Apr 13, 2011 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Apparently Nick Johns isn’t one to hold a grudge.
On March 30, the superintendent of the Liverpool Central School District addressed the monthly luncheon meeting of the Greater Liverpool Chamber of Commerce. His topic was teamwork.
“You’ve got to look at a school as a system,” he said, reflecting on his years at the helm of school districts from Iowa to Michigan to downstate New York. “You’ve got to coordinate your efforts. I mean K through 12th grade is a kid’s career. For him or her to succeed in their scholastic career we’ve all got to work together. We’ve got to be a team.”
So after the meeting, I asked Dr. Johns how the LCSD can continue to work as a team after the Liverpool Administrators Association issued a rather mean-spirited letter of no-confidence in the superintendent.
On Feb. 11, the LAA-which represents about three dozen principals and administrative staffers here-criticized Johns for creating “a working climate of fear, trepidation and vindictiveness.”
Johns simply shrugged off the harsh words. He considered their source.
“That union has a tough contract coming up,” Johns said. One issue that will be contentious, he predicted, will be a no-layoff clause.
“The bottom line is that we could not afford to staff the administrative ranks the way we have in the past,” Johns said.
The LAA’s swipe at the superintendent sure seemed pretty personal, but Johns refused to take it that way. Instead, he expressed admiration for the principals as individuals. They’re all sincerely dedicated to the cause of education here, he said.
“They recently developed plans for student achievement at each school,” Johns said, “and all of the principals had goals that really stretched their horizons, ideas about how tomorrow can be better than today.”
One thing that Johns desperately wants to see improved is the high-school graduation rate.
“There are things we do marvelously, but there are things we need to fix,” he told the chamber members. “Right now, 81 percent of our high-school students graduate, 19 percent don’t graduate. That’s too high a number. We’ve got to fix that.”
Johns believes that his proposed FOCUS Academy-which has inexplicably drawn the ire of more than 400 petitioners objecting to its establishment-could be an important step toward reducing the dropout rate. The academy is designed to cater to students who, Johns said, “are falling between the cracks” in the 2,400-student LHS.
“Twenty-eight percent of our kids feel ill-at-ease in this huge high school,” he said. “If we don’t take these kids out of that building, they’ll be lost in the crowd.”
Rather than losing them, the superintendent said, he’d like to see them head off to college after finding their “focus.” Right now, about half of LHS alums take a stab at higher education. “We could do better,” Johns said.
Meanwhile, the superintendent continues to build a budget as state aid comes trickling in and-with money tight everywhere-he anticipates tough bargaining sessions with the LAA, the principals’ union which labeled him “vindictive.”
“Hopefully we can all sit down and talk about the provisions of that contract,” Johns said.
And he didn’t sound even a little bit vindictive.