Wednesday, June 07, 2006

End of an Era

THE Percy Clark era is mercifully drawing to a close.
The school board has had enough of the embattled superintendent and voted this week that he should hit the road, sooner rather than later.
And the same board that hired Clark five years ago amid great pomp and ceremony and even extended his contract is now moving "expeditiously" to find his replacement.
Clark, for his part, says he is willing to stay until the end of his contract in 2007. "I want to continue to do the very best for the children who are here," he said.
Noble words from a guy who earlier this year was quietly preparing to flee to Cleveland for a job with that city's school district.
Clark's tenure has been checkered since he was hired in 2001. He promised much, but delivered little.
He vowed to turn around a deteriorating district, bringing the middle class flocking back to the schools. He told board members he was ready to start a movement in Pasadena "like we have never seen before," likening it to the civil rights movement.
Instead, the district is a financial disaster. The school board has had to close four schools, lay off employees and disband the district police department.
Financial problems are not necessarily unique to Pasadena. Declining enrollment and budget uncertainty plague many districts.
But Clark dumped his Draconian cutback plan on an unprepared board and an unsuspecting community, providing dubious information on which to base the decisions.
How could such a thing happen? I'll bet the school board is asking the same question.
They need to look no farther than their own board room for the answers.
When Clark was hired, he came with baggage. He was superintendent of the Lawrence Township district in Indiana where he was highly regarded until suddenly resigning in 1996.
It turns out that Clark was suspended and then quit after board members discovered his extramarital relationship with an elementary school principal, according to news reports. Worse, he repeatedly denied the affair, losing his credibility in the district, a Lawrence board member said.
Days after resigning, Clark was taken to a hospital for an overdose of antidepressants, according to news reports.
The Pasadena school board took him anyway, apparently buying into Clark's tale that he was separated from his wife at the time, a classic the-dog-ate-my-homework explanation.
A board member explained that Clark was "forthright with us. And I'm sure that when you meet him, he'll look you in the eye and tell you the things he told us: `You make mistakes, you regret that you made them, and you move on."'
But part of moving on is admitting your mistakes, something Clark was reluctant or unwilling to do, exposing a potential character issue that is manifesting itself to this day.
The board had blinders on. They were so caught up in Clark's rhetoric, they didn't see his flaws.
One board member said that if it it wasn't for the affair, the district couldn't have landed someone with Clark's credentials.
So they gleefully accepted the tarnish on their trophy candidate.
The Cleveland school board gets it. When they learned of Clark's background in Indiana, they dropped him like a hot potato, saying "it's obviously something we couldn't live with."
In the meantime, we have a superintendent who admits to plagiarizing a sermon from a Unitarian minister and using it in a newspaper column under his byline.
We have a superintendent who starts a district band to march in the Rose Parade and then uses ringers to inflate its ranks.
We have superintendent who has angered and disappointed his subordinates and superiors alike.
We have superintendent who has left a legacy of unfulfilled promises.
We can only hope that, if Percy Clark didn't learn from his missteps, the school board will.

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