La Follette principal resigns; Rathert named interim principal

The MMSD released the following this afternoon:

La Follette High School Principal John Broome on Friday tendered his resignation from his position. Former Madison high school principal Loren Rathert now becomes the interim principal at the school for the remainder of the 2006-07 school year.
The Madison School District will conduct a national search for a new La Follette principal to begin the 2007-08 school year.
“John Broome came to us Friday and said that the needs of the school and his skills were not a match, and in the best interests of the school he felt he should resign,” said Superintendent Art Rainwater.
“I’m appreciative to John for recognizing the situation and putting the needs of the La Follette students first.”
Rathert is a veteran school administrator who retired in June of this year. He was the principal of Madison West for three years (2001-04) and was the interim principal at Madison East from September 2004 through June 2005.
“We’re fortunate that Loren Rathert is willing to take this position,” said Rainwater. “He’s an outstanding principal and is experienced in managing a large, urban high school.”
Broome became La Follette’s principal on July 1, coming here from a high school principalship in Charleston, IL.

25 thoughts on “La Follette principal resigns; Rathert named interim principal”

  1. A quote from Art Rainwater from Channel 3000 is very telling. It states:
    “His skills and his experience as a principal really just weren’t a match for what for what was needed at La Follete and it became very clear to him, and I think to us, that that was true,” Rainwater said.
    Now, isn’t it the duty of Mr. Rainwater to make sure that Mr. Broome’s abiities matched the job in the first place? LaFollette’s a very unique situation, yet the district goes ahead and hires a “outside” person who, until now, never was in charge of a high school that size (1700 + students) with a staff that large (200+).
    Look at Mr. Broome’s resume, as posted on the State of Indiana Education Department website:
    Unfortunately, the PDF file is no longer active, but one can conduct a Google search to look at the HTML version of this webpage. It was active about a month ago, however.
    Can someone please explain to me how Mr. Broome’s hiring is justified based only on the qualifications stated on his resume?
    This is the SECOND botched hire at a local high school in the past three to five years (i.e. Ms. Tillman @ East). Why is this happening? And why is it an East Side phenomenom?

  2. Oh, I wouldn’t say this phenomenon is unique to the East side unless you prefer in-district hires as the top priority.

  3. I won’t comment specifically on this hire because I don’t have any direct information. No doubt both the district and Mr. Broome regret very much that a mid-year resignation was necessary.
    Having looked at the resume, however, I have to say that it looks like a reasonable background *on paper*. On paper, I see three elements that I view as a reasonable career path to a school like LaFollette.
    9 years experience as a high school principal, including four years in an urban setting, at schools smaller than LaFollette.
    3 years experience as a high school assistant principal in a school similar in size to LaFollette, but suburban.
    5 years teaching at an urban high school similar in size to LaFollette.
    Horizontal movement is less common than FO might think, even into well regarded districts like MMSD. If successful experience in the same role in a similarly sized school is a prerequisite, the applicant pool will be very small. Pam Nash is a recent example of a horizontal move, having been AP at Memorial, then principal at Janesville Craig, before returning to Memorial as principal. But there are many effective principals of large high schools with a career path similar to this resume and they are the majority.
    In reading the salary survey issue of a trade magazine earlier this month, the high school principalship was described as the position deserving of the biggest salary adjustment. The link follows and that particular discussion appeared at the end of the article. Those interested in personnel topics might find this a good read, though definitely from an insider’s perspective.
    Superintendent and high school principal are the two most difficult hires. Hopefully, the next search results in a more successful match.

  4. FO:
    Well, a few thoughts…
    1) There are few more important decisions made by superintendents than hiring principals, particularly high school principals. For better or worse (and I’d argue sometimes worse), high school principalships have become one of the hardest positions to fill in public K-12 education. Good ones are worth their weight in gold (and can be hard to keep). The position becomes even more challenging, and I’d suggest difficult to fill, in situations like MMSD’s — schools trying to maintain/improve their academic standing in the community in the face of flat/declining enrollments, funding strains, and the host of socio-economic issues that comes with running a large, urban high school. And I’d add in Madison’s intense political/citizen oversight — a good thing, in general, but wearing on those at the forefront like principals.
    2) Yes, it’s a hard job, but two failed high school principalships in just a few years doesn’t speak well about…something. Is it entirely Rainwater’s responsibility? Well, the buck does stop with him on these sorts of hirings. But, usually some sort of citizen/school committee is set up to at least screen candidates — were there good candidates last time around? How much say did they or the board have, or does Art really control this? Does two failed principalships argue for a different methodology the next time around? I don’t know the answers; might be worth exploring these questions.
    3) Doesn’t Rainwater deserve some level of credit if he — as his statement seems to hint at — played some role in Broome’s decision? If he’s not a good fit for the school, aren’t students better off with six months of a poor fit than two or three years of a poor fit?
    4) FO implies that Broome didn’t fit because his previous high school wasn’t as large as LaFollette. Hmmm…I don’t know if I’d base an assessment of this hiring decision on strictly comparable-size grounds. Plenty of folks who run smaller things do well when promoted to run larger things — Bo Ryan being a pretty good local example. (He’s an obvious one — I can point to educators with similar experiences.)
    5) FO’s quotes around the word “outside” seem to strongly imply that insiders from MMSD are best suited to run things, or perhaps its high schools. I’d suggest there are 425 other school districts in Wisconsin, along with a few thousand nationally, and they are populated with some pretty talented administrators (and some duds, too, to be fair). Any organization — any — that limits its search for capable administrators to only within its own walls is, in my view, not fulfilling its obligations to its customers (in this case, students) and its broader community. Sometimes folks from the outside are best positioned to provide a fresh perspective, and speak truth to power when it’s needed.

  5. I see the validity of all the points made in response to my original post. I’m not advocating hiring “outsiders” or “insiders” exclusively. I also think that good leaders come from both small and large sized schools alike. Their abilities that transcend size.
    However, my original post neglected to mention that I work at LHS and have been at the school for six years now. I do have limited knowledge about the hiring process. I spoke with some members of the “screening committee” or whatever they were called. They were made up of students, parents, and teachers. These folks I spoke with allege that the group were not completely satisfied with hiring anybody from the final three candidates. In fact, they sent this list back to Doyle Administration and asked to reopen the application process in hopes of getting more qualified candidates. Yet, in the end, they were forced by Doyle to choose from the three orginal finalists. The students wanted one candidate; whereas the parents and teachers were split in their preferences. In the end, Mr. Broome was hired, and many members of the “search committee” held deep reservations about the hire.
    For all I know, this may be incomplete information, but the way this hire went down raises some crucial issues. It wasn’t as open as a process as the district led us to believe. Many of us teachers didn’t have a clue as to who the finalists were until Mr. Broome was hired. There was no open dialogue between Doyle and LHS staff regarding the hire. Rumors ran amok for the weeks leading up to Mr. Broome’s hire.
    All these issues with the hiring process need to be fully explored and changes need to be made. Two highly public flameouts of high school principals in less than five years is unacceptable, no matter how “hard” the job is to fill.
    I also understand that hindsight is 20/20, but Mr. Broome, bless his soul, was woefully overwhelmed from the get go. Communication has been poor; administration has taken a while to process student referrals; students openly cuss at teachers without any sort of serious reprecussions; school policy regarding hats, coats, and eletronic devices are not enforced; and the basic elements of order and calm are not present at LHS this year.
    These are all basic things that principals should master from the outset of their tenure at any school, whether that place is small or large, and regardless of demographics.
    Coupled with the fact that LHS has serious issues in curriculum and scheduling (i.e. Four-Block debate), I feel that MAYBE the “internal” candidates who were finalists could have had a better shot of succeeding than Mr. Broome. Who knows?
    What I do know is that whoever is hired next Fall must do serious research on LHS and rely on the experiences of current staff members in order get a firm grounding on what issues the plague the school. Mr. Broome did not do this well.
    Trust me, there are TOO many problems at LHS to list here. This is a very complex job that requires teamwork in order to unravel the complexity of the issues (i.e. Four-Block; professional development; acheivement gap; less $$$$$$$$; a split staff; new teacher induction; etc. )
    But making LHS a better place for all students requires that the new principal make the school environment is safe and orderly enough to foster student learning and acheivement. We don’t have that at LHS right now.

  6. FO:
    Thanks for your perspectives on this, particularly about the search/screen process. I’d heard similar sorts of concerns during the search process (and didn’t write about them in my first post, as they were all second- and third-hand). Ultimately, as I said before, the primary responsibility for hirings at this level rests with the superintendent. But I also think the board has a role in establishing a process that can lead to a much more successful outcome for LaFollette’s students and staff. My sense is that process is particularly crucial in establishing a level of trust and ownership between the new principal and the LaFollette community.

  7. Regarding the comment that there are citzen/school committees that screen principal candidates. I’m sorry but those committees are a joke. The committee only screens a few candidates who have been identified by the district administration beforehand. The administration then goes ahead and ignores the recommendations of the committee e.g., East. Furthermore, while the district claims that they conduct national searches for their high school principals, what it really means is that they just run a regular request for applications in some national publication on an annual basis. The recent hire at West was supposedly a “national search,” but it was obvious to committee members from fairly early on that the decision had already been made about who was going to be the next principal.
    Furthermore, folks shouldn’t assume that the westside hires have been anymore successful than the eastside hires. Witness the fights that have broken out at Memorial in the last year. Ask teachers and students at West about the decline in civility in the halls and the increase in disrespectful behavior at that school.
    As I write this, I realize that the problem isn’t limited to just hires at the high school level. The district hasn’t done so well lately in its hires of middle school principals either. Maybe their needs to be some change in the entire process…or the administration of the district.

  8. jb:
    If the search/screen committees are a joke, doesn’t that argue for changing the process by which the committees operate? Doesn’t that argue for a stronger board role in overseeing how these committees are set up, and run? If, as FO points out, the search/screen committee the last time around couldn’t develop a consensus, and/or thought none of the three finalists was the right fit for LaFollette, why not empower the committee to simply say, “Not good enough; let’s keep the search open.” Administrative searches at this level — senior administrative staff, major principals — are incredibly time-consuming. I’m pretty sure no one at MMSD wants to be going through another search after the last one was just completed. Better to try to get it right the first time, and I’d suggest that means empowering some committee — be it a search/screen one, a board committee, or whatever is in place — to have some level of authority on this.

  9. Phil M
    Would that your vision was reality here so long as Art Rainwater is the superintendent

  10. From what I understand, it’s quite common for the superintendent to ignore the recommendations of screening committees. I believe that Kathryn Tillman was not the committee’s first choice at East. If I have my facts straight, the first choice left the district and now serves as a superintendent in a district not far from Madison.

  11. Joan and Ed:
    Sorry for my failing to understand. Last time I checked, significant changes to the curriculum at East High were postponed — with at least some involvement by the school board — to allow for what appears to be a fairly broad study of the curriculum throughout MMSD’s high schools.
    Why is this different?
    If — as at least two posters suggest — the process to select new high school principals has not worked well in two cases (hard to argue that it has, given the quick departures of each), why can’t the board step in, as it did with the curriculum issue, and say: we’re going to do this differently. What distinguishes significant curricular issues from siginficant hiring issues?

  12. Everyone I know who’s ever been involved in the screening process for principals has said that in the end, Art gets his man (or woman). Of course, that’s just peachy when “Art’s person” does a stellar job. However, when “Art’s person” doesn’t work out, that exposes the flaw in the process. We saw that with East, and I’m sure it’s happened at other elementary, middle and high schools in the district. It sucks in a big way, because Leadership is a very important factor when it comes to Equity between different buildings. Lafollette now gets set back 2 years, just as East did..and that affects the kids a helluva lot more than it affects anyone at Doyle.
    I guess Loren Rathert gets to pad his retirement account yet again!

  13. Phil M,
    I’m sorry if I’ve confused matters. My point is that, until the recent changes on the BOE, Supt Rainwater has been running things with a free hand, including hiring principals. Yes, the curricular changes at East were postponed; the changes at West, however, are in full force. Moreover, the revamp of the high school design meant that the block system at LaFollette was also on the chopping block, news of which that new principal was forced to deliver to his brand new constituency in addition to the other challenges he faced.
    Supt. Rainwater has had to retreat somewhat to the cover of a handpicked committee to accomplish his overhaul of the high school curriculum, but we can be certain, unless the board steps in (and the spring election will be critical), Rainwater will dictate what happens, just as he has with respect to who are high school principals will be. By the way, like LaFollette, the West community was promised a principal derived from a “nationwide search”. Ours came from Wright Middle School.

  14. Phil,
    I second Joan’s comments.
    The hiring process can change IF the board takes charge.
    And ditto on on this spring’s elections. We cannot go back to the board of Juan Lopez, Bill Keys, and Bill Clingan, that is, a board of cheer leaders for the administration.

  15. David:
    I was going to approach Mr. Rathert and ask him if he was interested in pursuing the “Grand Slam” of MMSD high schools since he only has Memorial left on his list. But better judgement prevented me from being that sardonic.
    Seriously though, LHS is not going to be set back two years because of this bad hire. It’s going to be more because of the Four Block cloud that looms over the school’s future. Most academic teachers (English, Math, Science, and Social Studies) oppose the Four-Block, but some academic teachers and ALL elective course instructors support it. This is a HUGE source of friction at LHS and when it is time to negotiate the MOU with MTI, the school climate will get uglier than it is now.
    Several young teachers have told me that they will transfer or leave the district if the Four Block stays any longer. Also, other veterans have told me that they’ll “work to contract” and show a lot of movies in class if Four Block stays. In the opinion of many people, Four Block does not work and the district cannot afford to keep it afloat. But many elective teachers at LHS depend on the Four Block for jobs because there are more elective courses in the building than there would be under a 7 period day. Big problems happen when people are fighting for jobs instead of educational quality.
    I can spend several more cyber-pages analyzing the Four-Block problem at LHS, but it will become public eventually. This why I was very upset with Mr. Broome’s hire and his hasty depature, because now LHS is in survival mode and is no shape to discuss the Four Block issue.

  16. Very cogent statements on the hiring process, though I don’t necessarily agree with all sentiments.
    The few articles I’ve read discussing the difficulties and dwindling hiring pools for top school administrators at urban (and not so urban) schools discuss why such persons can name their price. There are some words thrown our way in these articles about school violence, dwindling resources, the need to be available 24×7, pressures directly or indirectly generated by politicians and community/parents, the microscope under which they must operate.
    We need strong superintendents, and principals; they are the key people needed for success of schools, we are told.
    Over the last 25+ years, I have seen the rise in this country of the desire/longing for strong leaders. We now use the word “czar” (drug czar, homeland security czar, education czar) as a word meaning that we’re finally going to take something seriously and solve the problem. It’s a positive word now — worn with pride.
    “Czar” no longer is associated with Russian dictators; maybe soon, we should just drop the euphuisms. What the American people seem to want/need truly is a dictatorship — not a strong leader or the closer “czar” — albeit, a dictator who agrees with “us” and controls “them” — at the school level and elsewhere.
    I think we’re moving in the wrong direction. Americans simply want to be unaffected by the consequences of their behavior and decisions, and want others suffer the mess we make and to clean up after us. That shouldn’t be allowed.
    John Broome may not have had the skill, but perhaps he did not have the will to exercise the authority that was/is required at LHS. This should be viewed as a sad commentary on our character.
    Broome’s previous experience, on paper, looked like he could handle the principalship. Perhaps, the schools and communities of his experience were more predictable and civilized than here.

  17. Why didn’t they hire Joe Gothard? The students, parents and staff respect him and he was great with the kids????

  18. For what it’s worth, MANY years ago – over a decade – I was among the parents who mounted an intense protest when MMSD stole Principal Carolyn Stanford Taylor from Marquette School to place her at Lincoln.
    I ended up on the search committee for her replacement, which faced numerous fascinating maneuvers by MMSD human resources and administration. We had no reason to trust the district and pressed to see ALL of the resumes that were submitted for the job rather than the top dozen or so that we were given by administration.
    Our assumption was that resumes were weak and that the district was giving us only the resumes of people who would go along and get along. Most if not all of us believed that there were people who were at least as good if not better among the resumes that we didn’t see.
    We were given all resumes for the applicant pool, and the depressing observation, even ten years ago, was that the resumes that we were seeing really were the best among the candidate pool. And this was for a 3-5 school with relatively few complications.
    I am not excusing what happened at LaFollette – I went through the bad years as an East parent and know how it feels to be in this position.
    At the same time, I would caution people to bear in mind that the number and calibre of people interested in K-12 academic administration are dwindling.

  19. Lucy,
    Thanks for your post.
    The board must address the credibility of the hiring process, since most posters seems to feel it has little or none.

  20. I agree with Larry’s sentiments about the role of “strong” principals and superintendents in creating great schools.
    But “strong” leaders also have to communicate their vision to the people in the frontlines who are going to be charged with carrying out initiatives. These “strong” leaders also need to establish “buy-in” at all levels of the organization and they must also accept constructive critcism from the community.
    Broome offered no hope of accomplishing this and in fact, was completely aloof in establishing any semblance of order at LHS. The whole hiring process also seemed to be too micromanaged. I found out today that the two parents in the hiring committee were also staff members at the school. If this is true, it’s a great conflict of interest and a bad practice in general.
    But that’s in the past. Right now, the MMSD needs to involve EVERY single stakeholder at LHS (parents, teachers, staff, students, administrators) in order to understand the unique demands inherent at our high school. We need to ask questions and hold people accountable as to why the hiring process has failed two high schools in such a short span.
    We may have a limited pool of qualified candidates to choose from, but if the MMSD messes the next hire as well, there won’t be ANY applicants left.

  21. The parent who asked about Joe Gothard is right. Joe was one of the finalists for this position. He knows the school, is held in high regard by faculty and students alike, has an excellent management style, and is dedicated to strengthening public education. There are hundreds of people — staff, students, and parents — who, after many years of working with Joe, would have loved to see him become the head principal.
    The Superintendent does not have any explanation for why he overlooked this obvious excellent choice. He did not have any explanation for why he overrode the first Committee choice at East High several years ago (Barb Williams Thompson). Why is the community accepting the decision-making of a Superintendent who makes such incredibly bad mistakes and willfully ignores the clear-thinking of those who have to live with his choices?
    We hope the La Follette parents will show they are not going to accept such a decision a second time. There does not need to be a national search when the right man for the job, the man who was among the top 3 choices sent to the Superintendent last summer, is right here now.
    La Follette Staff Member

  22. As a parent I would like to state two points, There is not a single person in this system or outside that is going to please all the staff or parents in our Schools. Talk to others through out this District and you will get as many complaints as compliments.
    Not one person is responsible for the problems at Lafollette. The Staff and Parents are also making contributions to the Mess.
    OK 3 things, Everybody needs to help with changing the enviorment, a panel of 5 Administrators cannot make or break Lafollette or expect to change the behavior of 1700 students.
    I too am a staff member and with two children in attendance at Lafollette, I am not afraid for them or myself . Lets become proactive and help with the Change.

  23. Mistaken Identity
    It has come to my attention by a couple of fellow LHS faculty members there is a posting on this blog (dated 12/20 @ 9:24) that was signed “LHS Staff Member” and posted by someone referring to themself as “Graham.” As a point of reference, this is not me or my posting. In fact, I have not posted a message on the blog until now.
    Thanks for your time and consideration,
    Darrin Graham

  24. In regards to the rather swift change in the La Follette atmosphere I believe students are getting away with too much. Students test administration. To be perfectly frank, assistant principles let students get away with too much. Minorities are treated differently and given more chances, and one administator in specific seems to have a zoo of kids in her office that really should be in class. I have heard people say I have “____ principal” wrapped around my finger. Maybe the punishment system is not working. Broome did not enforce MMSD policies regarding headgear, cell phones, and ipods. Yes many in high school would like to view themselves as adults, but in reality most are in limbo, or immature, and unable to make proper judgements. THEY NEED RULES TO HELP CORRECT BEHAVIOR. Honestly if administrators follow MMSD policies, treat all people equally and expect high standards, and hold true to their words- guess what? STUDENTS WILL RESPECT THEM. A superb example , and a man that deserves the head principal position is JOE GOTHARD.

  25. Things have calmed down at La Follette High School, thanks to the good leadership of Mr. Rathert and the support he has received from the faculty and staff. The urgent question that remains is how will we maintain this positive change into the next school year and beyond.
    Superintendent Rainwater and Assistant Superintendent Nash must focus on hiring a principal whose excellent work is known. They should not go looking for another unknown, whose “management style” suddenly becomes a “bad match” for this district. Students, parents, teachers, and other staff have paid dearly for the horrible mistake made this past year. We have paid in a) lost teaching time—frequently having to attend to trouble in the hallways when the hallways should have been clear, b) planning or teaching time wasted on writing referrals for far too many conflicts that arose as a result of numerous students sensing that they did not have to follow the rules, c) emotional turmoil and school-wide tension that were the result of an atmosphere that felt unsafe, d) lost professional and academic work from poor decisions having been made about proper use of staff, e) loss of community support as parents and students sensed that their school had changed dramatically and for the worse, and f) educational and financial loss as MMSD now settles a payment on a poorly chosen principal, whose income equalled that of 3 new teachers.
    It is not clear that the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent understand the impact their decision has had on the La Follette community. The La Follette community intends to make this point. Mr. Rainwater and Ms. Nash: You need to listen to us. We are the ones who suffer when you make such a serious mistake. We expect you to sit down with us and listen. To date, that has not happened. You spoke to us for 10 minutes on the day our principal left. That is not enough.
    Finally, it will not be satisfactory to assert that school-wide turmoil is common to all our schools and that, therefore, La Follette should expect such. La Follette is a school that has a tradition and a reputation of being strict about rules. It is a school where students and faculty expect that there will be consequences if failure to follow rules on the part of some interferes with the education of all students. Parents, students, and staff expect to have leadership that supports this tradition. The La Follette High School community does not expect less, and that is why so many groups came together quickly this fall to proclaim that “something was wrong here.”

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