Friday, July 19, 2002

City schools have many top jobs to fill

Administrators, principals among those resigning

By Jennifer Mrozowski,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Superintendent Steven Adamowski isn't the only top administrator leaving Cincinnati Public Schools.

        In recent months, the associate superintendent, legal counsel, chief operating officer, director of schools and three high school principals said they'll also be retiring or resigning.

        It's not a record exodus, but it is unusual.

        Some observers say the departures will make it easier for the next superintendent to craft a dream team.

        Others say losing that much institutional knowledge and face recognition could spell trouble, especially as school officials contemplate placing a $480 million bond issue on the ballot in November.

        “When someone pushing such comprehensive change (as Mr. Adamowski) leaves after three to fours years, it can hurt the school system overall,” said Jay P. Goldman, editor of The School Administrator magazine. “That's not enough time for such powerful change to work its way through to student outcomes.”

        Add other high-level administrative staff departures, and “it often has the effect of slowing down the pace of reform,” he said.

        Turnover is nothing new. The average tenure of an urban superintendent is less than three years, and the outgoing superintendent beat that by staying here four years.

        In this case, it's the breadth of the exodus at the district that serves 42,000 students that could cause some turmoil, Mr. Goldman said. He couldn't think of another city the size of Cincinnati experiencing such turnover at the top.

        Some of the departing staff had decades of experience here, like associate superintendent Kathleen Ware, who joined Cincinnati Public Schools as a teacher in 1966 and is retiring to take a faculty position in the Department of Education at the College of Mount St. Joseph. John Concannon, the district's legal counsel, has been on staff since 1986 and is retiring. Both say they weren't dissatisfied with their jobs but wanted to pursue new challenges.

        Chief Operating Officer Kent Cashell, though with the district just three years, was a key player in developing the district's unprecedented school construction

        planned for the next decade. He's leaving to pursue a position in the private sector. He won't say where.

        Thomas Higgins, former Aiken High School principal who has worked in the district since 1988 and was a principal for four years, said losing people of his rank could be more harmful than losing top leadership.

        “Superintendents come and go,” he said. “I don't think you can afford to lose your good high school or school-level administrators. That's where the job is done.”

        Mr. Higgins, who resigned to take a principal job at Kings High School, said he's leaving in part because high school administrators haven't been asked to give enough input in the high school restructuring project, and he's not confident the new model will work.

        In some cases, administrative turnover can be a boon if the district is in disarray or the board of education is rife with infighting, Mr. Goldman said.

        But Cincinnati Public School officials frequently say they're on the right path. They cite a consistent uptick in student test scores and an improved graduation rate from 51 percent in the 1999-2000 school year to nearly 58 percent in 2000-01.

        Cincinnati's lowest-performing high schools are undergoing a comprehensive change to smaller specialty schools, such as Taft High School's transformation to the Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School. The district is also trying to change the way teachers are paid, from a pay scale based on seniority to one based on evaluations and teaching quality.

        Whether these reforms continue despite the exodus depends on how deeply entrenched reforms are in the district, said former Cincinnati Public Schools superintendent J. Michael Brandt.

        Mr. Brandt, while superintendent from 1991-98, experienced a systematic reduction in the central office beginning in January 1992, he said. The district, on the advice of the business community, drastically cut administrative staffing by more than 50 percent.

        “It's certainly unsettling,” he said. “But if you do your research on transitions, which I had to do in '91, one of the stabilizing factors is that there are clear, concise goals still in place. As long as the board still continues to embrace the facilities plan, the direction of reorganizing the high schools, whatever goals they think are important, it's sort of a compass. This board seems fairly clear on what they want reforms to look like.”

        A big question is whether the district will have the leadership in place to pass a bond issue.

        It's an awkward time to lose staff, board member John Gilligan said. Regarding the bond issue, he said, “It isn't going to help, but I don't know how badly it's going to hurt us. I certainly hope we'll have a new superintendent lined up, if not in office, by September.”

        Board member Sally Warner said the turnover could be considered a bonus to superintendent candidates who want to bring or hire a management team. She said reforms might slow down but aren't in jeopardy.

        • Cincinnati Public Schools turnover of top administrative staff includes:

        • Superintendent Steven Adamowski, hired in 1998.

        • Associate Superintendent Kathleen Ware, hired 1966, is retiring in August. She's being replaced by Director of Curriculum Terry Joyner, hired in 1999.

        • Director of Schools Gwendolyn Cooke, hired in October 2000, resigned effective this month. Mary Ronan, former principal of Kilgour Elementary, who's been with the district since 1977, will take her place.

        • General Counsel John Concannon, hired in 1986, is retiring in September. A replacement is being sought.

        • Western Hills High School Principal Thomas Shaver, hired in 1969, is retiring effective in August. Former assistant principal Michael Holbrook, hired in 1991, will be interim principal for the Western Hills University High School.

        • Shroder High School Principal Raymond Spicher, hired in 1972, resigned in June. Sammie Croley, former assistant principal of Princeton Junior High School, will succeed him effective in August.

        • Aiken High School Principal Thomas Higgins, hired in 1988, is resigning effective in August. A successor has not been named.


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