I wrote this column for the Katy Citizen Watchdog$ site after a committee was convened to give input to the School Board regarding the hiring of a replacement for Superintendent Leonard Merrell, who had resigned.
In retrospect, I was pretty much accurate with regard to my predictions.
WHAT WE CAN EXPECT FROM BOB THOMPSON
By Mary McGarr
March 12, 2007
After not much apparent thought, the Katy ISD school board dumped the odds-on-headhunter-favorite, Bracewell and Giuliani (represented by erstwhile former Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Moses) and selected instead Bob Thompson and Associates as their superintendent headhunter in a 6 to 1 vote. (Trustee and Katy Watchdog$ member Tom Law had favored the Ray and Associates firm from Iowa hoping to secure a broader field of candidates for the position.)
In my opinion, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between any of the three firms considered, but the Board goes through the process for appearance’s sake every time they get ready to hire a new superintendent.
At the Work Study session on February 21 Thompson engaged the Board regarding timelines and dates by which the Board needed to make decisions regarding the superintendent‘s selection. Those of us sitting in the audience were amused that without saying so, the Board was trying very hard to get Dr. Thompson to realize that they NEEDED to get a superintendent picked and in place, not so much to humor the outgoing superintendent who very much wanted to have a hand in his replacement’s selection, but in order to get the vote out of the way before possibly two new board members get elected. The possibility of having a superintendent chosen by a 4 to 3 vote upsets the incumbents greatly!
Although the Board didn’t get their message across during that meeting, by the time the citizen committee met on March 5, the time line had been set so that the Board could vote just in the nick of time and achieve their consensus goal. Those who had been paying attention noted that the current superintendent resigned in January, and they were wondering why the Board President didn’t start the search sooner to avoid such embarrassment?
As a side note, the KISD Board in an effort to disenfranchise any newly elected board member as long as possible, holds the first regular meeting of the board following the election in toto before seating the newly elected candidate(s). Although the State, at the behest of school superintendents I’m sure, has made this a legal practice, it clearly violates the spirit of the matter, in my opinion, and makes school boards look obsessed with power and unwilling to give up any of it until the last possible moment. School board members need to be sworn in and take office on the same day they are elected. [Of note is the fact that in 2014, when the Board members successfully had garnered some candidates to their liking and were getting rid of some they didn’t, they managed to swear them in as soon as they could and BEFORE the May regular meeting. Ah power!
The Board was also told by Dr. Thompson to set up committees of teachers, administrators and citizens. Each board member got three picks for the Citizen Committee. (The Watchdog$ on the committee, thanks to Trustee Tom Law, were A. D. Muller, Kevin Tatum and Mary McGarr.)
Although the school district should have issued a press release naming the committee members for each committee, I have not seen such a release.
The Citizen Committee members’ names that I wrote down in haste (and please offer corrections where needed) were Kathy Miesner a volunteer, Elaine Austin, an Insurance agent, Stan Stanley, a sign salesman, Ann Hodge, head of the Katy Chamber of Commerce, Steve (and I didn’t catch his last name but he used to be a principal at Cinco Ranch High School and is now a real estate agent [that would be Steve Reichardt],) Neal Howard, an Exxon employee and a former candidate for the Katy school board [who was eventually elected but then shunned because he had a mind of his own–he went to Rice, not Podunk U.] , Eddie Dugger, a volunteer and Judy Snyder’s campaign manager, Lisa Connolly who works for BMC Software, Cindy Beyer, volunteer and KIDS activist, Lucinda Herrin, president of the Taylor High School TPA and also a comptroller, Mary McGarr, a former teacher, KISD school board member, volunteer, and current member of the Katy Citizen Watchdogs, Cormac Creavan, an attorney, Mona Covington who is in sales at Wachovia, Jeff Cook, a Texas Ranger, Jack Moller who works part time at the University of Houston, Kay Pontius, volunteer, and a staff member of Absolutely Magazine, Kevin Tatum who works in the crude oil sector for Texon and is a member of the Katy Citizen Watchdogs, Robert Garza, a psychiatrist at Baylor Medical School, A. D. Muller, in sales to the oil industry, a political consultant and current member of the Katy Citizen Watchdogs, Jeff Work, former KISD school board candidate, an attorney, and a Harris County Judge, Dale Flowers, associated with the Memorial Hermann Hospital system and a member of the Bond Review Committee, and Harry Herzog, an attorney and KIDS member.
The meeting of this group of citizens proceeded under the direction of Dr. Thompson. Dr. Thompson is an affable fellow, and it is obvious why he appeals to school board members. However, he is very calculating, in my opinion, and knows exactly how to get what he wants. To pick him once, as the school board did in 1994 to assist in the hiring of a superintendent is one thing, but to bring him back when there are 17,000 people who turned out in opposition just three months ago to our school district’s leadership which has been led by the very person Dr. Thompson brought us in 1995 is pretty stunning.
If one understands TQM manipulation of groups, one realized at this committee meeting that we were all party to a consensus building exercise of the simplest order. The process is a quick way to get to the heart of a matter, and as long as one understands what is transpiring, I suppose it’s as good a method as any. Dr. Thompson asked us to first create a list of “Hallmarks of the District.” Before that was finished, we jumped to “Issues Facing the District Both Now and in the Future,” and then further confusing the process we jumped to “What We Are Looking for in a Superintendent.”
We all had fun making a list of our most desirable superintendent traits, voted on the fourteen we individually liked best, and Dr. Thompson stated that he would be giving those requirements receiving at least fifteen votes each to the Board. [No one that I know of ever saw them again.]
Those ideas picked as requirements for a future superintendent included having a vision, being knowledgeable about growth matters especially when growth exceeds the financial base, concern with diversity, able to build coalitions and be a good communicator, able to understand business and tax matters, able to appreciate the importance of academics, and have integrity. Left out was one of my personal favorites–being a real part of the Katy community and always living in the District.
Dr. Thompson assured the group that he would be bringing the Board some out of state candidates, some female candidates and a few minority candidates.
About the only Thompson statement I wholeheartedly supported all evening was his explanation that the decision to select the superintendent belongs to the Board members as they are the elected officials of a representative form of government. Sometimes people forget that, and I thought him wise to point that out. [And never mind that the School Board was abdicating their authority by letting committees have some say in who was chosen!]
He also pointed out that he probably would not bring a candidate who was from a district like KISD as such a person would not want to move horizontally. (That’s as good an excuse as any, I guess!) I had suggested that he look for someone from a district similar to Katy, as Leonard Merrell when Thompson brought him here in 1994, was from a district (Texas City) totally unlike Katy having an enrollment of 6,105 while KISD had an enrollment of 23,000; Texas City had TAAS scores of passing for 53% of its students when Katy had a 72% passing rate; Texas City had a mean score on SAT tests of 802 while Katy had a 935 score; Texas City had 373 teachers while Katy had 1,252 teachers. Texas City was in decline, had no growth, and as a superintendent Leonard Merrell, in my opinion, had not done much for improving the academics of the students for whom he was responsible. Merrell’s salary at the time was $89,250. Katy was offering $115,000 to $140,000. Merrell was hired at $115,000. His last reported salary was $241,049 in March 2006.
[In retrospect, I can see that Mr. Thompson already had Katy’s next superintendent picked and on the way! I’ll give him credit for giving us all fair warning! Of course he wasted my time with an unnecessary committee (another one), but then I knew that when I attended the meeting! The point is that there is nothing clear or honest about the way we get our superintendents. Believing as I do on May 29, 2011 that we aren’t too far from hiring yet another headhunter, I hope the public will demand that a cleaner process be used the next time. The Board needs to look for a new superintendent on their own. They don’t need a headhunter who can’t even write up the brochure to look for one. Surely one of our board members is smart enough to do that [or maybe not!]. They don’t need a headhunter who is so tied to the education establishment that he cannot see the overhead projectors for the assistant superintendents. They don’t need a headhunter who comes with a stable full of loser administrators that are looking for greener pastures. They don’t need a headhunter who teaches his proteges to beware of “helicopter” board members telling them to give board members busy work so they won’t bother the superintendent. They need to look for someone who has run some other kind of business or government office. Former agriculture teachers or track coaches or reading teachers are not qualified to run a multi-million dollar enterprise. We shouldn’t expect them to be able to do that. We are setting ourselves up for disappointment and failure when that is whom we hire!]
Dr. Thompson at the Work Study session had mentioned the brochure that he creates to solicit candidates. In 1994, he submitted his proofed flyer, and as a Board member, I was very upset at the way he portrayed the Katy community thinking it would not engage the right kind of people to want to be superintendent candidates. Just for example, the first paragraph stated that “THE COMMUNITY” was…located on the western edge of Houston, and had historically been known as a center for rice farming and natural gas production. One of the largest natural gas producing fields in the United States is here [it was no longer “producing“] and, as one would guess, seven of the top ten taxpayers are petroleum based companies. Continuing he said, “Its small town atmosphere, proximity to Houston, and its highly regarded school system have made Katy the community of choice for many people. With growth came business and industry that have broadened the tax base for both the city and the district. …”There are five golf courses nearby, and professional baseball, football, and basketball games are about 45 minutes away in Houston. Waterfowl and dove hunting are excellent, and it is only about an hour to deep sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and to bass fishing in several fresh water lakes.
That’s just a sampling of the tone of the brochure. Either Dr. Thompson wasn’t really looking for an academically inclined candidate or he already knew who was coming!
I rewrote his brochure (for free) with the help of a couple of other board members. So the document that Dr. Thompson claims he wrote is actually a re-write by the Board. The new version became… “Located in the Houston metropolitan area, the Katy school district covers 181 square miles and serves a varied populace. The town of Katy, formerly the center of a rice growing area, has become part of a larger suburban area of new homes, schools, and businesses. Although retaining its unique identity, the City of Katy continues to progress with the times, offering innovative activities and services to the larger community. The Greater Katy Area is attaining the status of a growing residential and commercial complex, which includes the high tech energy corridor of the west Houston Metro area, and the school district adapts to serve the needs of its residents.” The rest of the brochure was re-written in the same tone and presented our Katy community in a more realistic and favorable manner.
So the man can’t write brochures, you say. What else?
Well, Dr. Thompson runs one of several Texas superintendent academies. One can look for one’s self at http://dept.lamar.edu/leadership/FacultyStaff/Thompson/thompson.htm and then click on “Superintendent’s Academy” at the bottom of the page. There are lots of colored pictures showing Dr. Thompson at work with the superintendents who had paid the fee to be trained in how to move up in the world. One may view these at http://dept.lamar.edu/superintendent/Lamar%20University%20Center%20For%20Excutive%20Leadership/SuptXIVSession1.html
(To view pictures of this year’s class, click on the first URL above, then on “Superintendent’s Academy” at the left and then on “Current Year Yearbook” and then wait for it to load.)
In one of the pictures from the second URL there is a white board behind Dr. Thompson, and these words appear: (and I must assume that these statements were part of the lessons being given to his superintendent candidate hopefuls)
Go to Peyton Wolcott’s story (about a fourth of the way from the top in the middle) to see the picture and her accounting.http://www.peytonwolcott.com/Commentary031407-041507.html as I think Dr. Thompson has removed the pictures.
What it says on the white board:
1. Helicopter Board Members
Load up with work
Ask for Help from Board President
Written operating procedures (followed)
2. Open records
3. Out of control parents
4. Partnering with Home School Parents
By way of explanation, someone referred to as a “helicopter” anything means someone who “hovers,” so the implication is that Board members who encroach on the superintendent’s space by paying too much attention to what he is doing, need to be put in their place by loading them up with useless work, having the Board president intervene to keep them out of the superintendent’s business (and remember that the Board president should not be telling a fellow board member what to do as they have equal power), and making sure that they adhere to all Board Policy guidelines. (And just so you know, the Board Policy at this point in time has been reworked by the TASA and the TASB beyond recognition of what it was just a few years ago to stifle Board members at every turn. You as a taxpayer paid some NGO lobbyist for that favor!)
Then the other three subjects, open records, out of control parents and home schooling parents are perhaps at the top of the list of things that get in the way of a superintendent’s running rough shod over the school district. Would have loved to have heard that discussion!
[Since this article was written, Bob Thompson’s web site that is referenced here has deleted the pictures, curtailed the comments, and a note that the “web site is under construction now appears!]
So who will Bob Thompson bring us? Well, you can bet it will be someone who’s been through his academy and knows about “helicopter” board members and “out of control parents.” The selection will be a male superintendent from another Texas school district who knows the routines, who has been active in TASA, who is adequate in his appearance but whose wife may not yet know how to set the table (forks on the left, spoons and knife on the right with the blade turned toward the plate…), and who is looking for greener pastures. No consideration will be given to the academics of his former district by our Board because none of the non-Watchdogs care about such things. No consideration will be given to the candidate’s college academic record or his later educational studies. The man will have three education degrees from a Texas college and probably from the same college. He will have one or two children for whom we’ll get to build a (fill in the blank) facility where they can exhibit their talents so as to enhance their chances of getting into their college of choice with a “scholarship.” The politics of the candidate will not reflect those of the KISD community majority, and he will be a one-worlder, an environmentalist/sustainable development supporter, and probably a futurist to boot. He will be right in tune with our current curriculum mess and will think it’s wonderful. He will continue opposing phonics as the method for teaching reading, he will give short shrift to Hispanics, Special Education, and the Vocational program, and he will continue the support of the worthless Standards perpetuated by the NCTM and other like minded subject matter groups. He will continue the emphasis on assessment over cognitive instruction.
Why do I think that such is so? That’s what Thompson brought us the last time, and there’s no indication that he’s changed.
Additionally if you read Dr. Thompson’s resume on his web site, he states that he was the “Chairman of the Texas Education Agency Reorganization Committee” which sounds nice unless you know what that was.
Skip Meno, who was the New Yorker brought in by Democrat Governor Ann Richards, moved Texas toward Outcome Based Education and the dumping of a traditional academic liberal arts education for our children. Since Dr. Thompson was also an education professor in New York at the same time Skip Meno lived there, we could assume that they were friends previous to the Texas state committee.
Meno’s committee (in the early 1990’s) was designed to bring School to Work to Texas. Of course School to Work was not mentioned publicly until 1997, but that was clearly the committee’s purpose. As I have explained elsewhere, School to Work is the restructuring/dumbing down mechanism that was put in place without discussion or the approval of the public. The fact that Thompson chaired the committee tells us his political perspective on dumbing down our children.
Dr. Thompson’s mission after the committee’s work was finished was to place superintendents at key Texas school districts for the purpose of implementing School to Work, thus his side bar work as a superintendent recruiter. He announced the other night that he had placed at least 100 of them. I would say he’s pretty successful at what he does. It’s just that I don’t think what he does is in the interests of taxpayers and their innocent children.
[And by the way, in my prediction about who would be our next superintendent, I was correct about almost everything except that he would have three college degrees. He [Frailey] only has two!]