February 12, 2014 - Dozens of Clarkston teachers, parents and students, some with "Rod Rocks" T-shirts, filled the school board meeting, Monday, in support of Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock.
Mary Lynn reads a letter supporting Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock at Monday's meeting. Photo by Phil Custodio (click for larger version)
"He is quite simply the best," said Cheryl Patterson, Clarkston High School teacher. "I'm profoundly grateful to Dr. Rock for his leadership. He is a visionary and educator who continuously strives to do what is in the best interest of children – it makes a big difference to the staff to know Dr. Rock's contract is renewed."
Patterson said she wasn't sure, when she decided to attended the meeting, if the school board was on the same page.
"The longer you all keep talking, the less I'm sure you're in the same book," she said.
The school board voted 6-1 to bring the superintendent's contract up for a vote at the next meeting, Feb. 24. At its last meeting, Jan. 27, the board tabled approval of a superintendent evaluation letter last meeting, partly because of confusion over when Rock's three-year contract would be renewed.
"I thought we would act on the contract after his evaluation (in December)," said Trustee Steve Hyer.
Delaying action on the contract sends the wrong message, Hyer said.
"A three-year contract is standard in the education industry," Hyer said. "Anything less signals maybe something's wrong."
The board changed the superintendent's evaluation schedule from May to December, based on a recommendation by Michigan Association of School Boards because school board elections were moved from May to November, said board President Rosalie Lieblang.
"There was certainly never any intention to send any message," Lieblang said.
No official board action was taken to change the timing of the superintendent contract from June, she said.
The letter she prepared for the Jan. 27 rated the superintendent as "effective," and the contract, which is through June 2016, could be approved anytime between now and June, she said.
"I'm not sure how maintaining the normal course of board business fostered any questions or concerns regarding Dr. Rock's employment status," Lieblang said. "We value Dr. Rock's leadership and the positive effect he has had on the administrators, teachers, staff, students and our community."
Supporters of the superintendent spread the word about the contract confusion throughout the day and weekend before Monday's meeting, including through social media with Twitter "#IsupportRodRock." Several spoke during public comment supporting the superintendent.
Leanne Moore of Independence Township said Rock knows teachers by name.
"His emails and tweets keep us going when we feel we have nothing left to give," Moore said. "Dr. Rock is leading us and preparing us so students can be successful, not only in class but in life. I hope you can see by the turn out how much we respect and support Dr. Rock."
Carol Barber of Independence Township said Rock sent a letter to her son in his first year of college.
"Dr. Rock has brought an exciting culture of learning and exploring to students and teachers," Barber said.
Kathy Noble, Bailey Lake Elementary, said Dr. Rock asked them not to attend the meeting.
"What does this tell you," Noble asked. "If you've already done a review, why do you need another one? It's clear there's not a consensus on the board. You're not operating together, you each have own little agenda, not working as a board – let's focus on the kids."
Mike Olsen, teacher at CHS, said the superintendent inspires teachers every day, and not just in Clarkston.
"He inspires teachers in other districts too," Olsen said. "They love his encouraging inspiring words – he inspires us. We'd do anything for this man."
The annual superintendent evaluation is legally required, and results are used in the superintendent contract process. Also, changes in state law meant they had to change evaluation criteria. The new laws focus on measurable student growth, progress towards School Improvement Plans, attendance and graduation rates, and surveys of parents, residents, and other stakeholders, Lieblang said.
To comply, the board used MASB tools as well as a consultant, who was an ex-superintendent, she said.
"There were some questions from board members and Dr. Rock himself, as to whether or not we would review the superintendent's contract prior to June," the board president said.
Based on consultant recommendations, she informed board members and the superintendent the contract would be addressed in June.
"The consultant specifically stated that we wouldn't want to make changes to the superintendent position in the middle of the school year, so the contract timing should stay in the June timeframe," Lieblang said. "I was surprised that at the last board meeting, there were still some questions on the timing of the superintendent contract."
Trustee Cheryl McGinnis remembers differently.
"I never agreed with changing the timing," McGinnis said at Monday's meeting.
Board Secretary Craig Hamilton, who voted against bringing the contract up at next meeting, favors another full evaluation in June to get back to a normal schedule.
"I like the summer better – it seems there'd be more time available, not in middle of school year," Hamilton said.
Rock said he isn't interested in another full evaluation in June, and is seeking independent legal advice on the matter.
"I wouldn't evaluate someone twice in one year," he said.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.