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Grosse Pointes

Superintendent evaluation passes by one vote

February 18, 2014

GROSSE POINTES — When the Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education accepted the interim evaluation of Superintendent Thomas Harwood by a 4-3 vote during the Feb. 10 board meeting, some in the crowd erupted in boos.

Prior to the vote, about 20 people stepped to the podium to ask the board to table or vote no on the evaluation. They took issue with Harwood being rated effective in his leadership role.

“I’d like you to consider the view of the community and all of the concerns of the community over the last three years when you take his assessment into account,” said Fred Minturn, a former school board member, adding that he believes “the issue in Dr. Harwood’s assessment is the lack of leadership.”

Not everyone in the crowd criticized Harwood’s performance, however.

Resident George McMullen Jr. said he felt Harwood has been a success as a superintendent. McMullen said Harwood has maintained high standards in the district, made good hires, proactively recommended new programs and attacked technology issues in the district, among other things.

He believes that there is always room for improvement, which he said Harwood would be the first to admit.

“Overall, Dr. Harwood by his results has made the case for his continuation as our superintendent,” McMullen said.

“You made a good decision,” he said of those who approved hiring Harwood for superintendent.

This evaluation is not the annual evaluation and contract review, which will be due this summer. The board instead decided on an interim evaluation at this time. Board members explained that they rated Harwood higher in some domains and lower in others in a few dozen categories.

“From my own point of view, it’s a snapshot in time,” board Vice President Dan Roeske said, adding that the ratings can go up or down.

That snapshot in time covers a six-month window through the end of December.

Roeske, President Joan Dindoffer, Treasurer Brian Summerfield and Secretary Judy Gafa voted to accept the evaluation. Board Trustees Lois Valente, Tom Jakubiec and Cindy Pangborn voted against acceptance of the evaluation.

Harwood’s three-year contract is set to expire June 30, 2014.

In the audience at the meeting, the opposition to accepting the evaluation seemingly came from three camps.

The residents who spoke included parents who have been asking the district for help in addressing their concerns about special education and inclusion, as well as treatment of students with special needs.

Julie Moe, a mother of a child with special needs who has been vocal about the issues surrounding special education in the district, was one of the residents who had something to say about that evaluation.

“I was absolutely floored when I saw that the board rated Dr. Harwood as effective,” Moe said.

“Instead of helping us, he’s been a roadblock,” she said. “That is not effective leadership.”

She said she knew when she discovered her son had a disability that there may be situations of bullying that they would be faced with in life.

“Never did it occur to me that we would be bullied by the school or the administration,” she said.

“To the four school board members who voted for Harwood today: One day, you may find out that you have a grandchild that has Down syndrome or something like that, and how do you think they would feel about your actions today?”

She said she doesn’t blame teachers, but the administration. She said she feels the district has some wonderful teachers.

There also were residents who are angered over rumors about the possible dismissal or forced resignation of South Principal Matt Outlaw and Assistant Principal Terry Flint, and residents who are opposed to the $50 million tech bond.

The supporters of the principals presented a petition of 560 names in support of Outlaw and Flint.

Angela Kennedy, a former board member, was one of several audience members who came to speak in favor of the principals at South.

As for Harwood, she called those who voted in favor of accepting the evaluation “intellectually lazy and emotionally cowardly.”

The district has tried to reassure those concerned about rumors that there are no plans to get rid of the principals at South. The district made a statement at a recent meeting about those rumors.

“I know that there have been a number of emails that the school board has received regarding staffing in the administration at South High School,” Dindoffer said, adding that the board doesn't discuss personnel issues in a public forum or respond to rumors. But she said, “We have a seasoned administrative staff at South High School and have every reason to expect that they will continue in place. They continue to serve our students well and work with the central administration and the board.”

Harwood also spoke on the questions about South’s administration.

“We, as a district, look forward to a continued collaboration of working with both Dr. Outlaw and Mr. Flint,” Harwood said. “We anticipate to be able to have a phenomenal school year at South High School. We have many great students, and we will continue to work closely with Dr. Outlaw and Mr. Flint as the South administration.”

He addressed the special education issues during his comments at the meeting. The district administration has been vocal that it is open to working with parents who have concerns.

Harwood said he believes they have put a “phenomenal” team in place in the special education department in the last year.

“Many of our families are pleased with the teachers that are providing that service,” he said.

He also said that they are continuing to work to provide additional access to programs and opportunities for all students.

As for allegations that parents of children with special needs raised about possible violations of state law, district policies and professional performance standards, Harwood said he had directed the human resources director to investigate those allegations “to make sure that we are in compliance and that we are following what needs to take place in regards to those children.”  

Harwood also made comments on his work in the district.

“I appreciate the support and wish to continue to provide the leadership to the school district, and I believe that there have been circumstances that has caused even the best of leaders to have to deal with and address issues of accountability and responsibility within our school system,” Harwood said. “I believe I’ve served you well and will continue to do so.”

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