“You should stay together for the sake of the children. . .”
That’s bad advice – regardless of the setting.
In my long experience in law enforcement – often dealing with people on the worst day of their lives – I came to understand that perpetuating a dysfunctional situation to create a façade of domestic tranquility is tailormade for disaster.
Because old wounds rarely heal in the presence of suppurating resentment, and once trust is lost, it is impossible to regain.
This holds true for government entities and taxing districts trying desperately to keep up appearances in hopes those who pay the bills won’t notice the paralytic chaos, fails, and fiascos that invariably result from prolonging the inevitable.
In my view, pretending things are normal rarely convinces anyone – especially those who have been personally and professionally victimized by the failures of leadership and systemic disasters that always result in organizational entropy and distrust.
At a February meeting of the Volusia County School Board, our elected representatives produced a voluminous amount of hot air discussing the thorny issue of whether to extend the reign of Superintendent Scott Fritz, whose current contract is set to expire in December.
Incredibly, two sitting members of the School Board – Carl Persis and Linda Cuthbert – pushed for a premature off-the-agenda vote to extend the Superintendent’s contract without any substantive analysis of his performance and leadership acumen, or his administrations positive and negative impacts on students, parents, teachers, or staff.
Following the usual chaos and confusion, the board voted to push the discussion to a workshop scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday, March 22.
To their credit, Chair Ruben Colon joined members Jamie Haynes and Anita Burnette in calling for more information – with Haynes and Burnette making the commonsense suggestion that Fritz undergo a comprehensive performance review before a final decision is made on the contract extension.
At that same meeting, some local heavy hitters weighed in – to include Len Marinaccio, board member of the FUTURES Foundation; Nancy Keefer, president and CEO of the Daytona Regional Chamber; and Daisy Grimes of the Volusia County African American Leadership Council – all of whom supported extending Dr. Fritz’s contract.
But everyone in the room sat up straight and slicked down their cowlicks when the incredibly influential Forough Hosseini approached the podium and described Dr. Fritz as a “visionary” – before “suggesting” that the School Board give him the opportunity to, in her words, take us to the “next level.”
Trust me. When those High Panjandrums of Political Power at the House of Hosseini speak – people listen – or they don’t remain in a policy-making role. . .
I caught some flak for my view that Mrs. Hosseini’s support all but guaranteed that Fritz’ contract would be extended with great flourish – his tenure cemented by the swaddling insulation of area heavyweights who control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on Florida’s Fun Coast.
Still think I’m off base?
This week, in an excellent piece by education reporter Nikki Ross writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned of the growing effort by some very influential community “leaders” to ensure that Dr. Fritz’ contract is extended – as ordained by Mrs. Hosseini last month:
“Area organizations, universities and colleges have sent multiple letters to Volusia County School Board members supporting Superintendent Scott Fritz’s contract extension.
Signed letters have come from the FUTURES Foundation, the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, Daytona State College, Bethune-Cookman University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Stetson University.
All organizations expressed their concern with a change in leadership in the district.
“We believe a leadership change at this time, as the community and school system begins to recover from the pandemic and the strategic plan continues to evolve, would negatively impact the forward direction of the Volusia County School District,” the letter from the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce stated. “The Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce strongly believes extending the contract of Dr. Fritz will continue to move Volusia County Schools in the right direction and add stability to our students, teachers and community.”
Based upon what metrics?
The abysmal lack of an effective internal or external communications strategy that has plagued the district since Fritz took the helm?
The “Us vs. Them” mentality that permeates the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand?
The annual warnings of a coming financial catastrophe with a budget now over $1 Billion?
The dire warnings from those in the classroom, “…burnout, low pay, lack of respect and community support have led some teachers to retire early or seek new careers”?
The unfilled vacancies?
The district’s ham-handed, divisive, and often chaotic pandemic protocols that resulted in angry outbursts and demonstrations from concerned parents at board meetings?
The fact that “…teachers, district staff and parents have spoken out against the contract extension” – you know, the core ‘stakeholders’ with a vested interest in the district’s success?
Or is it the need to project the illusion of stability to lure more warehouse operations to Volusia County and the $15-an-hour scutwork our graduates are asked to aspire to?
Regardless of the district’s shortfalls, we always have the almighty three-year “Strategic Plan” – a boilerplate of vague goals and objectives that read like most superintendent’s job description (don’t take my word for it, read it here: https://tinyurl.com/2p8fpkzb) – much of which was facilitated by an “external consultant” – for which Dr. Fritz received a $10,000 spiff on top of his $205,000 annual salary. . .
Now, the workshop scheduled for March 22 has been abruptly cancelled with the swiftness of a Facebook post by Volusia County School Board Chair Ruben Colon – apparently to allow time for a formal evaluation of Dr. Fritz’ performance.
Given that Dr. Fritz took a leave of absence for some seven-months while receiving cancer treatments, his performance has never been formally reviewed.
According to a News-Journal report, “The special meeting had been on the school board calendar for nearly a month. The district website was updated Friday afternoon to say the meeting was canceled and the agendas removed.”
A meeting to discuss the ins-and-outs of the Superintendent’s proposed evaluation has now been set for April 12. . .
I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .
“Elizabeth Albert, president of the Volusia Teacher’s Union, said the abrupt cancellation of the meetings is “suspicious.”
“I can tell you that there’s been much anticipation about this workshop and the meetings on both sides of the coin. Those who want Dr. Fritz contract to be extended and those who feel like maybe we should look in a different direction,” Albert said. “I think the timing is very poor. I think the lack of communication just further demonstrates the level of disarray that the district is in right now.”
Albert said one of Fritz’s steps highlighted in the strategic plan was to improve communication. She said this canceled meeting shows where the district is missing the mark. The decision to cancel the meeting was made by Colon.
“If we can’t support our goals and our strategic plan, I think we can take a second,” Albert said.”
Look, by any measure, we are emerging from a very difficult time.
Right or wrong school districts around the nation have become Ground Zero for the resultant “culture wars” and Volusia County is no exception. But anyone can hold the helm in calm seas – it takes strong, adaptive leadership to right the ship and set the direction during challenging times.
That is why Dr. Fritz makes the big bucks – and with it comes responsibility, and accountability.
At least it should.
In my view, we are witnessing what happens when real power moves in Volusia County – and the needs of the students, parents, teachers, and staff members most affected by the continuing dysfunction that permeates the district be damned.
Stay tuned. This one’s important.