“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” One of the courses that aspiring school superintendents take is about communication and community relations. In this course, one of the many topics is how to politically spin bad news into less damaging or even good news.
In the case of Payson Unified School District the bad news is that some schools have declined in their performance and the good news is one elementary school improved to highly performing and the high school was rated highly performing for its fourth consecutive year. But the good news became bad news since the administrators of the top performing schools in the Payson school district were removed by the school board led by President Rory Huff and Superintendent Casey O’Brien. To make matters worse, all Mr. O’Brien can offer is a lame comment trying to discredit the laid-off administrators saying that maybe leadership at the site level isn’t so important after all. This is a complete 180-degree change from what Mr. O’Brien has stated in previous meetings held with site administrators. O’Brien often spoke of the importance of site leadership on how a school performs. Mr. O’Brien is very aware of research that points out that site leadership is very important for school performance.
In analyzing O’Brien’s statements, it becomes very apparent that the administrators from PHS and Frontier were removed for political reasons. While other schools are on improvement plans and some have declined in their ratings, FES has gone from an “under performing” label to “highly performing.” PHS has a staff that has changed many teachers over a four-year period and it still retained its “highly performing” label for four consecutive years while other schools in the district have declined.
The principal of the “highly performing” high school has been replaced by a part-time principal whose school is now on a school improvement plan for failing to meet graduation rates two years running. No matter how the superintendent tries to spin the story, the criteria are the same for all schools in the state. The part-time principal’s school was labeled “performing” which is several notches below PHS’s rating.
To try and prove that this system is best, the superintendent has spent more time on the PHS campus in the first month of school than he had the previous two years combined. Mr. O’Brien can attempt to spin that any way he wants, but the truth is he wanted to replace the principals of the “highly performing” schools to please the Rory Huff-led school board.
It is quite clear that under the leadership of Huff and O’Brien that the removal of school administrators was not a “personnel” issue but rather a “personal” issue. “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”