Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego has done a lot of things right in nearly two years on the job, but he still has a steep learning curve about inclusiveness, openness and public relations. His defensiveness about his decision to replace the principal and trigger a significant turnover of teachers at Dunedin Elementary School is the latest example of acting abruptly and then responding curtly when asked to explain. Grego may have made the right decision, but his impatience and lack of communication skills threaten to undermine his progressive approaches with the teachers, parents and community leaders he must enlist to be successful.
Grego's frustration with explaining his actions came through as a Tampa Bay Times reporter questioned whether the district jumped the gun earlier this year when it named Dunedin Elementary one of nine new "turnaround schools." The state-sanctioned process is aimed at jump-starting improvements in low-performing schools, usually with significant staffing changes.
Dunedin Elementary had lost much of its luster in the nine years principal Kathleen Brickley had been on the job, slowly falling all the way from an A grade to an F last year. But the school's student population also dramatically changed to include many more low-income students and nonnative English speakers. In May, Grego demoted Brickley to assistant principal at a different school, and ultimately 17 teachers at the school were not selected to return by the new principal — angering many supporters in the community.
Then last week came the state's release of school grades for 2013-14. Dunedin Elementary's jump to a C was seen as vindication to Brickley's supporters, who contend she was doing everything she needed to be doing to keep her post, including engaging the community, students and staff.
Grego told Times reporter Cara Fitzpatrick this week that his decision was based more on the school's overall trajectory and that he had higher expectations. He said he hoped Brickley would become a principal again. But as Fitzpatrick pressed for more explanation, he offered an angry retort: "The day that I have to justify every blasted move in our district. … You can take over if you like."
Grego has been in public education long enough to know that a major part of his job requires being accountable to the public, including answering inquiries about controversial decisions. He oversees a public school district, not a private corporation.
The superintendent made a "misstep" with his comment this week, said the School Board's longest-serving member, Linda Lerner. It's one Grego should learn from.