Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Another special meeting for Richmond Heights BOE; bring the cannoli

I feel like Michael Corleone in The Godfather

Just when I thought I had written about Richmond Heights schools for the last time this month, "they pull me back in".

The board has decided to meet in special session tomorrow, Wednesday, June 29 at 7PM "for matters of personnel and negotiations." 

They will of course go into special session.

This will be the Board's third special meeting in the past nine days. Do they know there are fewer than 900 students under their wing?

I would guess this meeting will be to ratify a tentative [?!] agreement with the teachers' union, formally known as The Richmond Heights Education Association. However, they have yet to publicize their earlier tentative agreement, reached earlier this month, to grant the union a two percent raise retroactive to sometime in 2010. 

SB5, the union-busting legislation recently passed by the legislature, takes effect July 1, creating a distinctly anti-friendly negotiating environment for public employees of all kinds, including teachers, police, and fire personnel. 

Consider this report from the WKYC/TV3 website last week:

CLEVELAND -- Ohio teachers, other school workers and their unions are reaching more contract deals with school boards at a faster pace than usual under pressure from districts' budget problems and the state's new law limiting collective bargaining for public workers.
The Ohio School Boards Association found school boards and employees' unions so far this year have reached three times as many deals as last year. Unions are trying to lock in contracts by July 1, before the new law restricts negotiations.
The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reports many of the deals don't include the typical raises for workers. About four-fifths of them freeze workers' base pay for at least a year, and more than one-third don't include the usual raises based on how much experience or education an employee has.
The Associated Press

It will be interesting to see whether the trend in other districts will be followed in Richmond Heights.

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.

Monday, June 27, 2011

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

@Anonymous: I can’t thank you enough for your questions. Many of them are useful in getting at what should be the heart of the matter: the quality of the education the children are receiving in the Richmond Heights Local Schools.  The answers to that critical issue implicate all of the participants: the teachers, the administration, the school board, and, of course, the students themselves.

I am going to try and provide a succinct recap of what has led the District to its current state. I came late to address this issue, and from what I have gathered since my first post on the matter, I gather that many of my readers have as well. After the recap, I will address your questions in two groups: the easy ones, and the important ones. The easy ones I will address in this post. The others I will write about tomorrow.


I. In a letter dated February 7, 2011, the parents of the boys basketball team advised the superintendent of the district of serious charges against coach Jason Popp. [i][This letter is reproduced below.]

2. After a meeting with the parents, followed by an immediate investigation, school superintendent Linda Hardwick relieved Mr. Popp from coaching the team and appointed an interim coach for the balance of the season.  This action did not prejudice Mr. Popp’s rights in any way, as his supplemental coaching contract was not terminated and no final decision was made regarding his eligibility to return as coach.

3. Between February 11, when Popp was suspended as coach, and May 16, when the superintendent delivered a letter to each board member advising them of her decision not to recommend Mr. Popp as coach for next basketball season, furious activity was taking place behind the scenes involving certain school board members, the superintendent, the board’s lawyers, and the coach himself. Much of this maneuvering was initiated by allies of the coach on the board, who appear to have believed that a) Kopp did nothing wrong; b) if he erred in any way, it was minor; c) the concerns of the parents were exaggerated and not worthy of serious consideration; and d) the situation could be exploited to damage the public image of the superintendent, whom they had already decided should be fired.

4. During this period, the school board suffered the abrupt resignation of its most recent appointee, Gannon Quinn, and replaced him reluctantly with Bobby Jordan Jr. Meanwhile, the coach, who to this day has never repudiated the charges made by the parents, refused to apologize to the students or their parents, and was apparently reassured on numerous occasions that he would be reinstated. Undaunted, Mr. Popp proceeded to coach the boys spring track team pursuant to a contract he was awarded in 2010. [The Superintendent would later acknowledge that she was unaware Mr. Popp was coaching the track team; had she known, she might likely have intervened. From my vantage, I would wonder why the athletic director failed to bring this matter to her attention.]

5. Mr. Popp applied to coach both the boys and girls basketball teams for 2011-12. The Superintendent stuck to her guns in finding that Mr. Popp’s virtual admission of the allegations against him, coupled with his refusal to meet the conditions she had established [apologize, take sensitivity training], rendered him unqualified to coach as a matter of school district policy and state law.

6. Neither the board majority nor its legal team could find a way around the superintendent’s position and so ultimately, were required unanimously to accept her recommendation of a new coach.

I have multiple sources for most of the above truncated account. Some part of it is based on inferences drawn from my sources. I stand on the accuracy of my reporting.


1.     Have I bothered to ask questions about Coach Popp’s history with students? What about as a teacher? What about his character?

No. The coach has established a moratorium on speaking with the media. He is president of the union and every teacher I have spoken with has virtually curled up into a fetal position when I have attempted to engage with them. I haven’t stopped trying, though.

2.     Why, after 16 years of teaching and coaching in this district, is the coach suddenly being accused of being insensitive, discriminatory, inappropriate and/or demeaning?

This question might be relevant if the coach denied the acts and statements of which he stands accused. His refusal to disavow the behavior, or to apologize for it, raises the more pertinent question of what in the Richmond Heights educational environment made him feel entitled to engage in behavior that in most enlightened and engaged districts, would have led to his suspension, not just from coaching but from teaching as well.

3.     Has he ever done good things for the district or the students or the athletes, including ever helping his accusers?

I would hope so, since I presume he has been paid for every one of the days he has been under contract to do just that.

4.     Could it be that the parents do not like him? What effect did the February 4, 2011 Plain Dealer have on this situation?

All the parents I have spoken with want the same thing for the boys on the team, and for all of the students in the district. They want their children to be respected, supported and educated.
They do not want their children to be called out of their name by faculty. They do not want their children to be demeaned, ridiculed, and undermined. They do not want their children to be stereotyped as ghetto, unworthy of scholarship aid, or in any way “less than”.

The parents understood the news article as being full of stereotypes. One man’s reality is another’s stereotype. I will say that none of the parents with whom I have spoken qualifies as a hothead, or a radical, or quick to “play the race card”. [I mightily dislike that phrase by the way, because I find its use more typically obfuscates rather than illuminates].

5.     Is it possible that the parents used this situation to get Mr. Popp out of coaching, and coached their children to come up with reasons to have him dismissed, because there were no real underlying reasons — because he is a good guy?

You are really stretching here. If anything, the parents should have discovered the coach’s tactics and attitudes much sooner. The players had been disturbed by the coach’s behavior for some time, and shared their concerns with adults in the system, but were discouraged from making it an issue. Various reasons were given for this urge to sweep their complaints under the rug, including repeated assertions that “Popp has powerful friends in the system. He is the union president.”

6.     Do I find it interesting that Popp has said nothing to defend himself?

No. Apart from a denial or an apology, there is not much for him to say. I think he has likely received some good advice from his lawyers to say nothing, possibly because the allegations, if established, are so far in violation of school policy and state law as to put his teaching license in jeopardy. And possibly because of the offline assurances he likely has received relative to the probability of his reinstatement.

7.     Have I bothered to ask questions about Coach Popp’s history with students? What about as a teacher? What about his character?

No. The coach has established a moratorium on speaking with the media. He is president of the union and every teacher I have spoken with has virtually curled up into a fetal position when I have attempted to engage with them. I haven’t stopped trying, though.

8.     Coaches are coaches, motivators, disciplinarians, etc.

High school coaches first and foremost should be educators. Coaches are adults.

9.     Have I listened to these same kids when they are on their own? Don’t they use the “n” and “f” words?

We could make this question easy or difficult. I don’t hang with these kids. The ones that I have observed are generally well-behaved in the adult settings where I have observed them. I would not presume to attribute the behavior of any few of them to the many, which I sense that many of Coach Popp’s defenders may do, based on their devotion to the reasoning implied by your question.

If you will provide me with any instance in which any of these boys have used inappropriate language, I would be delighted to pass the report on to their parents, and I would expect the parents to address the situation promptly. That’s how it was done in my community back in the day. That is, when the adult witness didn’t address me directly for my inappropriate behavior. And I wager that you could address them directly yourself, irrespective of your gender, age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, provided you had the rudimentary ability to let them understand that you were coming from a position of authentic caring.

  These are the easy questions. Come back tomorrow to find my response to your other questions.

[i] Parents of Richmond Heights Boys Varsity Basketball
434 Douglas Boulevard
Richmond Heights, Ohio 44143
February 7, 2011

Dr. Linda T. Hardwick
Superintendent, Richmond Heights School District
447 Richmond Road
Richmond Heights, Ohio 44143

Dear Dr. Hardwick:

Although the boys basketball team may appear to be thriving and well with their perfect record of 15-0, behind the scenes the team is very defeated in spirit and morale due to the behavior of Head Varsity Coach, Jason Popp. There has been ongoing discussion relating to Mr. Popp’s use of inappropriate language, as well as racial and economic harassment. These issues have been addressed in the recent past by both members of the team, and parents with school officials including Athletic Director, George Smith, and Interim Superintendent, Dr. Moore.  Below are recent examples.

  • On Tuesday, January 18, 2011 the team was departing the bus for a game against Cardinal High School, and Coach Popp told the team that their opponents will expect them to “play like niggers, which you are….”
  • Thursday February 3, 2011, Coach Popp told one of his players that he did not give “two fucks” about his grandmother when the young man asked to be dismissed because practice had run over time, and it was his grandmother’s birthday. (there is a parent meeting scheduled Tuesday to discuss this)
  • Coach Popp mentioned to three of his players that one of the boy’s father is a “drunk, and the apartment he lives in is probably government housing”.
  • He also mentioned to members of the team that four boys in particular had no reason to pursue athletic scholarships because they were from single-parent homes and would qualify for financial aid. He repeated these same statements in a meeting with Mr. Carlos Slade, uncle of a player, regarding his unwillingness to seek athletic scholarships based on his assumption that these boys qualify for financial aid.
  • About three weeks ago Mr. Early, the parent of a player, had a meeting with Coach Popp and Mr. Smith regarding comments made by the coach in which he admitted to saying to the player that he would end up living “down on Superior” if he did not get his grades together.

These and other insulting and degrading comments have been said consistently to our children while at team meetings, on the bus and at practice.  Coach Popp also had an opportunity to praise our kids for their hard work.  They have been required to practice on weekends, holidays, and school closings.  Instead he used this opportunity to paint a picture of poverty and despair for the undefeated Spartans through an interview opportunity with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. There were many parents who found the previous statements made by the coach implausible, but quickly found them to be summarized in the article’s release on Friday, February 4, 2010.  The article displayed his feelings and attitude towards our children, this basketball team and our community (see attached article and highlights).  The statements in the Plain Dealer mirrored complaints made by the children, as he was quoted making comments referencing kids who come from government housing and receive free lunch. Additionally the coach was quoted speaking of kids who come from single-parent homes and a lot of families where money is not exactly falling out of their pockets. As parents we were equally disturbed to realize that the coach admits to not having confidence in his player’s abilities to play basketball at the collegiate level with the exception of one. In fact there is a remark made by the coach which references losing the area’s best kids to other schools, alluding to the fact that he does not believe our kids at Richmond Heights are among the best.

At this time the parents and the Varsity Boys Basketball team of Richmond Heights High School demand the instantaneous removal (before the next scheduled game) of Coach Jason Popp. It is our belief that if we are to maintain a winning team coupled with players who are not mentally handicapped by the degradation, and humiliation in which they have had to endure, an interim coach is necessary immediately, pending whatever process the district has in place in order to investigate this matter. It is the wish of the Varsity Boys Team to continue on with their season in order to help maintain the spirit of the school and the community. The school, community, and the entire basketball team are proud of the accomplishments of the varsity members despite the hardships they have faced. Nonetheless, the team and parents are in agreement, and the boys refuse to continue on with Head Coach Jason Popp. Please note that as parents we are outraged! This is about more than basketball and it is our sincere hope that as Superintendent you will be certain that the proper actions will be taken in order to do what is best for the people which have been most affected, and for those who may quite possibly be affected by Coach Popp’s disgraceful actions in the future: the children of Richmond Heights School District. The parents and varsity members embrace a more personal discussion of this matter as soon as possible.

Respectfully yours,

Parents of the Richmond Heights Varsity Basketball Team

cc: Joshua Kaye, President Richmond Heights School Board
         Dr. Robert Moore, Principal/Past Interim Superintendent
         Nathan Bishko, Interim Principal
         George Smith, Athletic Director