First Impressions of the New Fox Superintendent

22 Nov

Jim Wipke, executive director of secondary education at Rockwood School District, has been named the new superintendent of the Fox C-6 School District, to begin in July of next year (too bad he can’t start in January). He spoke at the November 18 board meeting. Here is the video of his talk, which I think everyone with an interest in the Fox district should watch:

Off the bat, I’ll say that I wish he would have directly addressed the current scandals at Fox, and pledged to help clean house. However, he said several things that contained oblique, perhaps not coincidental, references to the previous regime. For example, he mentioned “integrity” more than once, along with “fairness” and “doing things the right way.” All of these characteristics have been missing from Fox.

He mentioned the book “Leaders East Last” by Simon Sinek as one that has inspired him. The book title refers to military officers allowing the servicemen they are leading go first in the lunch line. Treating your employees this way leads to an engaged, higher-performing team. Fox employees (at least those who were not one of superintendent Critchlow’s cronies) were treated instead to a culture of intimidation. I don’t know if it was a coincidence or not that the title of the book Wipke cited had to do with food, considering that one of Critchlow’s scandals was the rampant use of credit cards by senior administrators for sometimes extravagant dining. Leaders should not only eat last, but they should also pay for their own food.

Wipke listed two requests he had for Fox residents: hold him accountable (I note that Critchlow worked to avoid accountability), and believe in him (he contrasted belief with fear, which it is said is the emotion Critchlow cultivated). He plans to attend many school functions during the rest of this school year, and to visit every classroom. He cited the military mantra that to fail a mission is catastrophic, and citing Fox’s mission statement, said that failure is not an option.

I wish Dr. Wipke the best, and I am optimistic that he will bring positive change. But we should take him up on his request for us to hold him accountable.

Arbeitman Gets the Golden Parachute

The other highly anticipated part of the November 18 meeting was the request by assistant superintendent Andy Arbeitman, who started at Fox 16 months ago, to take a $66,000 early departure bonus. In between the time this was announced and the meeting occurred, some information came out of the district. It was revealed that in February 2014 an email when out to district staff that eliminated by omission the previous 10-year in-district service requirement to be eligible for the payout. The district had to change the program that month to eliminate a requirement that an employee have no more than 31 years of service (courts have found that discriminatory) and to no longer call it an “early retirement” incentive. It appears that when those changes were made, the 10-year provision was quietly taken out as well. District CFO John Brazeal suggests that, as Critchlow was nearing retirement, she was fighting to keep the incentive program alive and to expand it for her own personal benefit and perhaps that of her husband. Did she also have her boy Arbeitman in mind at this time? I am told that she fought pretty hard to hire him, over the objections of others on the interview panel. I hope Andy bought her a nice steak dinner this week.

Brazeal also stated that district lawyers determined no vote was needed to approve incentive payouts. For an employee to accept the district’s standing offer of a buyout made it official. So the board made no action to approve or stop the payout at the meeting. Board president John Laughlin claimed to be unhappy with what was happening, and said the board is “taking a serious look” at its options. This is the last year of the incentive program, and the offer is open until mid-January (recently changed from mid-December), so there is fear that other senior administrators, whose hands are less than clean in the Critchlow affair, will attempt to cash in as well.

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