Dissension In A Foxhole

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The Payson Unified School District is caught up in an enormous, dispiriting distraction from the urgent task at hand.

The furor involves a bungled effort to discipline Julia Randall Elementary School Principal Will Dunman’s odd defiance of the school board’s attempt to prevent administrators from also serving as athletic coaches.

The board members told incoming Superintendent Ron Hitchcock they didn’t think that principals and other top administrators had the time to coach athletics when they hired him. That seems a reasonable enough concern.

So Hitchcock earlier this year warned Dunman that he would have to give up coaching girls’ softball.

Now, we can understand this nettled Dunman. After all, he took the softball team to the state finals last year. At the same time, he helped raise the state grade for the middle school from a dismaying “D” to a much more acceptable “B.” By all accounts, Dunman worked hard to get students to take seriously the standardized tests on which the schools grade is based. He also worked one-on-one with struggling students. His great efforts bore fruit with the striking rise in the school’s rating.

So Dunman could certainly argue that his performance proved he could handle both roles: coach and administrator.

In fact, we disagreed with the first version of the proposed policy that would have imposed a blanket ban on coach-administrators. We preferred the position the board eventually adopted, which left it up to the superintendent to decide if his top administrators had the time to coach.

But then, that’s not the point — not anymore.

The accounts released so far suggest that not only did Dunman fiercely disagree with the policy — he openly defied the superintendent. Moreover, it appears that he orchestrated — or at least acquiesced — in bitter attacks on the board and the superintendent by his supporters.

Hitchcock ultimately decided Dunman’s resistance constituted “insubordination” and “unprofessional conduct” and so acted to suspend him without pay for five days. Dunman appealed to the board. At the end of a confrontational meeting attended by an overflow crowd this week, the board decided Hitchcock hadn’t followed the rules for disciplining an employee — and ordered him to do it all over again.

Unfortunately, the Roundup botched the initial reporting of the story Tuesday. Our reporter missed the end of the meeting and when she asked a school official what had happened, she got some bad information — which we printed. We feel terrible about that. We have a sacred obligation to report as fairly and accurately as humanly possible. We could plead exhaustion from a weekend of covering the attempted murder of a Payson DPS officer and the press of deadlines — but that’s obviously no excuse.

Tragically, the whole muddled mess threatens to alienate many parents and teachers and sow Dissension at the worst possible moment.

The Payson Unified School District faces a crisis, thanks to the combination of state and federal mandates, cuts in state funding and a decline in enrollment.

Superintendent Hitchcock has put in place a series of vital reforms in response to the myopic, high-stakes state and federal focus on standardized test scores. We have expressed our deep concern about how this overwhelming focus on the standardized test scores of the weakest students will warp the system. It has already crowded out essential classes like calculus, buried teachers under paperwork and drained support from vital programs like sports, band, drama and a host of other activities.

But Hitchcock’s right: We must cope with the reality that confronts us — even if we disagree with the mandates.

So he shifted resources to put a mentor teacher in place on each campus to help teachers keep from drowning in this tidal wave of change. A report to the board this week suggests that effort’s going well — despite the traumatic tremors of change. The board members who picked Hitchcock said he was head-and-shoulders above anyone else they interviewed. No doubt, he’s asking a lot of his teachers and administrators — and perhaps he has pushed these huge shifts through faster than some have wanted.

However, we’re in a crisis and for better or worse, we’re committed to his reforms. When the platoon’s in a foxhole in a crossfire, the lieutenant can’t afford to get into an argument with a corporal about the k-rations. To abandon Hitchcock’s plan now would be to squander at least two years, when we’re already struggling to catch up.

That’s why we’re so disturbed by Dunman’s defiance of the superintendent and his willingness to stir up anger and resentment among parents. The four school site principals must fully support the reforms or they’ll surely fail.

We completely understand Dunman’s initial disagreement with the no-coaching policy.

But we’re completely baffled by his willingness to do such damage to the precious consensus on which the schools depend because he wants to coach softball.

Comments

H. Wm. Rhea III 1 year, 1 month ago

"However, we’re in a crisis and for better or worse, we’re committed to his [Superintendent Ron Hitchcock's] reforms."

That stupid logic is why our country is in the mess it's in right now. Because we HAVE to follow our leaders when we know the outcome is wrong, instead of requiring them to follow what is right or leave office.

As for Will Dunman and the situation at hand, the man has proven that he can do his job and do it quite well, and still coach softball successfully, so get off if his back.

As for Superintendent Ron Hitchcock, perhaps he isn't the man to lead our school district. Maybe Will Dunman would be better. He's proven he cares and can do the job very well.

To the School Board: read the above lines and remember that re-election is not an assured thing.

Note to the Roundup: Your apology over misreporting facts is understood, but perhaps if you spent less time writing lengthy, biased editorials and spent more time covering news stories, you wouldn't be apologizing over your mistake here.

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