Irony with Your Leadership?

Originally published July 11, 2007

A number of upbeat posts in the edusphere have lately featured endorsements of enlightened educational leadership at all levels. My model of choice is the “servant leader” who sets a great example and puts the needs of his or her constituency well ahead of personal considerations. That’s an oversimplification, but it will do for now.

The Vernonia School District, which serves approximately 725 students K-12, has, as of today, a leadership crisis. I’m not sure they realize it, though.

According to the city’s web site, Vernonia, Oregon, population around 2,400, “is nestled in the beautiful Nehalem Valley deep in the coast range, just 45 minutes west of Portland.” The quiet school district nevertheless made national news when in 1995, the US Supreme Court upheld, 6-3, the district’s mandated drug testing program for scholastic athletes. A student who didn’t want to be tested in 1989 objected, and ultimately lost his case.

You would think it’s pretty clear in Vernonia that if the kids are expected to be drug-free that the administration would be also. But that may not be the case.

The Washington Grade School principal was recently cited at a coastal state park for a marijuana violation. His court date is August 6. However, his superintendent, and supposedly a number of board members support him remaining as principal. They feel that they can’t lose a “really good administrator.”

I don’t get it. Or maybe the supe doesn’t get “leadership.”

Decide for yourself after reading this article in today’s Oregonian.

I’m not a zero tolerance guy, buy I don’t see how Vernonia can endorse a double standard (remember that Supreme Court decision). I don’t see how the principal can maintain the respect of his students and their parents. And, finally, how can he be a leader?

It’s not my district, but I feel like I’ve been gut-punched.

UPDATE: Friday, July 13, 2007

Last Thursday night, after meeting with the Vernonia Schools Board, Superintendent Ken Cox issued a statement on the district’s web site that explains his decision to keep grade school principal Aaron Miller on the job. There will, he says, be consequences for Mr. Miller and accusations of maintaining a double standard directed at him, but he feels that he is doing the right thing for the community and the students.

Maybe I’m missing something here. In any case, good luck Aaron and Ken. I have a feeling you’re going to need it.

Posted by Repairman
Labels: leadership, road apples

Anonymous said…
I’ve known Aaron Miller since he taught my daughter 14 years ago. Not only would I trust him to be a fine example in the classroom and school, I would not and do not condemn him for his actions outside of school. Yes, pot’s illegal and alcohol isn’t. Which is worse- standing on a deserted beach and smoking a joint or sitting in a local bar downing beer after beer? Hmmmm, what a choice.
I wrote an e mail to Aaron recently telling him something I was told many years ago- if you learn something from this, it is a life lesson. And, knowing Aaron, he has learned a lot!
July 24, 2007 12:51 AM Repairman said…
Anon., I do not doubt, based on testimony I’ve read from various community members, that Mr. Miller is a fine man. As an administrator, he made a big mistake.

It is a fact that he was cited for a marijuana violation. He has yet to plead, so guilt or innocence is not part of the discussion.

The superintendent would have been far better off to take a wait and see position with regard to the disposition of the case, rather than saying, prematurely in my opinion, that he and the board are behind Mr. Miller, regardless of the outcome of the allegation.

What kind of message does the Vernonia School District send, especially if the superintendent wishes to cultivate respect and confidence in district leadership?

It’s not the marijuana issue, it’s the leadership issue that has us concerned. We have questions like, “Will Mr. Miller be able to lead his school effectively. Has he set an example for his students to follow?” I imagine folks in Vernonia care about those questions.

Mr. Miller put the board and the superintendent, and all the other people who serve your district in a most awkward and possibly damaging situation.

As a board member, I could not condone that behavior, but I would wait until the disposition of the case before uttering a word.

In fact, a lot of this discussion would never have occurred had your supe and the board waited for final information on the case.
July 24, 2007 4:58 PM


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