Monday, October 19, 2009

Clear Policy & Performance Review System Needed – School Board Candidate Steve Thompson

The following article is based on an interview with Steve Thompson conducted on 9/26/09.

Steve Thompson cited mismanagement as the underlying cause of the current legal mess in the Mount Vernon City School District. Thompson, who is Vice President of Supply Chain at Ariel, said that if elected to the school board he would bring a valuable business perspective.

Proper management is essential to insure that teachers are afforded their due process rights, according to Thompson. “In any performance management system you have steps,” Thompson said. “What if you had an employee who received ‘meets or exceeds’ expectations, time in time out, every single evaluation, and then all of a sudden there is a movement to terminate them? Something is wrong in that system for that to happen.”

(Steve Thompson at “Meet the Candidates Night” asks how many people read the back page of the Mount Vernon City Schools calendar and saw the projected $3 million deficit for 2008-2009.)

It isn’t enough, Thompson said, to simply get rid of the John Freshwater matter—the underlying problems will cause another personnel matter to occur. He gave the Al Haschak situation as another example of excessive cost to the tax payers. The $500,000 plus spent on these matters could have gone towards improved services to the students or a reduction of the $3 million deficit for the 2008-2009 school year.

Thompsons said that the school system could take action on personnel matters with confidence if it first clearly communicates expectations, documents when someone falls short and then gives opportunity for measuring up to the goals. “When somebody falls short you put them on a plan to restore them to the job, and you give them certain steps to get there [by a defined time],” Thompson said.

The confusion among teachers, over what they can and can’t do, stems from inconsistencies in administration. “I want to see that [Superintendent] Steve Short has something in place,” Thompson said, “that ensures, from building to building, everyone of those principals knows how to effectively do performance management systems and I want to know that they are then talking to each other and that there is some mechanism for comparison so that one principal is not out of line with the others.”

Another source of confusion is the August 18, 2009 “Religion In The Public Schools” training given to teaching staff. Thompson said he had reviewed portions of the slides used for the presentation. “Those slides are part of the confusion that I’ve talked about, because there are people within that school system today that do not understand those slides,” Thompson said. “Those slides do not match the handouts that they gave the teachers.”

“I […] have a feeling that there is fear in our school system, fear in our administration,” Thompson said. “And probably some over-reactiveness and that over-reactiveness is borderline on infringing on peoples’ rights.”

Thompson said he did not want to comment directly on the content of the slides. “I want to know more when I’m elected and am on that board, what was intended by those slides,” Thompson said.

Thompson’s son, Andrew, is a teacher at the middle school and testified in the ongoing employment hearing for Freshwater. During that testimony, Andrew Thompson expressed concern about what he described as a “slippery slope”—teachers losing their sense of being free to be creative and effective in their teaching over concerns that someone might complain over the smallest thing.

Steve Thompson said that the issue of teacher moral cannot be dealt with by the board members getting involved in the day-to-day operations of the school system. “The board is a policy making body and members are the chief advisors to the superintendent on community attitudes,” Thompson said, reading from a document created by the Ohio School Boards Association. “Board members do not manage the day-to-day operations of the school district; they see to it that the system is managed by professionals.” He said that if the system is consistent it will help create a positive work environment.

Resolving the ongoing controversy at the middle school begins with the people involved learning all of the facts. “The only way you can possibly come up with something positive is to bring people together and sit them around and put all the facts on the table,” Thompson said. “You can’t do it when you isolate yourself on little islands. And that’s where we are, we have several little islands all around this issue.”

Settling a score for Freshwater, however, is not why Thompson said he was running. “I want to make sure,” Thompson said, “my fifteen year old daughter has the same educational opportunities and feels the same freedoms of being in a public classroom as what her older brother and two sisters did. That motivates me. And I want to make sure that my son, who is a teacher, and the rest of the teachers in the school system know exactly what is expected of them and can perform their job and moral is up and they are equipped with what they need and that at the end of the day the customers are duly served—the kids of this community.”

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