Clegg: Relations with board were damaged
Superintendent announces retirement after current school year
School District 191 Superintendent Randy Clegg announced Sept. 17 he’ll serve out the school year and retire, saying he thinks the School Board is “looking for a different style of leadership.”
Clegg, 56, said he’ll leave the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district – and probably education – next June 30, when his three-year contract expires.
His announcement comes after a turbulent period in which the district faced public outrage over the $255,000 buyout of former district administrator Tania Chance, and the board subsequently downgraded Clegg’s performance in his latest job review.
Yet board officials – and Clegg – say they’re pleased with reforms he’s made over four years in a district whose rapidly changing demographics have added urgency to narrowing race- and income-based achievement gaps.
“He brought a laser-like focus to these four questions: What do you want students to learn, how are you going to teach it, how are you going to know if they learned it, and if they didn’t, what are you going to do about it?” board Chair Ron Hill said. “That was critical to the kids that we have in this school district.”
Board Vice Chair Sandy Sweep praised Clegg’s educational expertise and his work on aligning district curriculum.
“I am confident in the direction the district is headed and the changes that have been made under his leadership,” she said. “It’s just time for us to start a new year and keep all of that going.”
Earlier this month the board said Clegg didn’t meet three of seven standards on his job review. He’d met all standards in three previous annual reviews. Board members haven’t elaborated, saying job evaluations are protected by state data privacy law.
“It’s the life of the superintendency,” Clegg said in an interview Monday, adding that board members have voiced approval of his revamped curriculum-management and budgeting systems and the magnet schools that opened under his guidance.
“I think they’re looking for a different style of leadership,” he said. Specifically, “I think they’d like a warmer style of leadership, maybe not so direct.” Direct with whom? Clegg was asked. “They’d probably say everybody.”
After 35 years in public education and five superintendencies – four of them in Iowa, the last in Clinton – Clegg said he hasn’t asked the board to consider a new contract past next June 30.
“I came here with the idea thinking that I was going to see these projects through,” he said, adding that another contract period “would have been helpful,” but “things change.”
Clegg said he has “no doubt at all” that the outcry from taxpayers and teachers over the Tania Chance buyout soured the board’s relationship with him.
“Not uniformly,” Clegg added. “Each board member shared their thoughts and feelings, and some would share that feeling.”
He defended the board-approved buyout with the district’s controversial former executive director of human resources, whom the board hired under Clegg’s watch. A separation agreement allowed Chance to resign on Feb. 1 with a payment of $255,000 and 18 months left on her two-year contract.
The agreement revealed that Chance agreed to drop charges against the district she had pending with the state Department of Human Rights, and to drop a complaint about Clegg she made to the Minnesota Board of School Administrators. No other details are public.
A separation agreement “is a pretty common practice” in public education and one District 191 has used in the past, said Clegg, whose annual salary is $180,000.
“There are sometimes employees that aren’t working out well, they need to move on, and this is a way to facilitate that process as opposed to going through a formal termination process, which can get very messy and oftentimes can be very expensive,” he said.
Furor over the buyout surfaced in the spring and is resurfacing this election season.
Some 200 residents and teachers packed a board listening session on March 1, objecting to the payout and the lack of detail the district offered. The district had blacked out lines in the agreement referring to the charges and complaint. In April, the state Department of Administration said the district had erred in redacting the information. The district then released it.
Recent Star Tribune interviews with some of the challengers in the November School Board race indicate that at least two – Tom McCasey and Mark Traikoff – want Clegg out, and at least two others – Steve Dove and Seema Pothini – are unhappy with the district’s handling of the Chance episode.
Incumbents Hill, Sweep and DeeDee Currier are seeking re-election to four-year terms in the 10-way race for four seats. Appointee Robert VandenBoom is seeking election to a two-year term.
Only Hill and Dan Luth remain from the 2008 board that hired Clegg.
Superintendents always hope the board that hired them “is going to be there throughout the long haul,” Hill said. “Rarely does it work out that way.”
Under Clegg, the district has opened magnet schools, reinstated free, all-day kindergarten (this school year) and updated 17 school buildings, among other projects.
The district now has a budget broken down by program area and more transparent than the old line-item budgets, Clegg said.
Under Clegg, the district designed a system of managing curriculum that he said is crucial to improving learning and a vast improvement over the old system.
“There really was not a district-defined curriculum when I came here,” he said. “What they were defining as curriculum was textbook adoptions. That’s not the same. A textbook is a resource. It’s not the curriculum.”
Hill credits Clegg with insisting that the district move toward “equity” and uniformity in classroom content across grade levels and schools.
The district has now developed K-12 content sequences in language arts, math and science, Clegg said.
“We’re starting to work on social studies,” he added. “The goal is to eventually have it for every single area of instruction in the district, including the arts, physical education and music.”
A “clear, viable curriculum” is “absolutely essential to closing the achievement gap,” he said.
He pointed to Edward Neill Elementary, now labeled by the state as a “Celebration School” for making progress toward closing the achievement gap. Last year, the school didn’t make Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind system that’s been waived in Minnesota.
“We’ll get there,” Clegg said, noting that about 47 percent of district students qualify for free or subsidized school meals. “It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow, slow process.”
He’s expanded the traditional superintendent’s executive cabinet from six members to 12, now calling it a leadership team charged with charting the district’s “strategic road map” developed on his watch.
One of the members is Bob Nystrom, president of the teachers union, the Burnsville Education Association.
“I would say we’ve seen an improvement in labor relations over the last six months,” Nystrom said. That period included settlement of a teachers contract – which was wrapped up without Chance, the district’s former lead negotiator, at the table – and reinstatement of an incentive-pay plan teachers had suspended last year.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Nystrom said.
Clegg said it’s unlikely he’ll work again in education after leaving 191.
“I’m absolutely committed to the idea of public education,” said Clegg, who lives in Savage with his wife, Linda. “There does reach a point when you just get exhausted. How much longer can I keep working 80-hour weeks? My wife is really looking forward to having a normal relationship. I mean, she’s the superintendent widow.”