Members of the Lakeland Federation of Teachers:
As you are aware, the school board voted to accept the resignation of Dr. Lyons as superintendent at a special meeting on Saturday morning. This is a highly unusual turn of events and I feel that you are owed some context as I am sure you have many questions, and there will be very limited information shared through other channels. While I do not feel it benefits anyone to swirl in the eddies of the past, I believe some background will help prevent any misunderstanding of what transpired.
With such an unprecedented departure, it is natural for people to think that there was a significant issue or “skeleton in the closet” that forced the departure. This is simply not the case. I can best describe the issues as a failure to connect. There was no connection with teachers, but there was also no connection with any of the stakeholders in the community. I do not have to go into these failures for you, as you were all on the receiving end, but I do want to share the effect your frustration had on this decision.
Granted, last year was exceptionally complicated, but that only made the communication deficits that much harder to bear. As our frustrations grew last fall , the school board took the unprecedented step of surveying the teachers to see how we were handling this difficult situation. That survey, early in Dr. Lyons tenure, spotlighted how vividly teachers felt the lack of leadership had become. It was anonymous, so I have no idea who said this, but it was burned into my thinking all year: “I no longer feel like I work in a high quality district.” That sums up much of what teachers felt in November. It was hoped that things would improve, but by the end of the school year, at the time of the second survey, it was clear things had deteriorated significantly. While some may ask how it could have been allowed to go on so long, all I can say is that some things take time. In my opinion, the BOE acted in the best interests of the school community throughout. It was reasonable to expect a difficult start could have had many reasons, and that given time and awareness things could have improved. Unfortunately they did not.
Last year was difficult for me knowing that the membership wanted me to meet and hear their frustration first hand, and more importantly, share my views, but my concern was that as soon as I spoke publicly on this, the views of teachers shared on any survey could have been easily invalidated as simply teachers saying what the “union” wanted them to. Throughout the year I was aware of how seriously the school board was taking teacher concerns and no further amplification was necessary.
This is ultimately my purpose in writing this. As difficult as the last 14 months have been, they are indicative of a school community that cares deeply about its schools. It is natural when working with a communication challenged administration to become cynical, and indeed there was much of that reflected in this spring’s survey. I am asking you to shed your frustrations and know that the system worked. It worked in private and in confidence, but that was the best way for it to work. Know that your frustration was felt, and joined with frustrations from stakeholders throughout the district as the school board deliberated.
As I said earlier, I do not think we should swirl in the eddies of the past and I would like to put this chapter behind us. In that vein, I look forward to Thursday’s school board meeting when an interim superintendent will be appointed, and I am confident the appointment will be followed by a message to all of you delineating a vision for a path forward.
In closing, please extend a thank you to your LFT officers and building representatives when you get a chance. They have worked tirelessly to provide clarity and ensure a smoother passage through this turbulent time.
President, Lakeland Federation of Teachers