Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Part II: Popp defender questions parents' actions in Richmond Hts. coaching controversy


I have taken a more thorough look at the questions you fired off in your comments to my second post of June 22.

It seems to me that I answered most of them yesterday and that the remaining issue implied by your comments is this: what must be done to ensure that the Richmond Heights Local Schools accomplish with integrity and excellence its stated vision and mission?

The following is taken from the District's website:

Vision:  Every Day Every Child will be so engaged in learning that s/he always learns what is personally valued, expected by the school, and valued by parents and the community. 

Mission: To provide a safe environment, a challenging curriculum and permission for all students to dream. To deliver a highly individualized education developing motivated, self-reliant, and productive citizens. To foster learning by designing engaging, challenging, and satisfying work.

Even a cursory review of these statements calls into question whether the Board’s behavior in the Popp episode comports with the District’s stated beliefs that:

• “the keys to improved academic performance are the professional practices of teachers and leaders, not the economic, racial, ethnic, or linguistic characteristics of our children. …
•  “to improve the performance of students in our schools, we must continuously improve … leadership.
• “… the quality of the relationship between the student and teacher as well as the school and community is essential to the quality of learning for every student.”

As your early comments suggest, Jason Popp was a teacher before he was a coach. Coaching is teaching in another form. Coaches are paid to coach. The playing field, the locker room, the bus rides: these are extensions of the classroom. Winning and losing are incidental to the learning experience.
Let’s strip away the hysteria surrounding Coach Popp’s crude and intemperate remarks and examine the complaints of students and parents in their essence.
When we do so, can there be any doubt that the parents’ February 7th letter was a stinging outcry against the quality of the relationship between student and teacher/coach and its negative consequences for the quality of learning for team members? Or that the letter was a rebuke of the teacher/coach’s unprofessional practices and a demand for improved leadership?
The letter reflects the steps taken by parents before issuing their demand for Popp’s removal: discussions with the coach, the athletic director and others had been unavailing.
And until the parents stood up to the Board on June 13 and cross-examined its President into a corner [see Video, segment beginning at 3:48], there was never — not once in four months — an indication that the Board earnestly considered its employee/coach’s behavior to be unacceptable and in violation of school district policy.
So how can this be a learning experience for the community that results in a committed reaffirmation of the district’s Vision and Mission?
Leadership starts at the top. Let the Board begin by becoming more open, more transparent, more engaged with the community it is sworn and obliged to serve. Here are several suggestions in that regard:
1.     Publish notice of its meetings in more timely fashion. Announce the agenda online.
2.     Resort to executive session only as mandated by law.
3.     Publish minutes of meetings in more timely fashion. Put them online.
4.     Invite the community to become part of the education process. Expand and elevate the community comment portion of board meetings. Put it at the beginning of the meeting, not the end.
5.     Report to the community. What is the status of teacher negotiations?
6.     End the public bickering and nitpicking of the Superintendent. You hired her. Work with her. Give her the freedom to do her job and evaluate her performance on the basis of her job description and agreed performance measures.
7.     Stop the hideously self-defeating micro management. Be policy-makers, not pseudo mini-superintendents.

The Superintendent and the teachers are the chief professionals when it comes to delivering quality education to students. They need to find ways to improve their working relationship. The Board should foster this outcome.
Parents need to be watchdogs, paying attention first and foremost to their children’s efforts, but also to the content of the curriculum and the professionalism by which it is imparted.
Richmond Heights is a small enough district with enough resources that if properly focused and utilized, could be a model as well as a magnet for public education. This community should be near perfect in more than just basketball.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with you that there was a breakdown in the mentoring of these kids on Jason’s part, however I do not believe it was because he did not respect them or care about them.

But I find it interesting that you feel the School Board did not / is not giving the Superintendent the ability to do the job. The Richmond Heights School Board has historically been involved in school matters beyond their scope of policy and procedures. However, last year, they actually started out backing out of the day to day running of the school and focused on policy. They did allow the superintendent to “do the job.” Unfortunately, the superintendent did not know how to do the job and almost bankrupted the district with her misunderstandings, misdealing, and passing of the buck. She knows how to play the blame game very well, and seems to have no problems throwing those around her under the bus when coming under fire for not following through on directives.

This situation with Coach Popp has been mishandled so badly that she has opened the district up for several lawsuits from not only Mr. Popp, but also other staff members in a domino effect. The school had to do an internal investigation of Coach Popp and they filed a report regarding the results. Ask her what the results determined regarding Mr. Popp’s actions. The School Board has a duty to uphold not only policy, but law. That is one reason I believe it took the board so long to make a decision; they were trying to find a way to avoid being sued by everyone involved. It seems to me the legal counsel is thorough, and slow. This, at least, was one of the reasons mentioned at one of the earlier board meetings.

You don't seem to want to hold the Superintendent accountable for her actions, only the School board. Why is that? You mentioned that Dr. Hardwick “did not know” that Jason Popp was hired as the track coach. And you further stated that you felt it should have been the job of the athletic director to inform her of such actions. Let me tell you, she was fully aware of Coach Popp’s track assignment, and there was NO lack of communication between the athletic director and the superintendent. She has a tendency to use ignorance as an advantage. I find that interesting from the top administrator in a school district. She is ultimately in charge, and should have no excuse for not knowing what is happening in her district under her charge, especially one this size.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with you on your points about the city, community, and school district working together. Again, a small community, a small district – why is there such a division? You mentioned how a school this size should be model of excellence. It once was. Richmond Heights Local Schools was visited by many schools as a model for middle level education, team teaching, interdisciplinary education, advisory groups, and brain-based education. Teachers and administrators from Richmond Heights Schools presented at the local, state and national levels. With the downsizing and loss of teachers, multiple administrative changes in principals, school formations, school board members, board presidents, and funding, the school district seems to have lost sight the goal of excellence in education, and instead, unfortunately, the focus is on the bare basics of education. There is a difference. Much less is offered – and the students lose out…which is probably the main reason for the decrease in enrollment.

So it seems I agree with you on some levels, and still disagree on others. I think it is sad that a district with such possibilities has had so many problems in its recent history, regardless of who is to blame. The students and the community suffer. I only ask that when you report some of these things on your blog that you look at all of the information with an open mind. I understand that you believe you have credible sources, and that remains to be seen, but everyone has tinted glasses that affect their realities.

Is Jason Popp a bad person? Do you know him? Are you reporting fairly on him? I know you only have one side – but does that make it fair for you to make those assumptions? Should I make my decisions on you based on what I read here in this blog? And only what I read here? Is this all there is to you? I just hate to see someone’s character ruined in the media and in print without knowing the full story. We are all guilty of it because we are all human and that is human nature. We all slow down to see the train wreck.

Here’s hoping Richmond Heights is NOT another train wreck.