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More unhelpful upheaval

East Allen Superintendent Karyle Green chats with students at Prince Chapman Academy. Green’s tenure will end Friday, roughly 16 months early.

The East Allen County Schools board takes another step backward with its ill-considered decision to buy out Superintendent Karyle Green’s contract and end her association with the district. The promising student-centered changes East Allen has made are threatened by the administrative uncertainty the board once again is creating.

The board announced during a special meeting Monday that board President Neil Reynolds, Secretary Stephen Terry and attorneys are negotiating with Green to buy out the terms of her contract, even though she had announced she would not seek an extension when her contract expires in 16 months. That period would have supported an effective superintendent search, likely attracting candidates who might now be reluctant to join a district that has had three leaders in eight years.

In 2005, the board bought out Superintendent Jeff Abbott’s contract for $495,853, plus an additional $173,253 in annuity contributions.

An administrative change might benefit board members with interests contrary to the district, but it does not serve students well. Extensive research documents the ill effects of superintendent turnover on academic improvement. Researchers at Prairie View A&M University, for example, examined data from five school districts in Texas where superintendent contracts were terminated. They found negative effects on staff morale, student achievement and community support.

“In all five districts studied, there was a financial impact due to the buyout and reduction in foundation funds,” according to Prairie View’s Lee Ann Ray and Robert L. Marshall. “School districts cannot succeed in their mission to educate and prepare children to fulfill their potential without teamwork and cooperation between the superintendent and the board of trustees. Implications are that poor student performance will not improve until the superintendent and school board work as a team.”

In 2010, the East Allen board displayed some rare courage in supporting Green’s recommendation for districtwide reorganization. In her first year on the job, the superintendent studied attendance districts, course offerings, enrollment patterns, building conditions and more before offering a plan that addressed both academic and building issues in the 10,000-student district. To her credit, Green developed a consolidation plan that preserved the community schools East Allen patrons insist on maintaining, with K-12 campuses at Heritage and Woodlan and an innovative Early College program at the former Paul Harding High School.

Students and parents seemed to take the changes in stride. The Harding transition was almost seamless.

But the reorganization plan did not have a chance to realize its potential before some in the district, unhappy with its effects on their own interests, began to undermine it. Last November’s election sealed Green’s fate, with the announced closing of the Timothy L. Johnson Academy charter school (see sidebar below) apparently the impetus for pushing her out before her contract expired.

The good news is that EACS is blessed with a long-suffering faculty and staff who continue to act in the best interests of students in spite of self-serving, reactive and short-sighted board leadership.

Community leaders in the district, however, need to step up and insist the school board begin following standards established to best serve students, taxpayers and the community. Its current course is contrary to those aims.