When is average OK?

The Lake County School Board will consider renewing Superintendent Susan Moxley’s contract Tuesday in a vote intended to bring stability to a position that has been rocked by controversy over the last year. Early this year, an outside review found that many schools were violating the state’s laws governing maximum class sizes. In a confidential survey conducted by a consultant, 136 teachers reported being asked to sign documentation about their class sizes that they knew to be inaccurate, ostensibly to keep the school district out of trouble with the state Department of Education. Some of those teachers and principals suggested it was pretty clear that district administrators knew what they were doing. They said the word that came down from the district level regarding class sizes was to just make the numbers work somehow. There have also been complaints from schools that teachers are intimidated by district officials and are afraid to raise concerns about legitimate problems because they fear reprisals. And then when the school grades came out from the state this summer, Lake had a handful of failing schools and an overall C grade, which caused a minor uproar in the community. Yet it seems the board on Tuesday is poised to renew Moxley’s contract. Three board members have been long-time supporters of the superintendent and don’t appear inclined to change their votes now, while the two newly elected members have expressed strong concerns about Moxley’s leadership. In the face of all this, the board gave the superintendent an overall average rating on her performance evaluation. It’s a mixed message. How can the board be outraged over an “average” school district and tacitly accept an “average” superintendent? Now, days before the vote, the class-size controversy is back to bite Moxley and the board again. The Florida Department of Education released figures last week showing that Lake has 361 classes with more students than allowed by the state. Only Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Indian River, Putnam and Columbia counties have more oversized classrooms than Lake. Make no mistake, we are in this predicament because the school district has consciously ignored the class-size mandate instead of working on strategies for adapting to it like almost every other county in Florida. And, now, the effort to get back under the cap is likely to be expensive. The buck stops with Moxley and the School Board. The board cannot continue to express dissatisfaction with the performance of its schools while simultaneously giving its blessing to the administration responsible for that performance. If the board is inclined to renew Moxley’s contract this week, it should also provide her clear expectations for success and benchmarks for getting there.



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