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Several reforms discussed briefly



September 16, 2009


To the Sherwood School District Board of Directors:

Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to speak about the recent loss of a valued district employee.

Before saying more about the particulars of my subject, I want to identify myself and explain my interest and the reason I am speaking out on this subject. I am Carl Reynolds and I live in Sherwood with my wife, June Reynolds, who is the high school librarian. My daughter Crystal went to Sherwood high and graduated in 2004, having gained what we feel was an excellent high school level education there. She is doing well in college.

I don't know the former district employee, Brady Gage, very well. He and I have only spoken briefly in the past, mostly to gather facts for this report. I am a political blogger and I generally defend increased public services. I believe that four decades of privatization and outsourcing in America have damaged the balance between the public and private sectors. It is from this perspective that I am particularly disappointed when I witness poor performance by public sector decision makers.

I am here tonight to talk about the unfortunate personnel decision by the district administration to involuntarily transfer Brady Gage from his job as high school library aide to a position at the middle school - a decision that resulted in his resignation. Brady worked at the high school for 12 years. For the last eight years he was assistant to June Reynolds, who became librarian in 2000. During the first year of this combination these two developed into a well-coordinated team. The numbers for students and staff use of the library from 2000-01 through 2008-09 show a phenomenal increase in productivity.

In 2000-01 the high school had 777 students and 42 teachers and instructional aides. During that year only 6873 students used the library according to the official sign-in sheets. By 2002-03, with the addition of a second computer lab, student library use during the school day (not counting those using the library during the 1-2 hours before and after school that the library is open) had gone up to 63,102 visits, a nearly 10-fold increase!. Over the next seven years increases kept coming: the school grew to 1,156 students, up 62% ; the staff increased 58%,to72, and by the end of 2008-09, library use had reached 333,375 student visits, as recorded by the foot-and-a-half-tall stack of full page sign-in sheets. Many students visited the library three and four times a day. Teachers had become accustomed to the smooth-functioning library and readily scheduled class lessons for the labs and media presentations by Mrs. Reynolds. This increase in library productivity was made possible by the efficiency of the teamwork of Brady and June Reynolds.

Brady handled the computer lab work and with his technical skills could troubleshoot the password and website problems that came up hourly. His knowledge of the expectations of the teachers who sent and brought students to the lab freed up Mrs. Reynolds to do the real work of the professional school librarian: teaching students about the many aspects of media methods and research skills. A good librarian is a good teacher, and it is this work that makes the library a classroom.

In June of last year, when the news of Brady's transfer came down, both he and Mrs. Reynolds attempted repeatedly to communicate to the administration that this change was a mistake. Brady consulted with the middle school principal who told him the job there was merely to check out books and did not nearly require his expertise as a media trouble shooter. Brady passed a petition among the high school staff calling for his retention at the high school. 48 signed and it was submitted to the administration. Over the summer, Brady and June met with Superintendent Jamison to urge him to reverse the transfer order. The reason for the transfer was described as a promotion for a valued employee and included more hours for Brady. He declined the offer. Other assignments, various ornaments, were added to make the job description more attractive. But Brady saw it otherwise and made it clear that he would quit the district rather than do nothing in the face of the disruption of the high school library team. Nothing worked. Once made, the district's decision was unchangeable.

I doubt whether the administrators who decided to transfer Brady Gage had any idea they were damaging such a successful system. This example cannot help sending a discouraging message to the high school staff that successful programs may go unrecognized and be discarded.

So now Brady Gage is gone. His expertise is wasted. The team is destroyed. The students and staff are deprived of Brady's help and Mrs. Reynolds' availability to teach is significantly reduced. I, as a supporter of public services and as a taxpayer who has many times campaigned for school bond levies, am offended and embarrassed.

I only hope that by bringing this information to the Board's attention I can at least help make this a "teachable moment" - to the end of encouraging some change in the current top-down, authoritarian style of management, a style that did not permit careful gathering of information and consultation with the people involved before the transfer decision was made, and which did not permit a reversal of the decision once the errors were made known.