Saturday, April 18, 2015

Little Rock School District cancels two meetings Monday with superintendent

Posted By on Sat, Apr 18, 2015 at 7:32 PM

click to enlarge image.jpg

All I know is what you see above. But it is a curious arrival on a Saturday night. Might it suggest developments related to Interim Superintendent Dexter Suggs, embroiled in controversy over his management and an allegation of plagiarism on his doctoral work? 

I'm checking.

UPDATE: I asked Pam Smith, communications director, for the reason for the cancellation and whether it might relate to Suggs. I also asked again for any response he cared to make relative to recent events. I sent a similar e-mail directly to him. Smith's response:

There is nothing additional to add to the release - the meetings were canceled at he request of Dr. Suggs. I will relay your additional questions to him. 

Later, Education Commissioner Johnny Key responded to my e-mail. As "school board" for the district, he said he was aware of Monday cancellations and said he anticipated they'd be rescheduled.

ALSO: Former School Board President Greg Adams, who labored hard and in perpetual good and even spirit to save the school district, has posted his thoughts on Facebook about recent events. Fair and balanced, I'd say. He supports the substance of some of Suggs actions, for example, but says the communication could have been better. He says Suggs must shoulder the blame if plagiarism allegations hold up, but he also laments scouring the past of opponents in battles on other issues. Need some School District reading? It follows on the jump (it might make you wonder why the state Board of Education fired Greg Adams but left Dexter Suggs):

By Greg Adams

Like everyone else, I am following news of the LRSD from afar and in the newspaper. A few impressions to share for how things have gone since the state takeover:

• The recent decisions for starting over with Baseline Elementary and changing Rockefeller Elementary into a Pre-K center seem reasonable to me.

• The announced wiping clean of the administrative organizational chart—which means many positions eliminated –is something we would have had to consider if the Board had stayed in place. It is difficult on the staff involved, but I can see the sense in starting all over with a new, hopefully more efficient/effective, organizational structure.

• I know many of the names listed whose positions will be eliminated and I feel for them. There is a lot of commitment, blood, sweat and tears for the district among that group.

• Unlike some comments I have seen, I will be disappointed if some of these folks don’t come back in the new organizational chart. There is talent, experience and commitment there that would benefit the district and the kids.

• Overall, I like the “what” of the announced changes more than the “how” of how they have been announced, communicated and explained. Work needs to be done to improve the “how.” Some recent efforts seem to be trying to address this concern, and those efforts are welcome.

• The above point being said, it is a challenge to develop and communicate plans for change in an environment where many are requesting your working papers. When those papers are not forthcoming, it helps perpetuate a negative cycle—trust concerns, limited information given, more requests for information, more reluctance to put things on paper until they are settled, and so on. The need and responsibility for transparency is a challenge when trying to develop new plans and not wanting to needlessly distress stakeholders with ideas which may not make the final cut. But that is the world we have, and the district needs to do better in handling this challenge.

• The announced changes, and more to come, will need time to be implemented before we can truly judge if the changes will make needed improvements. That is frustrating, but it is the reality of change.

• Recent allegations regarding plagiarism and Dr. Suggs are distressing on several levels. If they prove to be true, it is difficult to imagine him staying and being effective. If true, then he is responsible for the consequences that come his way.

• With the above point made, that we have gone to the point of not just disagreeing with someone in the district but combing through their past to find anything we can use to discredit them saddens me. Opposition research is ever-present in politics, can be useful and can also contribute to the toxicity of public service. No one should be above criticism or being held accountable, but it is also true some of the criticism I witnessed in the past two years has been neither honest nor fair.

• Whatever the outcome of the plagiarism allegations, Dr. Suggs is and was not the cause of all the problems in the LRSD. As superintendent, he bears responsibility for his part in the district’s successes and failures in the past almost two years, and he is certainly responsible for his dissertation. He has also become a symbol of dissatisfaction for many. A Facebook comment said that if he left there would be one less bully in the LRSD. Whether he stays or goes, the culture of bullying was present when he arrived and was exhibited from a variety of sources.

• The temptation regarding the state takeover is to tell a simple narrative with one party being the “bad guy.” I suggest resisting a simple narrative. The district would not have been at risk for takeover (a decision with which I disagree) if we had not underperformed. In various ways, we all underperformed—the Board, superintendents (plural), administrators, teachers, the union, the business community and parents. We now have the opportunity to take a hard inventory and use this loss of community control as a time to learn how to do better in the future. Alternatively, we could just blame “the other guy” or party and miss the chance to learn. I don’t see any winners in the state takeover, but if we miss the opportunity to learn and if the state fails to improve its own district governance, then we all know who will be the losers—the kids.

• I worry for the kids who are stuck with poor or lacking facilities—especially those at McClellan and Cloverdale who need new and better buildings and those in west Little Rock who need a middle school. The state needs to succeed in its efforts for many reasons, and one of them is not to leave these students without the facilities they deserve.

Well, that was a lot to say once I got going. If you made it this far, thanks. And please don’t give up on the LRSD and its students. They do and will continue to need us all.

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