The transition to new leadership of the Little Rock School District is not going to occur quietly.
Supporters of Dr. Linda Watson, who's signed a buyout agreement with the School Board that will bring her departure as superintendent Jan. 15, are organizing to turn out a crowd at a Little Rock School Board meeting tonight. Says the notice from the Little Rock Education Association: "We need for you to attend and show that you are concerned about what happens in the LRSD!"
The notice also alerts recipients to a new Facebook page for Concerned Citizens of the LRSD. Its mission: "To repair, restore, and rebuild an accountable, transparent, administrative process that brings foundational stability to the students, faculty, and administrators that it serves in the Little Rock School District (led by citizens committed to and concerned about the educational growth of our community)."
And then there is Watson. She's made an FOI request to the School Board and copied it to others:
Since I was told by Mrs. [Melanie] Fox, Mr. [Charles] Armstrong and others, in the executive session prior to the Board’s vote regarding this issue, that the buyout was not based on my performance or evaluations, I would also like to request the information that was used. In fact, Mr. Armstrong stated he had not given the Board the cumulative documents of last year’s evaluation. Mr. Armstrong supported Mrs. Fox’ statements that my evaluations were not used.
I have no idea what was said in the closed session. I do know that several board members have said over the course of the last year that they'd indicated areas of improvement they'd hope to see from Watson and they certainly indicated publicly a belief that new leadership was called for. I'm not sure the aim of this effort. Watson had essentially a fire-at-will contract. She wasn't fired. She was just non-renewed and given a pretty handsome payment to leave a few months early so her presence wouldn't be an uncomfortable factor in choosing a replacement. I think Watson is confusing the reason for non-renewal — which were based on written evaluations that were discussed with her in closed sessions — with the reason for the buyout, which was unrelated to work performance and about a smoother transition.
Under the law, unless someone is fired or suspended, his or her personnel records are not open to the public. So I asked Watson, if she received documents, if she'd be willing to share them. She replied:
Since my evaluations are not used, I want to know what documents were used. When I find out, I will check with my attorney on the release of them.
Does Dr. Watson contemplate a legal challenge or have another purpose in seeking the information?
Right now, I just want to know. I was told the separation had nothing to do with job performance or evaluations. However, I have since received an email that eluded to my evaluation which was in conflict with what was stated to me. When I questioned it, I was told again, that job performance was not the issue.
In response to my FOI request, Board president Fox released a change of emails originating with Dr. Anika Whitfield requesting a special meeting to discuss the evaluations of Dr. Watson, the strategic plan, the superintendent search and plans for an interim superintendent. "It is all tied together," she said.
Fox noted that the law prevented a discussion of Watson's performance at such a meeting and that the strategic plan was adopted last year.