Morale tops concerns at Mt. Vernon candidate forum
Six candidates for the Mt. Vernon Township school board agree that the high school cannot continue in its current condition, with teachers unhappy and afraid to speak out, communication and transparency almost completely lacking, and a leadership that is ineffective.
The candidates gathered at a forum hosted by the Mt. Vernon Business Women's Club and the Mt. Vernon Register-News recently.
Brian Rogers, Kathy Asbery, “Butch” Elbert Staples II, Brittany Boldt, David Kassner and incumbent Carl Miller got the chance to voice their individual concerns as well as unite in their goal to set things right at the school.
Citing a pervasive atmosphere of fear, particularly at Mt. Vernon Township High School (MVTHS), the group spoke about ways to address some recent woes impacting Mt. Vernon’s educational system — some deriving from the township government and related finances; others specific to individual positions or venues.
They agreed that teachers have left the district because the morale is so low, the Register-News reported. They also discussed hiring a new, more engaged superintendent.
“I think we need to remove some obstacles here,” Rogers said.
He said they needed to talk with teachers to “get a good, true, realistic view of what's going on in their lives at the school and then make a decision based on that.” Rogers said reassigning tasks might be an option, but the most important thing was to make them happier.
“[We] need the teachers' morale to be back up,” he said.
Asbery conveyed the need for a safe, open work environment.
“Our teachers need a voice, and they need to quit sitting in the back of the room, afraid to stand up and afraid to acknowledge things that they want to see change,” she said.
Transparency proved equally important to the candidates, with Staples reminding constituents that the board ought to take the initiative for leadership rather than letting the superintendent handle power alone.
Kassner added that the public should be provided with a clear understanding of what school officials are doing, as well as the reasons behind their actions.
Miller said hiring a superintendent with closer ties to the community should be considered. He charged that current Superintendent Mike Smith not only lacks visibility and availability to staff, but also falls short in a connection to Mount Vernon, as he lives outside the district.
“I will make every effort to hire somebody who is as local as we can get,” Miller said. “You've got to have some skin in the game. … The superintendent needs to get out, needs to walk the hallways, take the principal with him and be as open as can be.”
The panel also agreed that the school still has unfinished work that needs to be completed, including athletic fields, a maintenance building, and selling or demolishing parts of the old campus.
Ground was broken for the new building at Wells Bypass and Ambassador Road in mid-2014.
Boldt said her goal was to improve all aspects of education in the city.
“I would fight for our kids," she said. "I would fight for our community, because Mt. Vernon deserves to be the absolute best.”
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