Hindsight can be brutally eye-opening, but necessary

Sparta /
| 09 May 2022 | 03:53

    If I am honest, writing this letter has been weighing on my mind for months, maybe even over a year. Each outrageous and unexplainable move by this Board of Education has finally led me to get it written though. I consider the time I spent in that role split between two very different boards made up of VERY different people. My first year, the Board was operated by Kelly McEvoy and it was done in a very specific way – a way that I didn’t necessarily agree with at the time. By my second year – the year I nominated Kim Bragg for board president, by the way – little did I know just how terrible things would get. Sparta has had its share of Board of Education drama through the years – probably going back 20 years or more at this point. However, since Ms. Bragg had been made board president, we have seen so many controversial things happen, it is hard to ignore the significant changes that began with that appointment. Even though she is no longer the board president, the effects still seem to linger, and the controversies keep coming.

    Since the spring of 2020, our school district has seen a number of questionable decisions made and actions taken by the Board under Ms. Bragg. I realize I was a board member during some of them, but these continued actions were ultimately what led to my eventual resignation. Sparta has seen an experienced superintendent go on leave under mysterious circumstances while the school district continued to pay him until his accepted resignation date almost eight months later. We then saw a very well-liked assistant superintendent step in as interim only to choose to leave the district when it came time to hire a new superintendent.

    We saw the appointment of a new board member and subsequent chairperson of Finance and Operations, who happened to be a superintendent himself, and then saw Sparta School District adopt several of the same vendors and programs that that person’s district had – even replacing ones that had been in place for years. We saw the movement of staff members, hiring of supervisors and administrators for central office while the contract negotiation process got worse and worse for our staff each year. We saw the hiring of a new superintendent that came from a district the size of Mohawk Avenue School to run a district with 10 times the number of students and replace a superintendent with 17 years of experience to his four. We saw the “pausing” of a beautifully written educational text about grief and cultural differences and history, by our new superintendent, supposedly due to parental opposition to the content (although that opposition was minimal). We saw the harassment and eventual departure of beloved and effective educators like Dr. Saskia Brown and Kate Brennan, despite the outrage and disappointment expressed by the community. We saw an awful display of politics at one specific outdoor meeting over the summer that many of us will never forget and unfortunately was never captured on video.

    Now we have seen yet another highly respected and incredibly influential member of our staff, Scott Kercher, be nonrenewed with no thought as to the far-reaching effects of that loss and a complete dismissal of all of the very important work he has done in the past two years (not to mention prior). As I recall, only three years ago he was being considered for early tenure but now, suddenly, he is not worthy of renewal.

    In hindsight, none of these things would have happened without that change in Board leadership.

    I have certainly felt the effects that come with looking back at the way the Board of Education functioned with the members that were in place when I joined compared to the way it was working when I resigned in 2021.

    For that reason, I would like to publicly apologize to Kelly McEvoy for not giving her the respect and recognition she clearly deserved while serving as Board of Education president. To my detriment, I entered into that term with a preconceived idea of what it would be like to be on the board alongside her and it was based on nothing concrete and everything emotional. I can admit that I didn’t necessarily agree with the way she managed that role as far as her “style” of management and I would likely have done it much differently, but we also have very different personalities. Interestingly, that is something that actually makes for a great group to serve in that capacity. However, as board president she was always straightforward and clear. She was open about her opinions and unapologetic about them, as anyone should be about their opinions.

    While I still believe that Dr. Rossi’s contract hearing being pushed up could have been done more transparently, looking back, I can see now that there were players involved that could see what was coming and I simply could not. They were actually trying to protect the district from what has gone on the past two years (aside from the pandemic, of course) and I could not see it and probably refused to, in some ways. Now I can see that I do not think that that scenario warranted ethics charges and I deeply regret any pain or hurt they may have caused Ms. McEvoy, Ms. Kylen Anderson and Ms. Karen Scott and their friends and family members.

    I would also like to apologize to Dr. Michael Rossi for being completely off-base about the years that would follow his contract renewal. I obviously cannot (and would not) go into detail, but there is so much that I was painfully unprepared for – and, frankly, alarmingly surprised by – and by the time it was happening it was far too late to stop. I am grateful to see that he has found a really wonderful place to continue his educational career and I wish him all of the success that he deserves there. They are lucky to have him.

    Sadly, this has all occurred to me while watching the complete breakdown of the Sparta Board of Education following Dr. Rossi’s departure, and then Mr. McQueeney’s departure. As much as I thought I did not get along with the Board I began with in 2019 and I thought it was not doing what was best for Sparta at the time, in reality, it was actually very cohesive. They just all agreed or were willing to agree. They trusted their educational leader and backed him. Maybe I didn’t agree with everything they wanted but nothing was ever done without me being heard. I voted how I voted on things and I disagreed with many members many times without consequence, punishment or public reprimand. We weren’t meeting up at a local bar or restaurant after meetings, but we were allowed to have lives and ask questions in public without being shamed or ignored. Only on the eve of my resignation did I realize how far from that the Sparta BOE had come and how much work it was going to take to get it back there. I have hope that we can, but our greatest opportunity is the upcoming election.

    The school district is moving in a very specific direction and I am completely convinced now that the only way to course correct it is with new, agenda-free, independent-thinking board members that truly care about the students and staff of this great district. Please attend meetings. Do research. Perhaps even consider running, and then get out and vote. The future of the school district and what we want for it depends on it.

    Jennifer Granna