By David Fleet
Goodrich– Clear feedback around their performance.
That’s how Michelle Imbrunone district superintendent describes her actions toward employee evaluations.
For the second consecutive school board monthly meeting, on Monday night parents, teachers and former district employees packed the room tossing rigorous, often emotional, criticism of Imbrunone, claiming her style of leadership was intimidating.
“When individuals are not following policy or engaging in a constructive fashion, they have the right and the district has the duty, to inform the employee where the problems or concerns are, and how change can occur,” wrote Imbrunone in a statement following the meeting. This occurs through a process that is fair and constructive. Without this type of feedback, we become stagnant and lose sight of the larger strategic direction. As part of the process, I am annually evaluated and have regular conferences with the board, and the board is beginning that process tonight.”
Imbrunone was hired in June 2014 as district superintendent following the retirement of Scott Bogner after just two years. Imbrunone had been assistant principal at Avondale High School since 2009, prior to being named high school principal in 2012. Her contract is set to expire June 2017.
In December 2014 the yearly superintendent evaluation was distributed to board members. The comprehensive 53 question evaluation asked respondents to rate the superintendent either highly effective, minimally effective or ineffective with regard to her work. Overall, board members said Imbrunone was highly effective or effective with regard to the first six months in the district when the results were returned in 2015.
Imbrunone said she requested the evaluation after just six months and welcomed the opportunity to meet with the board regarding her work. “This opportunity was very collaborative and a great way to check in with the board. Typically the superintendent evaluation was done in April; however, she asked for it early to provide an opportunity to make adjustments if necessary prior to the end of the school year.”
Despite the passing grades for Imbrunone in early 2015, the sentiments have changed for some staff.
Kevin Ayre, teacher at high school for the past 12 years, drew a standing ovation from most of the crowd calling the district’s theme “survival.”
“We are a fractured union,” said Ayre. “We are a fractured district as a result of a lot of the admin changes that you’ve seen at the building levels and central office. We feel unprotected at the high school. We don’t have 100 teachers, but we have the majority of the staff here for the high school. We are not as concerned with the evaluation tool. We’ve seen enough (tools) come and go. We understand how it works, there are a lot of good things about this tool. It’s too easy of a route to say they (staff) are upset about the evaluation tool.”
“I can speak also for the interrogative style meetings,” added Ayre. “I have sat in more meetings in the last two years than I have in the last six as a building representative, many of which are at 2 o’clock on a Friday, many of which don’t always result in a reprimand or a formal write up but are almost always with a note pad and a series of questions and a desk in between you and a feeling of fear. Teachers crying because they have been called down and have no idea of what the meeting is about. That is what we have. If that is what is supposed to be done at a school district then I don’t want to be here.”
“I echo the sentiments of the board coming out and talking to us,” he said. “This did not have to happen this way. I don’t have to stand here and be afraid to say the things I say, we don’t have to stand behind parents anonymous no more. And you can help us with that. That’s all we want, we are a solid staff. You brought up change. Change is necessary. I’m a firm believer if you are not trying to get better then your going in the other direction. But you need trust to build motivation and without that we don’t have change, we don’t have positive change.”
In 2014 Imbrunone distributed about 60 evaluation surveys to individuals including staff and other school personnel that had interaction with her over her first six months. Imbrunone said the results, which were also provided to the school board, were very supportive and looked for the superintendent to be part of the community, along with continued focus on students and their needs.
David Cramer, district school board president, responded to the teachers’ and parents’ concerns.
“Many, if not all, of us reached out to staff and the community had conversations. We value input from stakeholders in the community that helps reach achievement for all learners, that is why on the agenda tonight we are going into closed session at the end of the meeting to discuss all issues– good, bad, or indifferent– that’s what every professional wants and move forward from there. Education these days is a tough job. Teachers are getting pounded by the media, we are trying to manage our expenses and our funding, and keep the funding in the classroom. We’ll continue to guide this district.”
There were no comments from the board following the closed session meeting that did not include Imbrunone.
Despite the efforts from the board to calm the storm, district parents Kim Gray and Kelly Vohs called out the school board following the cascade of criticism that has dominated the normally placid meetings.
“After the last board meeting we have discovered that Michelle is not the only problem here—she has had carte blanche,” said Gray. “You have allowed her to replace employees with her friends and former co-workers taking central office from four to seven, all who are from Avondale or friends of hers. Some refer to Goodrich as Avondale north.”
“We have been through three superintendents and 26 employees have left this district since this board has been in place,” she said. “You have allowed her to intimidate and bully the district staff. There’s this 2 p.m. witching time—it seems that’s punishment time. The teachers are given a letter or note to see Mrs. Imbrunone and they know— ‘Oh what did I do wrong today?’ And it’s silly stuff. Teachers should not be walking on eggshells, I’ve said this before it’s ridiculous. It makes me sick.”
“It’s clear we not only need a new superintendent but a new board as well,” she said. “We are preparing to do a recall process on four of five of the board members. We have been speaking out to you and you have not been listening. Maybe it’s a lack of knowledge, skill or pure laziness, I can’t figure it out, but the issues have been here for three years. Even though you state you have been unaware you are very aware and chose to do nothing and now our district is in a state of despair.”