3 top cabinet chiefs leaving troubled KC district
Thursday, November 10, 2011
By HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Three top cabinet chiefs are leaving Kansas City Public Schools, as the state’s education commissioner reportedly warns of the changes coming as the historically troubled district braces for the loss of its state accreditation.
Interim Superintendent Steve Green planned to talk to the media Thursday after announcing a day earlier that the district is losing chief financial officer Rebecca Lee-Gwin, chief academic officer MiUndrae Prince and chief curriculum officer Mary Esselman. The district said in an email that “educating students to the highest level” remains the top priority.
“These individuals have contributed greatly to the transformation of the Kansas City Public Schools, and we wish them well,” the statement said. “However, departures such as these are not unexpected during a time of great transition.”
After years of low test scores, the Missouri State Board of Education in September revoked the district’s accreditation, effective Jan. 1. The move came less than a month after John Covington abruptly resigned as the Kansas City superintendent to take a job leading a Michigan agency overseeing that state’s poorest-performing schools. While in Kansas City, Covington oversaw the closure of nearly half the schools in the district.
State law would give the district more than two years to regain its accreditation before facing the prospect of a state takeover. But some lawmakers want to make changes earlier. Possibilities that have been discussed include breaking up the district or shrinking the number of school board members.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the email that Kansas City district chief of staff Chace Ramey sent to Green recapping what Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said senior leadership would face after Jan. 1.
In the Nov. 1 email, Ramey copied a passage from a Nicastro email. The passage warned that if a special administrative board was appointed to lead the district “the dynamics of the situation would change dramatically.” The email said elements that were “up in the air” included the makeup of the governing board and community reaction.
“The interpersonal relationships within the team and between the team and the other players have already changed and will continue to until some ‘permanent’ stability is established,” the email said, quoting Nicastro. “As I said, I respect your group. My comment can come in the ‘for what it’s worth’ or ‘motherly’ advice ... that’s all. You need to be prepared individually and collectively.”
Michele Clark, the spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, was in a meeting Thursday and didn’t immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment.
Board member Arthur Benson said he didn’t begrudge the departing employees for taking care of their needs. He said Nicastro had asked Green to leave the room three weeks ago before warning senior staff they had no job security.
“I hope that we don’t lose more staff members,” he said.
Benson said the district is in the midst of an aggressive transformation plan to improve teaching and learning — a plan that has been reviewed and vetted by the state for three years.
“The state of Missouri has not only approved it but been complimentary of that plan,” Benson said. “But on the other hand we have been criticized for the perception that as a school district we lack stability in leadership. That instability can undermine even the best plans for improving teaching and learning. Because of those reasons, it’s especially troubling to me that the commissioner of education causes the very instability that the school board is sometimes blamed for.”
Covington planned an afternoon news conference in Detroit to announce members of his new cabinet. Bob Berg, a spokesman for Covington, declined to name the appointees but said about 10 people are taking jobs.
The three departing Kansas City officials didn’t immediately respond to email messages. None had listed home numbers.