Lack of leadership: Dysfunction at DISD not halting success of students, teachers

By Roy J. Eaton | Published Saturday, December 8, 2018
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Here’s the good news about the Decatur school system.

Despite the dysfunction at the administration building and on the school board, dedicated teachers and students are doing quite well.

Decatur Economic Director Corporation Executive Director Thom Lambert hosted a luncheon a few weeks ago for several Decatur business leaders involved in manufacturing, health care and construction. The goal was to introduce Sheila McCollom, the district’s career and technology education coordinator. She brought with her vocational agriculture teacher Dusty Naumann and high school counselor Kristi Phipps.

Roy J. Eaton

For more than an hour these talented and dedicated teachers told us about their programs, enlisted our help to make them better and, most importantly, talked about the talented kids they have the pleasure of teaching.

The high school principal and superintendent were there and said they supported the program. The superintendent talked about more classroom space needed for these technical, engineering and vocational programs.

I mentioned that those classrooms and laboratories might be just as important as additional athletic facilities, which are also under consideration.

But it’s important to know that the Decatur school district has $14.7 million in reserves with $5.986 million set aside for construction projects. Of the total reserves, $2.8 million is restricted and another $6.9 million is unassigned. The district tries to keep three months of operating costs on hand in reserves, which would be $7.762 million.

Let’s contrast the success of the academic, vocational and athletic programs with what is happening at the administration building and at school board meetings.

A group of parents recently came before the school board concerned about the safety and security of their children. The board sits there like a bump on a log and says nothing to the parents. They do so under a misguided notion that they can’t respond to someone on an item “not on the agenda.” Well, guess what, school safety was on the agenda at that meeting.

The parents must have finally struck a nerve because the head of school safety resigned a few days later. And did you see the list of responsibilities that administrator had? Even Superman, Batman and Robin together couldn’t handle a job like that overseeing everything from handling school buses to student discipline.

When he left, the superintendent divided that gargantuan responsibility between another administrator and herself. We’ll see if anyone is hired to take on those tasks.

Our editor, who covers the Decatur School Board meetings, says that board members rarely, if ever, discuss any issue publicly. Surely they have questions about something. Maybe they settle it all in secret sessions but that does nothing to build public trust.

Two members of the board who often raise questions – Wade Watson and Matt Joiner – are often ignored because they got on the “bad-guy list” when they questioned the work of the superintendent. I think they went about it the wrong way, and they might agree, but for the rest of the board to ignore the problems at the administration building – which we are told involve highly paid administrators barely speaking to each other is ludicrous.

Despite all this dysfunction, look at the success of our kids academically and athletically. First in state in volleyball and boys cross country, second in state for girls cross country, deep into the playoffs for the football team, top state honors for FFA programs and the list goes on and on.

The team that Sheila McCollum has put together for vocational and technical training works hand-in-hand with teachers who work on the more “academic” side of educating our kids – math, science, English, Spanish, fine arts and more. The fact that students are able to successfully blend all this along with athletics and be highly successful is a direct result of the hundreds of hard-working teachers DISD is fortunate to have despite a revolving door of principals at almost every campus.

I’m almost certain that when the spring UIL competition comes along, the academic side will bring home top honors like our athletic teams and vocational agriculture teams have brought home to Eagle Country.

Can the dysfunction at the administrative level and on the school board be fixed? Darned if I know, but from my perspective it doesn’t look good.

Under state regulations, the elected school board doesn’t run the day-to-day operations of the school. Their key job is to evaluate the superintendent who then evaluates the administrative staff who then evaluates the teachers and makes recommendations to the school board. It is not against the rules for the board to publicly discuss some of those recommendations.

The students, parents, teachers and taxpayers deserve better from the administration and the school board. Perhaps the May school board election will make a difference.

Roy Eaton is the owner and publisher of the Wise County Messenger.

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