Following the ‘Green’ in Evergreen

In late 2010, newly hired Richland 2 Superintendent Dr. Katie Brochu created a District Design Team to carry out an internal survey of the effectiveness and efficiency of the operations of the District. The team comprised District office employees, school administrators and teachers. A few months later, Dr. Brochu called for the gathered survey information to be evaluated. She suggested the School Board hire Evergreen Solutions out of Atlanta to do this evaluation, called an Effectiveness and Efficiency (E&E) study, on all areas of operation in the District at a cost to the District of $150,000. The Board gave its full approval and the E&E was launched.

In an early April 2011 Board meeting, Linda Recio, president of Evergreen Solutions, presented the resulting 441 page E&E report along with 161 recommendations for improvements in the District’s operations. Dr. Brochu told the Board that she intended to appoint a Task Force to work as a team to implement the recommendations and that she would report their progress to the School Board publically each month. But it was not until two years later that the first report on the implementation was presented to the Board, and it was presented by Sue Melette, Chief Academic Officer, not by the Implementation Task Force.

Stephanie Burgess, then Chairmen of the Board (but no longer on the Board), called for the Task Force to be started immediately. Following the April 2011 Board meeting in which Evergreen made their presentation, the Spring Valley School Improvement Council (SIC) hosted a community forum where numerous parents pointed out inaccuracies in the data that lead to Evergreen’s recommendations and that the five chosen S.C. school districts that were used as comparison for Richland 2 were underperforming Richland 2 in every measure of achievement.

In the second April 2011 Board meeting, Dr. Brochu elaborated that the Implementation Task Force would “provide a cooperative and collaborative method of researching items that were noted in the report. They [will] share that information with the administration and our Board and whether the recommendation would be practical, feasible or ready to be implemented as it is currently written.” The inaccuracies were of concern to Board member Chip Jackson who was reassured by Brochu that checking the levels of accuracy is part of the Task Force’s responsibility.

The initial Implementation Task Force comprised nine people from schools, 12 District employees and four community members. Of the parents represented, only two were not employed by the District. The initial Task Force was divided into four sub-groups that were to review recommendations grouped in four areas: Curriculum & Human Resources; Information Technology; Administration and Building. Three meetings were held before parents protested their lack of input, and eight additional parents/community members were added by the Board based on a random drawing. Since the parents were added, the new, expanded Implementation Task Force has never met.

While the initial Task Force actually met, at no point were the members told that 110 (68 percent) of the 161 recommendations were already in effect or in process prior to the first Task Force Implementation meeting. While this has been disputed by Board members and District executives, it was confirmed by phone calls to individual schools and District departments. Still to be answered is what constructive work the Task Force would have ever been able to contribute if many of the 161 recommendations were already in the process of implementation before the Task Force was even appointed?

Richland 2’s long-standing tradition has been one of community involvement from many facets – realtors, Chamber of Commerce, elected officials, civic organizations, business people and parents. The Board has seen the success of this collaboration. Certainly the community has felt the success of this joint effort. It is the Board’s responsibility to impart this cultural knowledge to the newest members. While the District must remain open to new ideas and positive direction from any source, they have an obligation to preserve what does work for the district – and that is ongoing collaboration to ensure that each student has more than a fighting chance for success.

Given the reputation and success of R2SD over such a prolonged period of time, why were such wide sweeping changes deemed necessary and what was the driving force to make those changes so rapidly without transparency and without the promised community input? Why did Superintendent Brochu ask the Board to fund this study? Why did Evergreen Solutions receive $150,000 for a comprehensive study when 68 percent of their recommendations were already in progress without adequate community input?

Example of some of the recommendations:

Educational Services 3.4 Evergreen postulates that site-based management (meaning principals guide the individual culture of their schools within the larger context of the district) is a deterrent for academic learning. For example, our high schools have different schedules within the day (although all start and end at same time) and time makes for difficult coordination for students working with other students in other schools.

Evergreen traditionally recommends programs and initiatives that are specific to the programs of Schlechty Center – a training program with direct personal ties to our Superintendent, and the relationship between the District and professional development has been in question since Ms. Brochu’s hire. It is the same training program that was used in her previous district. Also, Evergreen, as an outside consultant, had not previously made recommendations for specific professional development as it was asked to do for R2SD. There are deep concerns with some administration and parents that Evergreen was encouraged to suggest programs that Dr. Brochu had every intent of initiating. In fact, the entire report is full of vocabulary that is unique to the Schlechty teaching. Professional training and Schlechty are a future column.

After a year of silence, the Board, at the suggestion of Jackson, has once again called for monthly E&E updates. At last week’s Board meeting, Board Member James Manning asked for the status of the E&E study given that, to date, neither the Task Force nor anyone from the community had been given any voice in the process.

Melinda Anderson, in a reversal from past Board musings, stated that “a lot of things recommended in the Study we have already done – we had done prior to the study . . . we are still using the study, a limited number of things we have not addressed. ” When asked if we are still using the E&E Study, Dr. Brochu said, “We look at a number of different reports and studies and information as we are building toward greater efficiency and greater effectiveness. We are taking each and every one of those – whether a report, study or audit, if you will. We are taking all that info and utilizing that to make the best decision moving forward for Richland 2. So that is why we are taking a variety of things and bringing them to you. It all comes to a Richland 2 program.”

Like opening Pandora’s Box, one circle of answers, leads to another circle and still the public doesn’t have the answer.

We do know that the procedures for community partnership that were laid out by the Board and District have not been followed, were never followed even with repeated e-mails, public input and phone calls from the community. This brings to question – if the Board and District do not value the input from the community for this highly publicized study, how can the public trust that the requests for the community to partner with the schools will have value for our students?

Stevie Johnson can be reached at [email protected]

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