Investigation finds Smyrna Elementary principal broke law by shi - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Investigation finds Smyrna Elementary principal broke law by shirking parental involvement on council

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Smyrna Elementary (JCPS photo) Smyrna Elementary (JCPS photo)
Smyrna Elementary principal Tiffany Stith (Source: JCPS) Smyrna Elementary principal Tiffany Stith (Source: JCPS)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Smyrna Elementary principal Tiffany Stith has "persistently violated" state law over the past three years by circumventing hiring practices and excluding parents and staff members from important decisions made at the school, according to an investigation by the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability. 

The state investigation was completed on Aug. 4, following complaints from a former parent that were filed with OEA, the agency charged with ensuring that schools are operating efficiently, effectively and are observing the governing procedures that were created by the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. 

Andrew Simpson told WDRB News on Tuesday that his children no longer attend Smyrna Elementary because of the issues.

"While I am appreciative of this investigation, I am still baffled as to why anyone would allow this person to continue to hold a job at this declining school, both academically and morally, " Simpson said, adding that it wasn't teachers but others in higher positions who supported (Stith) and her actions.

The investigation, obtained by WDRB News through an open records request, states that Stith's actions have "effectively eliminated the (site-based decision making) council's authority at Smyrna Elementary School and put all authority into her hands."

"Principal Stith has persistently violated KRS 160.390(9)(a) intentionally engaged in a pattern of practice which is detrimental to the successful implementation of or circumvents the intent of school-based decision making to allow the professional staff members of a school and parents to be involved in the decision-making process," the report from David Wickersham, the director of OEA states.

Under state law, SBDM councils have been granted authority over most aspects of school governance. The councils, which must consist of both parents and staff members and is often chaired by the school's principal, have duties that "must be fulfilled by all members of the council," Wickersham wrote.

"Specifically, the council has the authority to determine the number of persons to be employed in each job classification at the school; determine which textbooks, instructional materials and student support services shall be provided in the school; provide consultation to the principal on school staff hires; hire the principal when the position is vacant; (and) adopt for implementation by the principal of several policies," he said.

The investigation says membership on Smyrna's council is to include two parents and that Stith "for at least the past three years operated Smyrna Elementary without parental involvement."

It found:

  • In 2014-15, there were no parent representatives on the council and no steps were taken by Principal Stith to bring a group of parents together for the purpose of electing parent representatives until March 2015, three months before the council term would end.
  • Parents were not elected to the council for the 2015-16 term until March 2016.
  • Stith began the 2016-17 council without parent representatives until October 2016.

The investigation also found that Smyrna's site-based council bylaws require parent representatives to be elected by June 30. Under state law, if there is no parent-teacher organization, a group of parents be brought together to conduct the elections of council members.

"Principal Stith admitted that she has taken no steps to bring parents together for this purpose," Wickersham writes. "Principal Stith has only acted to obtain parent representatives for the council when prompted to do so by JCPS."

"Further evidence of a pattern of practice to impede the SBDM (site-based decision making) process is found in the minutes for Smyrna Elementary School," the report states. "Principal Stith routinely sets an agenda and then does not address all items on the agenda or addresses items not on the agenda. Stakeholders who may wish to address issues with the council do not known what subjects may or may not be addressed at each meeting."

It adds that during meetings, Stith is "the primary speaker and little discussion is noted." It says Stith is often the person who initiates the motions for action by the council and while another council member seconds the motion, the council meeting minutes...do not reflect the council taking action on any motion made during its meetings."

Wickersham also noted that state law provides that the school council and each of its committees shall determine the frequency of and agenda for their meetings.

"Interviewees advised that the council did not determine the schedule for meetings and that the schedule was instead set by Principal Stith," he wrote. "Principal Stith fails to keep the regualr schedule of council meetings which she set."

In addition, Stith "has for over two years held only six regularly scheduled council meetings, cancelled 11 regularly scheduled council meetings and held 12 special called meetings."

"The constant changes to the meeting schedule are not conducive to (the) successful implementation of SBDM," Wickersham wrote.

OEA is requiring Stith to attend 12 hours of training on the "Role of the Principal in SBDM Council Elections," the "Principal's duty in the hiring process in SBDM schools," the "Role of the SBDM council in school governance" and "Open meetings and public record keeping laws." Proof of completion of all the training hours must be provided to OEA by Oct. 15.

Simpson sent an email to state lawmakers on Monday, alerting them of the investigation results and urging them to keep "parents and teachers involved in the schools of this state thru their voices via SBDM councils." He also carbon-copied JCPS Acting Superintendent Marty Pollio.

Simpson says although he feels the investigation vindicates his "strong advocacy as a parent involved on this council" he was "met at every turn by a principal who was determined to undermine the parents and teachers voice."

"Because of this principal our council was unbelievably ineffective in our efforts," Simpson said. "This is incredible proof as to why there should be a strong check and balance such as a SBDM Council with voting parental input in our schools."

Stith could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Daniel Kemp, a spokesman for JCPS, said the district has received a copy of the OEA report and is working on a response.

Kemp said Pollio would not be providing any immediate comments on the report.

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

Copyright 2017 by WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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