Any of these words–and many more–could be used to describe some portion of the June 21 state school board meeting. And once again, right there in front of God and everyone, Alabama showed that “leadership” is apparently a four-letter word when it comes to public education.
The main course served up this day was an internal report prepared by ALSDE staff attorney Michael Meyer, at the request of state superintendent Mike Sentance, reviewing the infamous attempt last summer to discredit Craig Pouncey with a smear campaign. Pouncey was one of 11 final applicants for state superintendent.
The memorandum was dated June 6, 2017 and referred to as: Final Report and Conclusions of Dr. Craig Pouncey Investigation. It was initially shared with Sentance, chief of staff Dee Fowler and deputy superintendent Jeff Langham.
In a nutshell Meyer concluded that department attorneys Juliana Dean, James Ward and Susan Crowther, along with interim state superintendent Phillip Cleveland and state school board member Mary Scott Hunter participated in an effort to “malign” Pouncey and prevent his selection as permanent state superintendent.
(Editor’s note: You can access the report, as well as a memo from Mike Sentance, by going here to see an article from the Alabama Political Reporter. Who knows, some day I may become proficient enough with my computer to provide such links directly. But I ain’t there yet.)
Meyer spent the better part of an hour reviewing his document with board members. The state of dysfunction at the state department of education was on full display during this time. Sentance stated that he did not believe the conclusions in the report were supported by evidence. However, Sentance did say that he thought Meyer did a good job.
(So you ask someone to solve a puzzle, they come up with the wrong answer and you say they did a good job? Is this like the coach saying the quarterback who just tossed an interception threw a great pass–just to the wrong team?)
At one point Meyer said that upon review of the report, Sentance stated that its release would be harmful to someone’s political future. Sentance denied having done so. Meyer, who has worked for the state since 2001 and has extensive legal experience as a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, did not back down.
Meyer also stated that after Sentance gave him this assignment in January, Dean tried to have him terminated.
Hunter tried to interject her thoughts about the quality of the report a number of times. At the conclusion of the discussion she said she was “shocked and appalled,” that the report was “bizarre.” that the report conclusion was “absolutely false,” as well as a “poor work product.” After the meeting she told media the report was “garbage.”
As all the back and forth went back and forth, there was one moment that spoke volumes about Sentance and his lack of leadership and the toxic work environment now at the department. At one point during the Meyer presentation, ALSDE legal counsel Juliana Dean added her editorial input abruptly from the audience something to the effect that she had never heard a more self-serving presention on behalf of Michael Meyer and his wife Tracey Meyer. (Tracey Meyer is ALSDE legislative liaison.)
Sentance did not flinch.
If Dean had any respect for Sentance’s leadership or any confidence in him, she would have kept her mouth shut. And if Sentance had any clue about being a leader, a quick look at Dean or a verbal command would have sent a strong message. Instead, nothing of the kind happened.
Retired Alabama Supreme Court Judge Bernard Harwood of Tuscaloosa was at the meeting to refute the Meyer report findings. Sentance stated that he wanted someone else to review the work and he called upon Judge Harwood to fill that role.
From all reports, Judge Harwood is a fine legal mind and highly thought of. However, one has to wonder how Mike Sentance from Massachusetts, came to find a retired judge 100 miles from Montgomery.
A clue is found in the Alabama Political Reporter article linked above in which Bill Britt states, “frantic meetings held with Balch and Bingham attorneys, including partner Dorman Walker, on the eve of the report’s scheduled release…”
Why were “frantic” meetings held? Because someone at the firm, which represents Dean, Ward and Crowther, had a copy of the Meyer report and was trying to do damage control. No doubt, Judge Harwood was part of this effort to minimize the impact of the investigation.
Harwood ran for the state supreme court in 2000. He handily defeated his Democrat opponent and outspent him nearly two to one ($1,659,604 vs. $848,748) The Business Council of Alabama gave him $470,500 according to records at the Secretary of State’s office. This is the same group that gave Mary Scott Hunter $75,000 in her 2014 campaign for state school board and spent more than $300,000 on board races in 2016.
Sentance said at the June 21 meeting that he emailed the report to all members about 6 p.m. the night before. But who already had a copy before this?
Earlier this week I was at Riverton Elementary school northeast of Huntsville about 1:30. Kaitlyn Shields was hard at work in her new kindergarten classroom getting ready for the start of a new school year. This will be her second year of teaching. She is a perky little redhead with a great attitude, the oldest daughter of Melissa Shields, one of the best, most dedicated educators in the state.
Though I was only there for only 30 minutes, Kaitlyn stayed to past 8 p.m. A bright-eyed 24 year old looking forward to August and welcoming “her kids.” A young lady full of hope that she can be a positive influence in the lives of her students.
I thought about Kaitlyn as I watched the June 21 board meeting and how she represents a far different world of education than the grown ups locked in a battle of political agendas and “gottcha.”
Thank God for Kaitlyn.