By Judy Reed
The third-floor meeting room at the Hilltop Administration building could hardly hold the number of people who turned out for Monday’s Board of Education meeting. Tension was high as people gathered to voice their concerns about problems they feel are happening in the district, and especially to voice their frustration over a letter read at the previous meeting by board president Patricia Eary.
The letter was a statement to a small group of staff members that the board feels are being negative and trying to undermine the work of Superintendent VanDuyn.
Last week the Post ran a letter to the editor from Board treasurer Michelle Bayink, who said she had not seen the letter prior to its being read, nor did she support it. Many community members FOIA’d the letter, as did the Post. The letter they received, was not, however, the whole letter read at the previous meeting. One part missing that many were upset with was a statement that said, “If you do not think you can work for the current administration, you are free to seek employment elsewhere.”
Board President Eary apologized at the meeting for the problem with the FOIA. She said she had copied her notes and statement, but for some reason, her computer only copied the notes. She made her entire statement available at the meeting.
Both Eary and VanDuyn said that the recommendation for the statement was made at a workshop that was held in September with a representative from the Michigan Association of School Boards. Eary wrote and read the statement.
“I had been hearing from people that other staff was trying to make me look bad—that they were trying to make me look like the devil,” explained VanDuyn. “And the representative said, ‘You need to make a statement, this has to stop.’ That’s why the statement was made.”
She said that teachers said they had heard that they would lose their sick days if they didn’t use them. VanDuyn said she didn’t know where that came from. “The teachers have a contract that spells out how much they can carry over.” Another problem arose with instructional rounds that they take three times a year at the schools. Teachers were left off the list through a miscommunication, she said, so she canceled the rounds. “There is never a time Laura VanDuyn would not have teachers on an instructional round,” she said. “It goes against what I believe in.”
Some have complained about cognitive coaches being moved back into the classroom. VanDuyn explained that they needed teachers to fill some classrooms to bring down class sizes, and since a consultant is coming in to analyze their finances, they didn’t want to hire anyone yet. So they moved a couple of coaches back into the classroom. Board President Eary said the board supports that.
One of the things that many people are wondering about is why three top administrators have left this year—Steve Seward, Jennifer Harper, and now associate principal David Cairy. Some have accused VanDuyn of pushing out these administrators.
“Change is hard. It’s not uncommon that administrators leave when a new Superintendent comes,” explained VanDuyn. “Dynamics change.” She said she could not comment on why Harper left, it was a personnel issue. But she said she offered to help Seward with keeping his insurance going, and that she’s enjoyed working with Cairy. “I’m absolutely not pushing people out,” she said. “David and I worked well together.”
VanDuyn said it’s a small minority of people causing the negativity. “I know what I walked into. And there are people I haven’t held accountable, because of that environment. I know who some of them are. I just thought over time the people would understand who I am. I will continue to be who I am—honest, with integrity and a passion for education for both students and staff.”
At Monday’s meeting, several people questioned the board about what’s happening in the district, and spoke of not feeling respected by the board. Teacher Brett Burns said that in the past, the district has been about honesty, integrity and respect, and he felt that some of those things are currently missing. “We’ve lost three pillars in the district and we don’t know why. Why are they leaving?” He challenged the board to start thinking about the staff and students and set some of their personal things aside. “We are at a crossroads—a district divided. I don’t know if the board sees that,” he said. He noted that when they try to communicate a problem, they feel they are shut down. “You have to hear us, even if it’s not what you want to hear. I’m willing to make it happen. We need to learn from our mistakes and move on.”
Several of those commenting mourned the fact that Cairy is leaving. The room gave him a standing ovation, to show how much they respected the work he had done here in Cedar Springs.
Board trustee Brooke Nichols was tearful during a statement she read to the audience. “I know this has been a difficult time for many of us lately and I’m sorry for any added stress the board has added,” she said. She went on to say that she supports anyone that wants to try to move the district forward in a positive manner, and noted that everyone on the board does care about the district.
“It’s up to us to support each other,” she continued. It’s so emotionally draining to carry grudges and hard feelings. I am hopeful that there can be a fresh start…We can’t change all that has happened, but we do have a choice in letting that define us or trying to move forward in a positive light.”
Click here to read a letter from one concerned community resident. To see the letter read at the October 12 board meeting, click link below. If you have questions, please email or call Superintendent Laura VanDuyn at 696-1204, or one of your school board members. You can find them at www.csredhawks.org. You may also write a letter to the editor and we will publish them as space allows.