VIDEO/PHOTOS/POLL: Conflicted Collier School Board gives superintendent mediocre review

What grade would you give Collier Schools Super Dennis Thompson?

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Video from NBC-2

Board member Richard Calabrese: “I don’t dislike (Thompson). I am disappointed in his leadership. People don’t trust him.”

Board member Steve Donovan: “I think Dr. Thompson has more than met expectations. If we didn’t have him, we would have had layoffs and we would have had to cut programs. But because he is here, we are in the best fiscal shape in the state.”

Board Chairwoman Pat Carroll: “The administration promotes academic rigor and monitors classroom instruction. However, the way this is accomplished reflects Dr. Thompson’s leadership style and has promoted a culture of fear, intimidation and harassment for staff.”

Board Vice Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo: “I would like to see bigger gains made with our lowest performing students. The next time we visit this, I am going to want to look at how the freshmen academies, the sheltered models are performing.”

Board member Julie Sprague: “Staff morale is low. I was excited to see my former colleagues this week and in talking with them, I can see that moral is low and many of them are walking around with their tails tucked between their legs. It’s a problem.”

Superintendent Dennis Thompson: I accept their evaluation. I do not necessarily agree with all of their comments. ... But I understand their concerns.”

— The first performance review of Collier Superintendent Dennis Thompson took a backseat to fireworks between board members Tuesday afternoon.

When the smoke cleared, the Collier County School Board decided that Thompson mostly met expectations during his first two years on the job.

The storm came over School Board member Richard Calabrese’s decision to release his evaluation of Thompson to the media before the meeting.

Board Chairwoman Pat Carroll criticized Calabrese for leaking a copy of his evaluation to the media. She said the way he attacked staff in a public forum was “inappropriate.” She also said Calabrese went against board policy when he questioned the school board’s decision to outsource custodial services, a decision he was not part of.

She suggested that his numeric rating of Thompson not be questioned, but his comments not be included in the consensus report.

Calabrese wrote in his evaluation that he supported bringing Thompson to Collier County because he believed there needed to be a change in leadership to take the county from an average school system to “world class.”

“Unfortunately, after two years and the expenditure of several hundreds of thousands of dollars more than we spent in the past, I see little or no improvement in our students’ performance,” he wrote. “In addition, Dr. Thompson’s authoritarian, ‘my way or the highway’ leadership style has created a gulf between his leadership team and many teachers, the very professionals we must depend upon to improve our district to where we rightfully belong.”

He also wrote Thompson has “favored relatives and friends of top administrators in hiring them for positions in administration with some allegations that new, high salary positions were created for some of them and that district procedures were not followed in hiring them.”

Calabrese said those statements were not violations of the board’s code of conduct, but his right to freedom of speech.

“By having that kind of situation on hand, you are telling the public, ‘I don’t want you to know what a board member thinks,’” he said.

Board Vice Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo said the board is trying to focus on the superintendent’s evaluation in terms of governance.

“We want to move forward. We have waited a long time to focus on this evaluation,” she said. “But, we need to talk about those things in terms of the man sitting at this table and not votes that took place. Generically, we can still talk about those issues you have concerns about.”

Curatolo said the board is not asking Calabrese to negate his opinion, but to retain a level of professionalism in the district and not attack people who are not being evaluated.

Board member Julie Sprague said she agreed with a lot of what Calabrese had to say, but said the manner in which he said it made him lose credibility.

Board member Steve Donovan was more critical, saying he thought Calabrese had an axe to grind.

“You didn’t come with an open mind,” he said. “This was a PR event for you. It was detrimental for this board. You are saying you are bigger than this board, bigger than the district.”

Calabrese disagreed.

“I put my political career on the line to bring Dr. Thompson here,” he said. “That does not mean I can’t evaluate that decision.”

In the end, the board voted 4 to 1 to remove some of Calabrese’s comments, including those he made about Chief Instructional Officer Martha Hayes and his dissatisfaction in her performance.

Carroll said she will also report Calabrese’s conduct to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI), which is the group that accredited the school district.

“He did violate the code of conduct,” Carroll said. “We agreed to these norms. It is important for the rest of us that we state our disagreement with what he did.”

Carroll said there will be no consequences for Calabrese violating the code of conduct, but said the self reporting to the accrediting agency is important.

On Thompson’s performance, the Collier County School Board came to the consensus that he deserved a 2.75 on a scale of 1 to 4. Sprague asked that the board add the caveat that the score meant Thompson meets expectations in most categories, but he needs improvement in others.

Sprague said she didn’t mean the comment to be negative or personal, it just reflected that Thompson needed to do things differently.

Calabrese disagreed, saying he thought Thompson needs improvements in most of the categories.

“Based on the total scores, most of them were under 2,” he said.

But the majority of the board members agreed Sprague’s clarification further explained their score.

Thompson said after the meeting that he accepted the board’s evaluation, even if he didn’t necessarily agree with all of their comments.

When asked what he disagreed with, Thompson said he would not discuss those issues publicly, but added that he had told board members his feelings during their one-on-one meetings.

School Board members evaluated Thompson on six standards: leadership and district culture; policy and governance; communications and community relations; resource management; instructional and curriculum leadership; and values and ethics of leadership.

Each of the standards has performance indicators. School Board members are then asked to evaluate whether Thompson’s performance exceeds expectations/criteria, meets expectations, needs improvement or is unsatisfactory.

In looking at the tabulated reviews, Thompson received no mean score higher than 3.0 on a four-point scale on the standards. However, individual board members did give Thompson 4.0 scores on certain pieces of the evaluation.

In some of her comments, Carroll said Thompson seems to represent the board’s involvement and oversight. She also echoed Calabrese’s comments that Thompson’s leadership leaves something to be desired.

“The administration promotes academic rigor and monitors classroom instruction. However, the way this is accomplished reflects Dr. Thompson’s leadership style and promotes a culture of fear, intimidation, and harassment for staff,” she wrote.

Thompson addressed that issue, saying he believes the district has operated for a long time with high expectations for children, but that the district did not have those expectations for adults.

“Part of the district culture has been putting up with ineffective people,” he said. “If we are going to change the culture, we have to change the expectations of adults.”

Thompson said he has heard the criticism that the district is hard on young teachers, but said he has asked principals to consider that they are giving teachers a 30-year, multi-million dollar contract when they agree to give them a professional services contract, which is available to teachers with three years completed in the district.

The board also evaluated Thompson on three goals: Improving student achievement and development; effectively managing resources to support student achievement and development; and enhancing internal and external communication and community outreach.

Under the first goal, improving student achievement and development, the board decided that Thompson would receive a 3, which means he is meeting expectations.

Curatolo said she was pleased with the gains the district was making.

“I would like to see bigger gains made with our lowest performing students,” she said. “The next time we visit this, I am going to want to look at how the freshmen academies, the sheltered model are performing.”

When it came to the second goal, which is effectively managing resources to support student achievement and development, the board could not reach a consensus.

The average was a 3.2, but Sprague thought that number should be a whole number because board members could not vote in fractions. She was joined by Curatolo.

Carroll didn’t agree, adding that the 3.2 score was a better reflection of the actual board score, which included 4s form Carroll and Donovan.

Calabrese stood behind his score of 2. With such a fractured group, Carroll suggested that the scores stand as they are. Board members agreed.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 2

u2cane writes:

It will be interesting to which commissioners Collier County votes back. I for one actually applaud Calabrese for telling it like he sees it and think we need more politicians to stop sugar coating things and be honest with the voters. I think each evaluation should be released as they are completed.

ski4life writes:

Kudos to Calabrese! The truth ALWAYS comes out and finally someone isn't 'bullied' into covering it all up. He's stating what many of us have seen first hand!

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