Ripley School Board Needs To Take Steps To Regain Public Confidence
After writing two whistleblower books exposing nepotism, cronyism and questionable financial conduct by various boards of education at Ripley Central, I was asked, along with others, to attend last week’s school board meeting to show silent support for a teacher. I certainly got my money’s worth attending that meeting.
I’ve read a couple of articles reporting what went on. Superintendent Ormsby’s resignation, the vote of no confidence, the hiring process for Principal Oldham and School Board President Bentley’s vision of a new direction!
As a veteran whistleblower, I dig a bit deeper into any issue involving the Ripley Central School Board. Here’s my analysis.
Bridge-It Evaluation Services, a company owned by former Ripley Interim Superintendent John Hogan, was asked by the board to investigate the reasons the staff had given the “no confidence vote” to Superintendent Ormsby and to offer solutions to address the real or perceived problems. I would have assumed that would be a school board job. Apparently it wasn’t. The board chose instead to hire Bridge-It and was willing to spend up to 15,000 taxpayer dollars to do what, in my opinion, was their job. Giving a friend a job without any competition is nothing new for the Ripley Central School Board.
Kirby Oldham, an employee of Bridge-It, was selected to investigate. Mr. Oldham implied the teacher complaints did have merit. When he offered reasons for the distrust and hard feelings, I found them to actually be a defense for the embattled superintendent.
Mr. Oldham claimed the “no confidence” vote was caused because Superintendent Ormsby (the school’s only administrator) had to wear too many “hats” in overseeing the 135 student population. It led to a break down in communications which led to misunderstandings and apparently hard feelings with the staff. Ripley Central School Board President Bentley did state that Dr. Ormsby’s resignation was unrelated to the vote of no confidence. I’m curious, why not?
If Superintendent Ormsby was on “overload,” it was a well kept secret for almost four years. In fact, it was such a secret last school year the Ripley and Chautauqua Lake School Boards created a shared administrative restructuring agreement by which the Ripley superintendent spent two days a week in the spring working at Chautauqua Lake Central Schools (CLCS). Ripley Central, one of the lower performing schools academically with high poverty, was sending its educational leader to CLCS for 40 percent of her workweek, while the Ripley taxpayers paid her $120,000 annual salary. I suspect the added work might have reduced her in-house efficiency a bit. Dr. Ormsby was also working there this year (still a freebie for CLCS taxpayers); although I’m not sure it was two days a week. CLCS taxpayers can’t have any finer friends than the Ripley Central School Board.
Chautauqua Lake’s Superintendent, Ben Spitizer, was to spend time at Ripley Central, but I couldn’t find anyone who knew what he did or anyone who had actually seen him in the building. I remained curious about that arrangement, so under the Freedom of Information Act, I requested a copy of the “sharing” document. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be provided because what both boards passed (it’s in their minutes) does not exist in writing.
Still being curious about what Superintendent Spitizer might be doing in Ripley, if anything, I wrote a letter to the CLCS Board asking several pointed questions. For their own reasons, they chose not to respond. I’ve managed to irritate two school boards at the same time. It’s kind of a gift I have!
To summarize, both boards agreed on an administrative restructuring, directing each school’s superintendent to do “who knows what” and “who knows when” and for “who knows how long” to accomplish an unknown goal that therefore cannot be measured. I think the only thing CLCS shares with Ripley is their administrative workload.
All that was just a warm-up for the evening’s main event.
PRINCIPAL’S POSITION CREATED
Mr. Oldham’s #1 recommendation to prevent future issues arising from “too many hats” was to add a principal’s position. Ripley taxpayers will now finance both a superintendent and a principal for the 135 students attending Ripley Central’s elementary school. Having never been a superintendent, I can’t offer any facts or credible opinions on administrative need but it’s clearly a rather dramatic shift overnight from four years of a school board philosophy employing just Dr. Ormsby, to now hiring a second administrator overnight. I think this board action is a clear admission that the school board has been clueless for four years about what the superintendent’s job really entailed. I don’t see how the board’s most ardent supporters could look at it any differently. What a gift for the old coach that writes books about the Ripley Central School Board!
The school board’s hiring of the same gentleman who recommended creating the principal’s position was done without a mention of doing a candidate search or even an independent background check on Mr. Oldham. “This is outrageous, even for the Ripley Central School Board.” However, Mr. Oldham is the first hire in the last six administrative appointments that wasn’t a personal friend or relative of a board member; I deem that a bit of school board improvement.
In writing my books and articles, I do try very hard to be fair and objective; (I’m a little weak about avoiding sarcasm); I ask questions and request documents. In discussions with a limited number of staff it was clear that Mr. Oldham had impressed many of the teachers during his investigation of Dr. Ormsby. I was told by a reliable source that he has credentials and experience, having been both an elementary teacher and principal. A legitimate search for an interim principal would take time and with state tests looming on the horizon, stability was needed. Thus Mr. Oldham was immediately offered the job and hired. I would assume that might be the board’s rational for the “circus like” selection/hiring process. Hiring former Ripley Superintendent Karen Krause as the interim superintendent was a logical choice and a good decision. From discussions I’ve had with staff recently, the working environment has improved in a rather short period of time. Great! I hope the new administration gets plenty of support from the citizens of Ripley that actually care about a good education for all the children.
Hopefully the board has finally made some good decisions, although the procedure was deeply flawed and consistent with what I’ve written about in two books.
I suggest six things for the school board to consider:
¯ Take a hard look at the after-school and summer school programs. Originally designed and created to enhance education, it’s now (as told to me by several teachers) moved away from that to become a bit of a recreation program and daycare center. I suggest mixing in some math and English.
¯ Begin the process for filling the principal and superintendent positions and this time actually search for the best possible candidates instead of hiring an in-house relative or friend. Use the staff and community members as part of the search and selection committees. Bring in a few college graduates that might actually know something about education.
¯ Stop sending the school’s superintendent (under the shared services agreement) to CLCS. The $1,600,000 you give them each year in tuition fees is enough.
¯ Revisit the merits of the “Expeditionary Learning model” Dr. Ormsby had the taxpayers buy into. Her recent news article discussing student growth and Expeditionary Learning was more than a bit misleading from a statistical standpoint. It almost looked like a sales pitch for herself and an Expeditionary Learning company. However, Ripley has shown improvement (Buffalo Business First analysis). The hard work of her staff is responsible for student growth; Dr. Ormsby forgot to mention that. No coach wins without good players.
¯ Your staff may have some strong opinions either for or against Expeditionary Learning. By the way, hold up on that if you have an influx of students from Finland or a few African-Americans and Mexican students. (Where was this policy when I was coaching basketball and baseball?)
¯ The staff has been to San Diego, Detroit and Finland for Expeditionary Learning conferences. I think you’ll be pushing the envelope if you send staff to Africa or Russia. However, I do suggest the school board take a slow boat to China.
Some people think I make up these stories. Unfortunately I don’t.
Jeffery Buchholz is a Ripley resident and a retired teacher, coach and teacher union president.