Kriste Crocker has spent 13 years as principal at William Lynch Elementary. Her daughter Alexis was chosen to serve as a Vickery Intern at The Salem News and did a great job. I have a granddaughter, Eavie, going to school there now who thinks “Mrs. Crocker” is the greatest.
Every time I have had dealings with Crocker she has been helpful and professional, with a good sense of humor, and her list of accomplishments and innovative programs at the school are lengthy.
One of the great things about small towns is everybody knows everybody, and our lives are often intertwined in personal and professional ways.
I have no idea if Kriste Crocker is a good administrator or handles her staff professionally and fairly, but I was surprised Feb. 20 when the Salem R-80 Board of Education voted 5-2 not to renew her contract. Maybe superintendent John McColloch was surprised, too, since he recommended moments before the vote that Crocker’s contract be renewed.
There is nothing complicated about the board’s decision not to renew her contract. These sort of things happen every day across Missouri, most often at the recommendation of the superintendent. Maybe the board found good reason to overrule McColloch and force him to find another position in the district for Crocker, one of the district’s tenured employees.
I don’t have a big problem with the board being tight-lipped about why they did it, though I lean toward transparency. Yes, some people are upset and curious about the board letting her go without saying publicly why they did it. Rumors are rampant. But if the board released a laundry list of reasons, people would be upset that a woman so well liked and respected in our small, tight-knit community was publicly humiliated. Transparent or mum, pick your poison.
But there is more to the story; more about a process that seems to circumvent board policy.
Salem R-80 board policy clearly states, “The superintendent shall be the Board's representative and the channel through which all directives from the Board to its employees or students shall be communicated.”
That’s clear enough, and a point of great concern that has been brought up to me by numerous individuals over the past couple weeks, some anonymously. You can find the board policy and other policies related to this situation listed on the R-80 website, the sources told me. So, I looked.
The night before McColloch made his recommendation that Crocker receive a contract, the board held a closed session meeting with seven staff members to discuss Crocker’s position, and everyone I’ve talked to about that meeting says those staff members did not speak in her favor. One person who spoke at the meeting when contacted by The Salem News had no comment and said they were told their names would not be released. We do not plan to release those names.
McColloch told The Salem News in a story published last week, “I was not in attendance at that meeting. It was board members only. I was not asked to attend, so I’m not sure who was here or what was said.”
So, the superintendent who is charged with communicating “all directives from the Board to its employees or students,” was not invited to the meeting?
Yet the very next night about 15 people attended school board meeting to support Crocker, and five of them spoke to the board in closed session. McColloch was at that Thursday meeting and made his recommendation to give Crocker a contract.
I was not privy to the pros and cons of Kriste Crocker’s administrative performance or what went on in the two closed session meetings, but McColloch should have been. To think he was in the loop on the Thursday meeting but not the Wednesday meeting defies explanation. Who called the Wednesday special session and excluded McColloch? Did those discussing Crocker’s performance ask for the meeting or were they invited by someone? Why was McColloch not invited? More to the fact, why did he get half the story?
The answers to those questions are mighty important.
Why? Because board policy also states that district employees are to “Transmit constructive criticism to the particular school administrator or supervisor who has the administrative responsibility to address the concern.”
McColloch was not at the Wednesday meeting and had nothing to do with it, so board policy was grossly ignored. If there were concerns brought forward previously and were not sufficiently addressed by McColloch and other administrators, that’s another story. But either way, McColloch should have been included in that Wednesday meeting.
The community elected a school board to set policy and be the watchdog for not only our school system, but hundreds of our children and grandchildren who walk the halls. This board has done an excellent job doing that, and we have an excellent superintendent and school system to show for it.
But there is a reason for board policy, and following it consistently and fairly isn’t an option and is in the best interests of all involved. Going forward, there are a lot of people who hope that happens.