published: Wednesday, June 22, 2011
School board debates transfers
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- School board members wrestled with complicated issues at their regular meeting Monday night before agreeing in a 3-2 vote to retain former Avon Park High School principal Stu Guthrie and Lake Placid High School principal Michael Haley as assistant principals at Sebring Middle School and Sebring High School, respectively.
At its core the discussion was about the balance of power between school boards and school superintendents.
It began when board member Andy Tuck said that while he had been told a school board has to approve a school superintendent's recommendations for hire unless there was "good cause" to reject a candidate, he felt the board should pass over Guthrie and Haley.
The good cause, said Tuck, was poor performance as evidenced by Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores.
He was concerned that the transfers would send a bad message to the individuals currently working to become assistant principals as it took two positions out of competition.
"I feel assistant principals should be on their way up," Tuck said. "That's why I won't be supporting (this recommendation). There were 20-plus applicants very qualified for assistant principal. What's it going to do for their morale? I respectfully have a problem with these two candidates."
Tuck made it clear he was looking at the larger, generic picture and had nothing against either man in question.
Member Bill Brantley strongly agreed with Tuck. "Assistant principal is a training position," he said. "Are we going to retrain (Guthrie and Haley)? Otherwise they are blocking the way. I think it's a bad idea -- a principal's safety net: if you don't do well, become an assistant principal."
Board member Ronnie Jackson had a different perspective. "I could agree," he said, "but in this case each served as assistant principal and were effective in the job before they became principals. Maybe being a principal was too much. They may not have the leadership skills for leading a whole faculty."
Ned Hancock also worried about morale, but from the point of view of the principals. "One of our greatest opportunities is to better train our administrators, but if it doesn't work out, pushing them out the door sends a bad message. I may not agree with (superintendent) Mr. (Wally) Cox all the time, but I agree with him here."
Hancock then reminded the board that "we didn't have many people stepping up to the job (when they did). It would be tough if they were forced out."
Cox pointed out that neither he nor any member of the board had ever been a principal of a Florida high school, so it was hard to understand the pressures and difficulties principals face. The fact that there is a high turnover, he said, is an indication of the stress.
"Good cause would not include moving someone from principal to assistant principal," Cox said. "(They had) tough assignments, both of these individuals worked hard. I do feel that they have a lot to contribute to the district. I disagree that they can't play a useful role. They can be a part of an administrative team."
School board attorney John McClure warned the board that conflicts like this -- a superintendent wanting one candidate, a school board in disagreement -- "will become a major problem unless the FCAT changes as the only measure of success."
He said that by Florida statute the superintendent appoints and removes personnel, the board's function in these cases is simply to approve the superintendent's decision -- in the same way many city charters divide the balance of power between a city manager and a city council.
McClure also warned similar conflicts between superintendent and board in other counties had led to lawsuits, but "this an argument for the legislature, not the courts," he said.
Brantley said that what bothered him the most was being caught by surprise. He hadn't heard about the changes in staffing before reading about in the press. "We were not informed," he said. "I was shocked that we don't have a larger voice."
Jackson forcefully argued to reform the interviewing process for school administrators. A greater variety of people should be involved, he said, especially as the county has many retired principals, former board members and superintendents. He said the current search for a new principal at Sebring High School would be a perfect opportunity to improve and open up the process.
A.P. High/ election (by: concerned parent - 6/23/2011)
It will be hard for anyone to get improved FCAT scores out of Avon Park High School. The best students have transferred to the I.B. program at Sebring High. Regarding the next election I will not vote for Mr. Tuck who has stated that he approves of everything Rick Scott has done. Rick Scott is destroying Florida schools. You don't want someone on your school board who approves of that.
fairt (by: Bluekid - 6/23/2011)
The word is fair not friend. If education was fair in Highlands County we wouldn't have D schools and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the problem
PTS (by: youngblood - 6/23/2011)
It's what's referred to as: Passing The S..t I'm surprised they weren't promoted to the county office....it is loaded with alumni of the Peter Principle....some get elected...some drive a mercedes.
NO COMMON SENSE (by: Wolfgang W. Halbig - 6/23/2011)
What in the world is happening in Highlands County and with the school superintendent and the school board in making management decisions?
Guthrie (by: MRWONDERFUL - 6/22/2011)
Stu is very well liked by the students and faculty. The county would help APHS at all. It was ''ALL'' thrown in his lap. Michael Haley has no classroom experience, hardly had time as a assistant principal down @ Lake Placid High School. Wallace Jr. ''QUIT HIRING YOUR BUDDIES.''
Ronnie Jackson (by: Enuf - 6/22/2011)
I voted for him but not again. Every article I have read where he as given his input on decisions....stinks!
Who's right (by: GT - 6/22/2011)
Ronnie Jackson, Ned Hancock and Wally Cox will find out at election time who was right and there may not be a second chance for them. I think a principal is a management position and should be treated as such. Not everyone has management skills. Remember the Peter Principle; you rise to the level of your incompentence.
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