Friday, March 24, 2000

Board OKs audit of schools

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — The Covington school system will face a full-scale audit of its schools and management structure in the next few months.

        The board of education voted unanimously Thursday for two in-depth, rigorous studies of the school system's operations, from teaching to finances.

        The action came amid discussions of a state Education Department report released this week that pointed out problems with the schools' teaching and organization, and ways to fix those concerns.

        The full board also approved a measure to invite the report's author to its April meeting.

        Board member Col Owens said the group needs to take the report seriously.

        “What happened this week was not easy for us as a community,” Mr. Owens said. “We know we have problems. We are not in denial. We know we are also doing well in many respects.

        “We will take the licks. We will suck it up and go forward.”

        The board met before more than 100 parents, staff, students and residents for more than two hours. The meeting had to be moved to Covington City Hall to accommodate the crowd.

        Many in the audience were concerned about the report. Many also were there to see students receive recognition for awards and other accomplishments.

        The point was made repeatedly that there are good things happening in the district.

        “We won two golds, a diamond, a silver and a writing award,” Latonia Elementary teacher Mark Carle said of the district's success at a state technology conference.

        “Not bad for a district that only does word-processing.”

        His comments referred to a portion of the state report that faulted the district for not fully using computer technology.

        A line of parents and staff members formed to speak to the board. Some lambasted board members, accusing them of not working together.

        Parent Melanie Stahlkamp claimed that Superintendent James Kemp and some board members are ignoring parents' concerns and suggestions about the environment at Holmes Junior High School.

        Linda Fries, Mr. Kemp's secretary, scolded board members and parents, accusing them of not taking responsibility for the school district's problems.

        Mr. Kemp said it was unfortunate that the report, requested by the district, became public.

        “We gave directives to confirm certain behaviors and bear out others,” Mr. Kemp said. “While not a witch hunt, it was an effort to encapsulate what's working and what's not.”

        Yet even at Thursday's meeting, not every board member had a copy of or had read the report.

        Despite disagreements — both among the public and school staff — about the report's validity, board members said the document was a call to action.

        Member Joe Meyer said he was upset that the board did not receive copies of the report when it was sent to the district in February.

        “We set up a whole lot of task forces and do a whole lot of studying and we never get to the nuts and bolts of the problem,” Mr. Meyer said. “If this report hadn't been released, would we be dealing with these issues tonight?”


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