After long years of quality service, West Lafayette’s principal, Ron Shriner is retiring. Upon learning of his plans, the school administration launched into a search for a new principal. Shortly before the top candidate was announced, I happened to talk to the superintendent and one of the school board members. When asked how the principal search was going, they couldn’t tell me anything specific, but they were excited. This guy was going to run a good school and probably cure cancer in the bargain. (I exaggerate, but their enthusiasm was contagious.)
A few days later, the West Lafayette School Board agenda included the approval of Chad Rodgers as the new principal at the Junior/Senior High School. Rodgers will be coming to West Lafayette from his current position as principal at Greencastle High School. Among other accomplishments and accolades, in 2021, he was named District 8 Principal of the Year by the Indiana Association of School Principals.
West Lafayette teachers turn out in force urging support for the new principal.
In an unprecedented show of support for the selection, the meeting room was packed with teachers and people who had been involved with the selection process. The teachers were also concerned about the school board messing up a good thing. The teachers submitted a petition, signed by 68 of the 74 high school teachers.
Process grievances have dominated school board meetings
You’ll notice a particular focus on support for the process. This has to do with the context of school board dynamics in recent history. There is an opposition bloc, currently in the minority, that devotes an inordinate amount of time to process. Their laser focus on meeting minutes has become a punchline, stretching what used to be hour long meetings into three hour marathons. These disagreements very rarely focus on substance.
As a friend of mine put it, “their nominal complaints are usually about incompleteness of representation of the discussion or recording of votes. It seems like they think minutes should be a transcript of the meeting.But that’s not really their complaint.” In all likelihood, the goal is to generate a narrative of grievance, the better to elect a fourth person in the fall and take over the majority. Then what? The best minutes in the land? Probably not. If I had to guess, it’s anti-union stuff with merit pay directed to certain teachers and other business school type initiatives. That’s me reading between the lines on certain votes and statements. They haven’t come out and said as much. Such policies would be deeply unpopular in this left-leaning community.
The question before the board was approval of the person, not the process.
Several people involved in the selection process, teachers and at least one parent, stepped forward to address the board at the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting. The first teacher’s comments were representative of the sentiments in the room. She had been a participant in the search process. She assured the board there had been enough quality applicants and that the administration had been diligent about asking the search team whether they felt confident in the quality of the candidates and the process. With respect to the timeline, she noted that our timeline is consistent with the process being used in Zionsville, another quality school. They incorporated a stakeholder survey supported by Dr. Yin. Board members Wang, Schott, and Austin helped Dr. Greiner make the final recommendation to the Board. Video of the teacher’s statement below:
(Incidentally, also note that full video of West Lafayette’s school board meetings are on YouTube, making the endless wrangling over minutes all the more perplexing.)
The teacher emphasized that the motion before the board today asked the board to approve a *person* not a process (and she details why, in any event, the process was solid.) “A split vote of any kind would be an embarrassment to our profession and to our community. Any votes against this *person* as a protest against the *process* is insulting the professionalism and the personal integrity of the leadership of our school community as well as making the new hiree’s job harder by making it look to our community as if he was not fully supported for this role.” She asked for a unanimous vote.
The stress on the fact that the board was voting on a person, not the process, is a call-back to two years ago when Dr. Yin’s “no” vote on the new superintendent selection was the subject of long speeches and her supporters holding up signs in protest at meetings. Just like this time, the stated objection was to the process while saying that the specific choice of superintendent was unobjectionable. Repeating that pattern and ignoring the exhortation of West Side’s teachers, school board members Yin and Wang cast votes against approving the hire (despite saying that they didn’t object to the hire, only the process.) Per the Exponent story on the meeting: “‘My vote is not a personal attack,’ Yin said to the room, prompting the crowd of teachers to erupt into laughter.” She went on to embrace the new principal after the meeting.
Rather than taking a moment to understand why the teachers might be so frustrated by these process arguments that they took the extraordinary step of signing a mass petition, she took to Facebook, ignored the teachers’ frustration, and doubled down on explaining why she didn’t like the process. She characterizes the process as rushed and designed to produce a small number of applicants. That characterization is obviously counter to what those involved had to say about it. Also, the process tracked a process used by Zionsville in their own search. (The link is to a school administration explanation of the process.)
There was no functional upside to a “no” vote.
But the details are mostly beside the point. What makes brushing aside the teachers’ concerns all the worse is there was no functional upside to the “no” vote. Unless one is willing to go so far as to say that it was a *bad* process rather than merely an imperfect process or that Mr. Rodgers is poorly qualified for the job (which is not an argument anyone made), chasing the dragon of a more perfect process and micromanaging the details at the last minute serves no purpose.
Let’s say everyone went along with the “no” votes. Now you’re back to square one and, if you’re incredibly lucky, after several more months, the absolute best case scenario is that you end up with a slightly better candidate. More likely than not, you either waste your time or end up alienating potential candidates, because who wants the headache of working with that kind of board?