letterPlease keep Open Letters focused on local topics and to no more than 650 words. Letters may be edited for grammar, and for objectionable content.

June 10th

Dear Richland District Two School Board:

I have been devastated by the recent announcement Mr. Jeff Temoney will be leaving Kelly Mill Middle School after only serving one year as its principal. Kelly Mill Middle School has had three different principals in the past three years, and will soon have yet another principal for the upcoming 2014-15 school year, making the body count, 4 principals in 4 years. No other school in the district has experienced such rapid principal turnover. Mr. Temoney is a proven leader [Superintendent, Dr. Hamm said so, specifically (on video), at the You and Two event], and has been effective in his brief tenure at Kelly Mill Middle School. Parents, students, faculty & staff, and the community alike are in a state of utter shock and disbelief by the recent personnel decision by the district to transfer Mr. Temoney from Kelly Mill Middle School to Spring Valley High School.

On June 3rd, Superintendent Dr. Debbie Hamm attended a meeting held by Mr. Temoney at Kelly Mill Middle School to discuss the personnel change and priorities for Kelly Mill Middle School. Kelly Mill’s School Improvement Council (SIC), Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), Administration Team, Design Team, and parents were represented at the meeting to discuss the selection of a new principal and steps needed to ensure a smooth transition. Without exception, everyone in attendance expressed their deep concerns regarding the many negative, detrimental effects of the high principal turnover or ‘churn’ at Kelly Mill Middle School such as:

• The research showing high principal turnover often leads to greater teacher turnover (Béteille et al., 2011;Fuller et al.2007) which, in turn, can have a negative impact on student achievement and other schooling outcomes (Ronfeldt et al., 2011; Fuller et al.2007), as well as increase fiscal costs (Levy et al., 2006). For instance, Ronfeldt and his colleagues found that, “teacher turnover has a significant and negative effect on student achievement in both math and ELA . . . [and] is particularly harmful to students in schools with large populations of low-performing and black students” (p. 16).
• Emerging research and theory which found that principal turnover has direct negative effects on student- and school-level achievement, and that the strongest impact appears immediately after turnover occurs (Burkhauer et al. 2012**; Miller, 2009; Béteille et al., 2011).
• The research suggesting that regular principal turnover can lead to teachers not investing in any change efforts and learning to simply “wait [principals] out.” (Hargreaves et al. 2003, p. 8). As a result, it also decreases the probability of school improvement (Fullan 1991). Thus, research suggests that principals must be in place at least five years for the full implementation of a large-scale change effort, including the recruitment, retention, and capacity-building of staff (McAdams 1997; Seashore-Louis et al. 2010).

Superintendent Hamm’s response to these concerns centered solely on the fact Mr. Temoney was the best choice for Spring Valley High School and the wonderful sentiments expressed by the faculty, staff, and parents at Kelly Mill Middle simply reiterated that it was the right decision to transfer Mr. Temoney to Spring Valley High School. Furthermore, Dr. Hamm pointed out the fact that it wasn’t Mr. Temoney’s intention to leave Kelly Mill Middle School, but that only after her thoughtful consideration of the principal vacancy at Spring Valley High School, she knew Mr. Temoney was the right choice for Spring Valley High School, and extended him the offer. Dr. Hamm made it clear that she was there to help ease our anxiety about losing a principal that she knew was doing great things at Kelly Mill. She stated was also there to get input from the group when recruiting a new principal for Kelly Mill Middle School; and that she also planned to include the SIC chairperson on the interview panel for the principal vacancy at Kelly Mill Middle School.

Sadly, Dr. Hamm failed miserably at her attempt to ease our anxiety and was unable to adequately address the primary ongoing concerns of improving principal longevity, overall school performance, and parental/community partner satisfaction at Kelly Mill Middle School. Dr. Hamm stated that she was sympathetic to our concerns and that she wished people would just come to Kelly Mill Middle School and see for themselves what a wonderful school it is instead of relying on the Annual School Report Card data compiled by the Richland District Two. Her solution to our plight was to offer resources available through the Richland District Two’s Planning Department to interpret data contained on the school’s Annual School Report Card, and to offer resources available through Richland District Two’s Communication and Strategic Partnerships Department for marketing strategies in an attempt of offset any perceived misperceptions about Kelly Mill Middle School that have begun to plague the school over the past 3 years though it’s no fault of the school.

Most disappointingly, the meeting generated even more questions and concerns and left the overwhelming majority, myself included, wondering what makes the students, parents, teachers, and staff at Spring Valley High School so much more deserving of a proven, effective principal than the students, parents, teachers, and staff at Kelly Mill Middle School? Dr. Hamm has acknowledged that the parents at Spring Valley High School and Blythewood High would never stand for such things at their beloved schools, and that they would be beating down the doors at the district office, but Kelly Mill Middle School’s parents have never put up a fuss, and would be okay with the seemingly revolving door of leadership at the school, Below Average Absolute Ratings on the Annual School Report Card, significant degree of chaos and complexity to school-wide operations, and harming student learning across classrooms and teachers.

Mr. Temoney served as an assistant principal at Blythewood High School prior to serving as principal at Kelly Mill Middle School. Dr. Baron Davis (principal at Spring Valley High School) and Mr. Keith Price (principal at Blythewood High School) were both promoted to serves as Assistant Superintendents for Richland District Two. With the knowledge of the fact that Mr. Temoney served as an assistant principal at Blythewood High School and is familiar with the culture and best practices of the school, why wasn’t Mr. Temoney considered the best choice for Blythewood High School? If he had to be stripped from Kelly Mill (something with which I am still not able to reconcile), then why not place him in the most sensible, logical position? Curiously, the middle school principal at Blythewood Middle School, Dr. Brenda Hafner, is transferring to serve as principal at Blythewood High School, instead of transferring to another middle school, furthering the notion that Richland District Two superintendent and school board members are playing a game of musical chairs to the tune of the superintendent’s agenda to promote Mr. Keith Price, who is commonly referred to within the community as Superintendent Dr. Hamm’s ‘golden child’. I have been a Richland Two parent for nine years and, in my capacity as a involved parent, I’ve heard a lot, I’ve seen a lot, but most of all, I’ve experienced a lot. Bearing in mind all of those factors, I still chose to reserve judgment on a situation until I’ve viewed a preponderance of irrefutable evidence. That preponderance of irrefutable evidence of things going badly awry in District Two is boiling over to the point where it can no longer be ignored.

Even though Richland District Two spent a pretty penny of Richland County taxpayer dollars to contract with Evergreen Solutions, a consulting firm, to provide them with recommendations on efficiency and effectiveness, the superintendent still created, and the school board approved, a second assistant superintendent position at the already ‘top heavy’ Richland Two District Office as described by Evergreen Solutions. Instead of hiring one assistant superintendent to replace Deputy Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Caution-Parker upon her retirement this month, the superintendent and the school board thought it efficient and effective to hire two assistant superintendents. Oddly enough, the school board recently voted against such personnel policies and practices effective July 1, thus allowing Superintendent Dr. Hamm less than a month to promote her perceived golden child into a newly created second assistant superintendent position without any regard whatsoever of the far reaching negative impacts on Richland District Two’s students, parents, community, and its employees. It appears that Richland District Two’s cart is leading its horse.

Superintendent Hamm proudly announced, when Dr. Baron Davis and Mr. Keith Price were ‘promoted’ to assistant superintendent positions; and when Mr. Temoney and Dr. Brenda Hafner were ‘transferred’ to Spring Valley High School and Blythewood High School, respectively; but when it came down to filling the now vacant principal positions at Kelly Mill Middle School and Blythewood Middle Schools, interested candidates must ‘apply’ to be considered. Why weren’t the assistant principals at Kelly Mill Middle School and Blythewood Middle School ‘promoted’ as principals to minimize the disruption and chaos inherent with leadership turnover? What is the message being sent to Richland Two’s employees? Is it a mere coincidence that the ‘promotions’ and ‘transfers’ were made without any prior district employee notification which would have allowed the employees at Spring Valley High School, Blythewood High School, Kelly Mill Middle School, and Blythewood Middle School the information needed to make an informed decision when considering who their leadership would be next year PRIOR to signing their employment contracts for the 2014-15 school year? What is the message being sent to Richland District Two parents who were notified of school leadership promotions, transfers, and new hires AFTER they have exercised the option of Expanded Choice based on the school’s leadership, reputation, etc.? What is the message being sent to Richland District Two students as they try to reconcile why they have had a different principal every year they have attended Kelly Mill Middle School?

In the game of musical chairs, the number of chairs is always at least one chair less than the actual number of players. When the music starts to play, players walk slowly and methodically around the chairs in hopes of having a chair to sit in when the music stops. When the music stops suddenly, players of the game must franticly find a chair in which to sit. The player left standing is out of the game. In Richland District Two’s game of musical chairs, the ‘chairs’ of efficiency, effectiveness, equity, parity, fairness, transparency, and accountability were all removed before the music started playing. Richland District Two blasts its ‘music’ with lyrics of creating a District framework focused on student success; striving to design the best learning and professional development opportunities for our 27,000 plus students and 3,400 employees; and its ongoing efforts to connect with parents and the community’. The ‘music’ has stopped playing and the only player left sitting in a chair is the ‘golden child’. Kelly Mill Middle School, Blythewood Middle School, students, parents, community, and district employees are the players left standing and out of the game.

I initially voiced my concerns to the superintendent and the school board in an email on May 29, 2014. School Board Member Monica Elkins-Johnson responded to my email almost immediately sharing her concerns, as well, and promised to have serious conversations with her school board colleagues and also promised to make it her priority to ensure the school board provides stability in the leadership at Kelly Mill and to demonstrate to the community that they care and want the best for all of Richland District Two schools. School Board Member Melinda Anderson responded, also sharing in my concerns, but recommended I wait until a new (and fourth principal in four years) is in place to receive input and dialogue for the school to move forward in excellence. School Board Chairman Chip Jackson responded to inform me that his school board colleague Melinda Anderson shared with him the email I sent to the school board because he stated he didn’t receive the email, despite the fact I never received a delivery failure notification using the email address nor when the superintendent and school board colleagues hit ‘reply to all’ when responding to my initial email. Chairman Jackson never acknowledged my concerns but, he did tell me the distinction between his Christian name (Calvin) and the name that his friends call him (Chip) and also provided me with an alternate email address to use to communicate with him in the future. To date, school board vice-chairman James Manning, Bill Flemming, Barbara Specter, and Susan Brill have not extended me the courtesy of a response.

I’ve heard much, read much and have sat patiently paying attention, but now, it is crystal clear to me who the Old Guard is in Richland District Two and why it has become the resounding theme that the OG has to GO.

In closing, Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Please add this email to the minutes/official record of tonight’s School Board Meeting.

Sincerely,

Sincerely,
Myra Cunningham
Proud Parent
Ex-Officio Chair, SIC
Kelly Mill Middle School

 

June 19th

Dear Richland Two Community,

 

I would like to address concerns about personnel changes in the district voiced by some parents.
At the Tuesday, May 27, 2014 board meeting, I recommended and the Richland School District
Two Board of Trustees approved the promotion of Baron Davis and Keith Price to assistant
superintendents, the transfer of Brenda Hafner to the position of principal of Blythewood High
School, and the transfer of Jeff Temoney to the position of principal of Spring Valley High
School, all effective July 1, 2014.

 

With a combined 35 years of experience in education and both having served as mentors for the
S.C. Department of Education’s Principal Induction Program, Baron Davis and Keith Price make
a very skilled and knowledgeable team to support school administrators and the district’s effort
to continuously improve teaching and learning for all students.

 

The reorganization of district staff to include two assistant superintendents did not require any
new positions. One position came from the retirement of Deputy Superintendent Cheryl Caution-
Parker and one position has been vacant since I moved to the position of superintendent.
Since the 2004–2005 school year, the district has grown from 25 schools and centers to 38 and
from 20,277 students to 26,185. In that same time the organizational structure of district
departments has stayed the same despite rapid growth and increasing demands including
implementation of more rigorous standards, increased emphasis on high-stakes testing, providing
more choices through magnet programs, integration of technology, etc. The new organizational
structure will help increase flexibility and responsiveness to these constantly changing needs for
the ever-growing Richland Two schools, students and staff.

 

The decision to offer the principal position at Spring Valley High to Temoney was a difficult one
to make for some of the same issues mentioned in the email from the concerned parent. I made
the recommendation only after giving it lengthy consideration and after determining that
Temoney was the best person for the job at Spring Valley High.

 

During his 13 years of educational experience, Temoney spent six years as the assistant principal
for Blythewood By Design, a smaller learning community at Blythewood High School. Prior to
coming to Richland Two, Temoney served as an assistant administrator and a school
administrator and a school counselor at Irmo Middle School in School District Five of Lexington
and Richland Counties. He participated in the S.C. State Department of Education’s Developing
Aspiring Principals Program and the SCASA Instructional Leadership Academy.

 

As principal of Blythewood Middle since 2009 and a member of the Blythewood Chamber of
Commerce and Blythewood Rotary, Hafner has strong roots in the Blythewood community.
During her 16 years in education, Hafner has served as lead teacher for Richland Two’s Center
for Accelerated Preparation, assistant principal at E.L. Wright Middle School, taught in the
classroom and assisted with curriculum development at the state level.

 

With all four of these administrators, you have gifted, talented and dedicated individuals who have the ability to step into top leadership positions in any district in our state. We want to keep them here.
I am just as committed to finding the best principal for Kelly Mill Middle who will provide the best possible leadership and support for the school’s employees, students and parents as they continue the great things they are doing. For the past five years, approximately 200 students have applied each year to attend Kelly Mill Middle through the Expanded Choice Program or the Kelly Mill Inc. magnet program. A national AVID demonstration school, KMMS is an exemplary model of the AVID College Readiness Systems. They demonstrate school-wide implementation of AVID’s proven instructional methodologies and content area best practices to improve outcomes for all students.

 

We advertised both middle school principal positions and received more than 80 applications. I met with members of the Kelly Mill School Improvement Council (SIC) and the Teacher Leadership group to discuss what qualities and skills they are looking for in a new principal and what programs they would like to see continued in the coming year. Representatives from the SIC are participating in the entire interview process.

 

As superintendent, I strive to do all I can to ensure that we have the right person as principal at each Richland Two school and that we provide them the support they need to ensure all students benefit from high quality learning experiences and all employees receive the professional development they need to make this happen. This a driving factor in all personnel decisions including reorganizing the district office staff to include two assistant superintendents whose focus will be supporting and empowering our principals.

 

As always, I welcome the opportunity to talk to and listen to parents, employees and students who have concerns. It is through dialogue that we can forge partnerships aimed at providing the best educational opportunities for all students and a joyful place to work for all employees.

 

Sincerely,
Debbie Hamm, Ph.D.
Superintendent, Richland School District Two