Benson says MO education chief driving off KCMSD administrators - KCTV5

Benson says MO education chief driving off KCMSD administrators

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Three top administrators resigned Wednesday and at least two Kansas City School Board members say Missouri's education chief is to blame.

The three administrators are believed to be joining former Kansas City Schools Superintendent John Covington in Michigan. Covington plans to make a major staff announcement on Thursday, KCTV5 has learned. Some Kansas City civic leaders said Wednesday that they believe Covington will poach from his former employer.

"I don't care where they are going," board member Arthur Benson told KCTV5 Wednesday night. "Commissioner (Chris) Nicastro drove them off. Three weeks ago, she came in and told them (the staff) that collectively they had no job security after Jan. 1. The senior staff has panicked."

Interim Superintendent Stephen Green told Benson and the other school board members Wednesday afternoon about the resignations. Those leaving are MiUndrae Prince, chief academic officer, Rebecca Lee-Gwin, chief financial officer, and Mary Esselman,assistant superintendent for professional development, assessment and accountability.

The three could not be reached Wednesday.

Bob Berg, a spokesman for the Michigan system, said Wednesday it would be premature to discuss any appointments by Covington. But Berg said Covington "still has some positions to fill" and plans to make an announcement Thursday afternoon.

That announcement occurred Thursday afternoon. Click here to read more about it.

Board member Crispin Rea said Wednesday night that he was disappointed in Nicastro's actions. He said "her words" wounded the district's staff "deeply" but also hurt the district's students and parents.

"I am disappointed at the lack of sensitivity," Rea said. "That is the real tragedy. The parents and students are the ones suffering here."

In a statement issued late Wednesday, Nicastro said her comments were being taken out of context.

But there is no doubt for some Kansas City School District officials.

Benson said Nicastro came to Kansas City several weeks ago. He said she met with the senior staff and asked Green to leave the meeting. Benson said Nicastro emphasized that no one had job security after Jan. 1.

Green's chief of staff then sought clarification from Nicastro. In an email, Nicastro advised Kansas City School District administrators that they should be prepared for changes if the state takes over the district.

The Missouri Board of Education voted last month to strip the Kansas City School District of its accreditation starting in January. The district has more than two years to regain accreditation, but Nicastro has proposed that the state takeover the district in January. A special administrative board would then be appointed to run the district.

In the email obtained by KCTV5, Nicastro told senior district administrators that if the state takeover occurs then "the dynamics of the situation could change dramatically."

In a statement issued late Wednesday, Nicastro said her comments were being taken out of context.

In the email, Nicastro said "so much is up in the air" including Green's future. She said that "interpersonal relationships" have changed in the wake of Covington's departure and the state's decision and "will continue to do so until some 'permanent' stability is established."

Nicastro stressed her respect for the administrators. She concluded her email by saying, "My comment can come in the 'for what it's worth' or 'motherly advice.'... You need to be prepared individually and collectively."

Some Kansas City School board members are outraged that Nicastro would make such remarks, saying they were inappropriate.

"For the board having been accused of micromanaging this week, that to me, is an abuse of power," Rea said. "I think some boundaries might have been overstepped there."

Rea said it was "awfully premature" for Nicastro to suggest to administrators that their jobs may not be secure.

"It undermines the stability we're trying to maintain as fragile as it is," Rea said. "And it makes it hard to move forward."

Michele Clark, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said Nicastro's "partial statement, when presented alone, is out of context and may be easily misinterpreted." Clark said Nicastro is working with district officials to be prepared "for the challenges and opportunities ahead."

The district staff should "stay together, stay on task and keep the focus on kids," Clark said.

But some have wondered about Nicastro's intentions and Rea has few doubts now.

"The foundation seems to be being laid for a state takeover and I think that's the sense others are getting as well," Rea said. "We've tried to create an environment where our staff are able to stay and work on the transformation because everybody bought into it. The union folks. The state. Everybody was supporting the plan before Dr. Covington left."

Covington abruptly left in August to oversee low-performing schools in Michigan for the Education Achievement System. District officials previously have expressed concerns that some of Covington's former administrators will leave Kansas City to join him and Benson said Nicastro's email only fueled that.

Benson said the district is continuing the transformation plan spearheaded by Covington and that DESE had vetted and endorsed the plan and the district was well into implementing it.

"Now they are undermining it," Benson said."Now a fourth of them (the KCMSD administrators) are gone overnight."

Nicastro has asked to have a public meeting with the school board at 5 p.m. Monday, Benson said.

In a statement issued late Wednesday night, Green said the three have contributed to the district but their departures are not unexpected "during a period of great transition."

Green said he will work to replace the three and "we have talented employees who will take on additional responsibilities until replacements can be identified."

Green hinted at more staff departures.

"There may be further changes to our operations and team in the future, but the priority remains the same -- educating students to the highest level," Green said.

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