More deck-chair shuffling

From the MMSD:

For immediate release
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Six elementary schools to have different principals
Six elementary schools will have different principals next year in a series of transfers and changes within the Madison School District. The principals who are transferring have been at their current schools from four to ten years.
The list of new assignments, by principal, with current school and length of service:
Deborah Hoffman to Lincoln from Franklin (10 yrs.)
Beth Lehman to Hawthorne from Lincoln (6 yrs.)
Catherine McMillan to Franklin from Hawthorne (10 yrs.)
Michael Hertting to Lapham from a leave of absence
Kristi Kloos to Lake View from Lapham (4 yrs.)
Joy Larson to Allis from Marquette (4 yrs.)
Allis Principal Chris Hodge and Gompers Principal Sherrill Wagner will retire this summer, and Lake View Principal Linda Sweeney will take a leave of absence for career exploration. Hertting will come off a similar leave; previously he led Orchard Ridge for five years. Vacancies will be filled within the next few months.
“We believe these assignment changes are good for the students, the staff, the principals and the district,” said Superintendent Art Rainwater. “Last year, we shifted six other elementary principals after stays of similar length.”
Parents at each of the schools were notified yesterday. The changes will take place over the summer in time for the Tuesday, September 4 start of the new school year. Each of the principals will assist her successor in the transition to make it more effective and efficient.

Constant shuffling of principals damages the effectivenss of the MMSD. All the rhetoric about building relationships amounts to nothing but words, when these actions speak louder.
The superintendent named no principal at Marquette. Apparently, he plans to “consolidate” Lapham and Marquette regardless of whether the board votes for it or not.
With the uncertainty and stress about staff cuts and school closings, the changes could not come at a worse time.
Is the superintendent hell-bent on destroying the MMSD?

11 thoughts on “More deck-chair shuffling”

  1. Here’s the letter we sent about this:
    Dear Superintendent Rainwater and Board Members:
    We are Franklin parents that are very concerned about the news of transfering our long-standing principal, Deb Hoffman, to another school in the coming year.
    While we understand that this is not unusual and is the management perogotive of the Superintendent, these are not normal circumstances under which we are operating. Franklin school is currently facing the possibility of significant restructuring as the Superintendent’s proposed budget eliminates reduced class sizes for Franklin. This means that, if the budget goes through as proposed, Franklin school will undergo the loss of six teachers and lose small class sizes, all while undergoing a transition in leadership. This is an unacceptable burden to impose on what has been one of Madison’s models for a successful central city paired school.
    The letter to parents from Superintendent Rainwater announcing this change provided a nice summary of the excellent qualifications and experience of the new principal that has been assigned to Franklin. It leaves us wondering why this other very experienced and capable principal can’t herself be assigned to Lincoln rather than transfering Deb and unnecessarily disrupting our school along the way.
    We urge you to seriously consider the combined burden of this significant transition in the wake of serious budget cuts and classroom restructuring. The stability and ongoing success of our central city school depends on it.
    Donna Friedsam and Tim Astfalk

  2. I feel the need to respond because of a misperception that might arise from your next to last paragraph. You suggest that “this other very experienced and capable principal … be assigned to Lincoln rather than transfering Deb.” This sounds as if Lincoln School is in need of a principal, and you object to losing Ms. Hoffman to meet that need.
    Lincoln School has a very capable principal, Beth Lehman, who has served admirably for 6 years. She has coped with budget cuts and class size increases which have had a corrosive effect on meeting staffing and special ed needs, and has worked to mitigate the impact of these cuts on a student population which contains vastly higher numbers of needy students than the population at Franklin. She has shown a refreshing ability to put children’s needs ahead of bureaucratic rules. She has been committed to serving a truly diverse population of students and parents.
    Somehow, the parents at the self-anointed “model schools” only seem to mention Lincoln when they are imagining that somehow these needy students will be draining resources from their own children’s supposedly superior education. I can assure you that Lincoln is in many respects a model school. It partners very effectively with UW in several areas to bring resources to the school and to educate the next generation of teachers. It houses Madison’s popular Open Classroom magnet elementary program. It has more outstanding, award-winning teachers than I could begin to mention, for fear of leaving someone out. It is also a paired school, and has a positive, child-centered atmosphere while serving one of the more challenged neighborhoods in our city.
    At Lincoln, with needier students and fewer resources, a higher percentage of Asian-American students read at advanced and proficient levels than at Randall, Franklin’s paired school. At Lincoln, 2/3 of African-American students and a slightly higher percentage of Hispanic students read at advanced and proficient levels, whereas Randall did not test enough African-American or Hispanic students to report their scores. Which school is the “model” depends on how you define success, I suppose.
    Although it is the superintendent’s prerogative to make these changes, I feel that this random movement of principals serves the superintendent’s needs, not the needs of school communities. I suspect that Lincoln, Franklin, and Hawthorne are all sorry to see long-time principals move on. Here is hoping that each of us will find the new principals’ skills serve our schools well.
    Kay Cahill

  3. I am sorry if anything in my letter about the plans for principals’ re-assignment felt like it did not properly represent Lincoln School. In fact, I knew and know nothing about the circustances around the change of principals at any of the other schools, and was simply commenting on hoping to avoid a domino approach to transferring principals if there needed to be a new assignment made at Lincoln (for whatever reason). And when I referred to Franklin-Randall as “one of Madison’s models for a successful central city paired school,” I in no way intended to suggest that the other paired schools are not models. Clearly, Kay’s comments are testimony to another model of success in Madison’s urban education and school pairing.
    I see that Lincoln school’s change of principal appears equally arbitrary, unnecessary, or ill-timed. I would hope we can stand together with our shared message — that MMSD should support stability and continuity at our schools where it is working and when possible, rather than unnecessarily disrupting them while we all struggle with the very onerous burdens of the budget cuts.
    I hope that in our advocacy we can all avoid a destructive potential secondary effect of this terrible budget process — that it casts the dialogue as a competition for resources school against school, neighbhorhood against neighbhorhood, rather than all of us joining together for the common good of all of MMMSD’s schools and kids.

  4. What has hit a raw nerve for me is this seeming “arbitrary” transfer of principals.
    Principals are an important part of a school and because of disruptions (good or bad!) there need to be good reasons for doing so.
    Such transfers should most importantly be discussed and voted on by BoE — such power should not be at the mere discretion of the Superintendent or central administration.

  5. Maybe they do it to keep us from forming relationships with our principals. If a principal becomes a part of the school community, they do what is best for the community rather than what the distric wants them to do. It’s sort of like rotating prison guards so they don’t become too familiar with the prisoners. They might help them escape. I am sort of joking but sort of not.

  6. If I might add, the last two years that principals have been moved, there has always been an “issue” and instead of moving one principal to another school, the district moves a bunch so no one really knows…
    I’d be interested to know if any of these principals WANTED to move. It is not uncommon in education to want to move to a different setting to challenge oneself and to keep from burning out altogether. What I’ve seen in the past is that principals have not welcomed, but rather accepted the move.

  7. In reference to Elizabeth’s previous post, last year’s principal changes involving Kennedy, Elvehjem and Lowell, allegedly was because Lowell’s principal was considered to be ineffective. Elvehjem’s was moved to Lowell, Lowell’s to Kennedy and Kennedy’s to Elvehjem. The Lowell principal ultimately resigned. The “grapevine” talk I’ve heard is that Elvehjem’s principal was really upset, as she didn’t want to be transferred. From what I’ve also heard, all three schools are doing ok, after the changes. That’s a good thing, but it’s too bad that problems aren’t just dealt with and are instead just moved to another school! I remember reading at the time that Art Rainwater said that the principals are switched on a regular basis. The District staff that I had talked to, told me that isn’t true. They hadn’t experienced principal switches before.

  8. Last year our principal at Crestwood was looking at homes in the area, as she was set to finish her career at this school. All the bumps and bruises she endured the first few years seemed smoother and while she was not perfect, it was working…….As I heard the community at Thoreau was not happy with their principal and were seeking a change………….I am unsure about Chavez but that prinicipal has verbalized his upcoming retirement soon. They shifted all three. One content that did not want to move, one that is to retire soon, and one the community was not happy with. Unsure the benefit except Crestwood has a new principal this year will shift over 100 students to the new school, shift in about 60 new students from another area and I am sure that is when we will have to get yet a new principal due to retirement. I still don’t understand this method of improving the schools.

  9. I think selection and management of principals is definitely one of Art’s weak points. I, too, was dismayed last year when the response to leadership problems at a couple of schools resulted in simply moving principals around. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of support coming from downtown to assist or develop principals who seem to be struggling. I just don’t see how moving people around is supposed to address the fundamental problems…..especially at the expense of disrupting schools that seem to be working well. I’m not sure what is driving this year’s round of musical chairs.
    In addition, Art has made some major principal hiring mistakes after ostensibly disregarding the recommendations of the hiring committees. I’ve heard of this happening several times over the past couple of years…most recently with the LaFollette hire that didn’t work out.
    “Proven experience in developing great principals” is something that I would like to see as a major strength in the new superintendent, whoever that may be. Strong principals = strong schools.

  10. I have to agree with Momanonymous.
    The superintendent dictates the changes and makes questionable hires as a purposeful tactic to keep principals, staff, and parents from forming effective partnerships and becoming independent from his control.
    This superintendent shows time and time again that his management style means tight-fisted control of anything and everything in the district. He threatens and yells at staff, as well as parents, board members, and reporters, if they dare question or deviate from his line. He drives effective and independent principals and administrators out of the district.
    Let’s hope that the board hires a superintendent who respects and works cooperatively with all stakeholders in the district.

  11. I think Jill J.s take on this is correct. I am a former Lowell parent. Several of us (representing about 1/3 of the total student body) went to the board and administration asking specifically for a team to come in and help parents and the principal work out problems in the school. The response from Jane Belmore and Sue Aplanop was that test scores were going up, everything was fine. Parents were told that there was only the perception that something wasn’t working. Basically they stonewalled for 4 years. The end result was that the principal’s career with the MMSD was ended, the school lost many kids (including every single one on my block) and lost teachers and support staff that had been at Lowell for a long time. The administration will tell you that teachers, staff and students leave for a variety of reasons. I will always be convinced that the administration let Lowell decline because they didn’t want to admit that they hired an inexperienced principal and then failed to support her.

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