Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Richmond Heights Parents Press School Board for Answers
Our regular readers know that we have been reporting on the Richmond Heights school district since our curiosity took us to a school board meeting there six months ago. It soon became apparent that the rogue behavior of the basketball coach was merely the presenting problem, and that dysfunction in the district was longstanding, systemic, and deeply rooted.
The selfless, courageous and united action of the boys basketball team in demanding the immediate removal of the coach commanded the support of their parents, who then asserted themselves on behalf of their children, and eventually on behalf of all of the children in the system.
The parents won the support of the superintendent quickly enough but were regularly obstructed by a school board majority whose attitudes and actions, both public and private, began to come under the community’s persistent pressure.
The number of concerned parents gradually grew as concerns expanded from the coach’s abuse of his charges to issues of district mismanagement, instability, malfeasance, finance, and, not least, substandard delivery of educational excellence.
Two key developments occurred over the summer. Two of the more active and involved parents — Bobby Jordan and Frank Barber — had applied in April for a vacancy on the school board. The board majority selected Barber, who declined, and ultimately Jordan was awarded the seat.
The first key development was Barber’s subsequent decision to run for a full term. His victory, coupled with Jordan’s election earlier this month to serve the balance of the term to which he was appointed, very likely signals a new day at district headquarters. It is likely that those two will team with the senior board member, Linda Pliodzinskas, to form a new majority that will focus on stabilizing the district, eliminating personality-driven private agendas, and advancing educational goals.
The second key development was the formation of PARENTS 4 KIDS as an advocacy group for children and education. P4K has met several times over the summer and fall. On Monday, in advance of last night’s regularly scheduled board meeting, the group delivered a letter to the president of the school board and the interim superintendent. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Real Deal has obtained a copy of the letter, which runs to three pages of single-spaced copy.
Styled as an open letter to “Parents, School Board Members, Administration, Teachers, and Community”, its stated objective is to “raise awareness among parents and in the Richmond Heights Community as to the grave conditions which have drastically impacted our children’s education.” A request is made for a town hall meeting or community forum with the board “for the purpose of dialogue and interaction pertaining to strategies to both address and overcome every obstacle that has been a hindrance to success for our children.” P4K wants this meeting to occur by December 10 and hopes “to establish mutual purpose, mutual goals, and mutual solutions.”
The letter expresses P4K concerns in three broad categories: Diversity Tolerance, Academics, and Finance. Under Diversity Tolerance, parents express anxiety over the current investigation by the US Dept. of Education, Office of Civil Rights, which is widely expected to find the district and various parties guilty of discrimination, negligence, and retaliatory conduct. P4K also seeks an update on the Community Building Project initiated by Linda T. Hardwick before her suspension. And, the parents also want answers about the removal of at least eight individuals “who have been non-renewed, forced to leave, fired, or downsized on what appears to be the basis of race or retaliation and even gender in the past three years.”
P4K’s academic concerns include the status of credit recovery and tutoring programs, and how the accreditation process will proceed in the absence of the superintendent who initiated it. A companion concern has to do with the number of middle school students who are without textbooks in some classes, and high school students using books published almost twenty years ago.
The letter also asks “what mechanisms have been put in place to improve the status of ‘Continuous Improvement’ at the elementary school” and how the elevation of the school’s principal to interim superintendent will “impact our struggling elementary students”.
The third area of P4K concern deals with financial and policy matters. Five questions are asked, including:
“• Exactly how much has been spent in legal fees, combating complaints of discrimination, and attempting to justify poor practice of firing Superintendents, and retaliating against student, parents, and administration who speak against it?
• Is it true that RH teachers received a retroactive 2% raise, and will possibly incur an additional raise in the next year? Why is the teacher’s contract unavailable to the public? Why were teachers not asked to make concessions or retain their levels, when the district has said to parents concerning the purchase of books, computers, extra-curricular activities, elective classes, and transportation, there is no money?
• Why were Race to the Top dollars awarded, yet turned down by our school district?”
At Tuesday’s meeting, board president Josh Kaye promised to get back to the parents by Monday on a date for the community forum. He also promised to make the teachers contract available soon.