‘Trust must be embodied and lived’

Published 6:34 pm Saturday, April 1, 2017

To the editor:

The current crisis in Suffolk Public Schools is not simply due to the public revelation of Dr. Whitney’s 13-percent raise and his $20,000-plus car allowance. The problems have been brewing for some time with all employees of the Suffolk Public Schools.

It is a crisis of integrity that is similar to a cancer that insidiously invades and destroys healthy human tissue. Integrity is gauged by who people are, by what they do and don’t do, not by what they say.
The current disruption in the schools finds its roots in an ongoing betrayal of confidence that school employees have experienced by a non-responsive School Board and a superintendent and his administrators at the downtown school office.

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The superintendent’s retroactive raise, and car allowance are simply the proverbial straws that broke the camel’s back.
The Suffolk New-Herald has quoted teachers addressing the School Board: “When is enough going to be enough?” (Dec. 11, 2014); “Teachers are frustrated that their voices are not being heard. There is a big disconnect from our School Board to our directors, to our specialists, and on down the ladder” (Oct. 10, 2014).

These teachers ended their pleas to the School Board with a warning of teachers’ exits from SPS. Four years later, the consistent refrain remains: “They don’t listen to us. They never have. Nothing changes.”

Has the School Board ever really probed for an answer to why some of the best, most creative and most effective teachers have left SPS?
Yesterday Dr. Whitney wasn’t listening when he called a meeting for the bus drivers, but didn’t show up. His non-show communicates nothing but disrespect.
Dr. Whitney tells teachers he wants to meet with them in various groups but then decides that he will send a “representative” to “hear their concerns,” since “we are in this together.”

Why is this? A refusal to meet directly with bus drivers or teachers speaks volumes. Trust is broken, and leadership ability is undermined.
Secrecy does not engender trust in leadership. As a resident of Suffolk, I distrust how funds are being managed. Secret financial meetings, secret raises, secret allocations of large amounts of money and closed meetings all breed distrust of administrative leadership.

Suffolk schools are public schools, entrusted with public monies. Any citizen contributing taxes to the public schools should be able to see the amounts that are budgeted for each school and exactly how these funds are distributed at each school with clear, line-item accounts.

Being shown pie-charts of generalized funding reveals little and does not allow for true accountability. Yearly funds given to each school should be transparent, clear, and precise.

It is time for the Suffolk School Board and downtown administrators to change and become accountable to their stockholders.
Leadership literature reveals that integrity and trust must belong to an ethos of any sort of organization or business. When trust is betrayed, the very fabric of an organization frays and breaks apart. Unless remedied, it leads to destruction at so many levels.

Educational literature also reveals that a lack of trust in the integrity of a school board or administration directly affects the low morale of all employees, including teachers.

Low morale that seems pervasive among all public school employees directly affects operational management at each school, and teaching effectiveness is minimized.
The School Board, the superintendent, his staff and other administrators need to engage in genuine soul-searching, for this cancer of distrust cannot be treated until it is dealt with at its very core.

If treated properly and honestly, perhaps trust and honest communication will result, but this will certainly necessitate some conscious choices and some time.

Trust can quickly be lost, and when trust is breached, it cannot easily and immediately be restored. Trust cannot be bought. It must be embodied and lived.

J. Lyle Story