I have never lived in a situation in my entire life where so much happens behind your back.”
The SCEA criticized Spampinato for her own purported communication foibles.
“As a majority, we truly believe that mistrust and fear is being perpetuated because there is a lack of communication,” Pitts and McDermott said. “Dr. Spampinato makes decisions without communicating why or how those decisions will benefit our district.”
Johnson said she felt the opinions and feelings aired at Wednesday’s meeting were steps in the right direction to reconcile an embattled school district.
“I think it was a great beginning to understanding some of our own internal board issues,” Johnson said. “I was really glad people were so honest. It made me feel like we have a lot more to do, but it didn’t feel insurmountable, and it will be for the benefit of the district.”
Kreamelmeyer said he is filled with both sadness and hope.
“I feel really sad for Lynn,” he said. “I feel sad for all the people involved – the parents and teachers. Unfortunately, all of this escalated very quickly, which was surprising to me.
“It’s really a sad deal. I guess I’m hoping that, as a community, we can heal. I’m sure we can, and it’s going to take time.
“I still have faith in our school district. I have faith in the teachers, in the administration. We will go on, we will make it and we’ll be OK.”
Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 203 or email@example.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For an update on the early morning meeting, go to http://www.summitdaily.com. A story should be posted by noon.
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