Managing Editor, Starkville-Now.com
Today, Starkville Dispatch correspondent Bonnie Coblentz (full disclosure: my wife) submitted three articles to the paper that should shed some light on the recent negotiated resignation of Starkville School District Superintendent of Education Judy Couey from her post on June 30. This is the first real news about why Couey was forced from her post.
Beside the obvious, an apparent misuse of a district vehicle over Spring break, the reports underscore a few things about the district.
It appears that elements on the district’s Board of Trustees were actively looking for a way to get rid of Couey.
Just remember that a year ago, this board extended her contract while praising her job performance. Now she is on leave while heading toward a severance settlement of $80,000 for essentially a technicality related to a form.
Couey herself was not blameless. Her management style seemed at times to be overly critical bordering on caustic. One eyewitness report had her privately belittling a group of Sudduth teachers toward the end of the ’09-’10 school year when she was questioned about implementating a dress code for teachers. Calling your employees demeaning names isn’t the way to win friends and influence people.
It’s no secret that morale among teachers and staff has not been the highest. Some saw her resignation as a necessary and positive step forward for the district. But in many ways, Couey was dealt a losing hand by the district and its stakeholders even before she got her pay bump to super.
This time last year, parents were up in arms over yellow polos and khakis while test schools continued to slightly erode. The injustice of having to dress alike trumped any concern for the continued decline of the district. I didn’t see any public meetings or Facebook outrage over a continued sub-standard graduation rate in the school district that is home to the state’s largest university.
The SSD Board of Trustees shoulders the biggest share of the blame of anyone. Our school boards have presided over a slow degradation of the district over the past 20 years. They have lost the trust of their constituents along the way while hiding behind closed sessions or questionable decisions.
One long-time observer remarked to me that this board has consistently been a rubber stamp body over the past decade. They have been led publicly by the recommendation of their hired superintendent, most of the time without questioning the rationale behind it. That may be fine for a high-performing district to cruise on autopilot, but one that needs to improve needs active leadership at all levels.
This board has to make arguably the most important hire in the history of the district with its next superintendent. They need to do so while keeping the public engaged and abreast of the search. Fewer closed sessions and more open doors and listening ears would be a welcome change.
You can reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.