The last post at boardsavvysuperintendent.com features an outstanding K-12 leader, MaryEllen Elia, superintendent of the Hillsborough County Schools in Tampa Bay Florida (on the left in the photo of her hosting the CEO of the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, Virginia Jacko, in her office at district headquarters). The post references a May 2009 ASBJ column that discusses steps that MaryEllen, who is one of four 2015 AASA National Superintendent of the Year finalists, had taken to build a strong working relationship with her board. It also includes a link to the podcast that MaryEllen recorded with her then-board chair, Carol Kurdell, describing how the Hillsborough Schools obtained a $100 million grant from the Gates Foundation to promote more effective teaching in the district.
By any objective measure, MaryEllen Elia has been an extraordinarily effective chief executive officer of the Hillsborough County Schools, so I and many colleagues were shocked and dismayed to learn that on January 20, the Hillsborough Board of Education terminated MaryEllen without cause by a 4-3 vote. I’m not privy to behind-the-scenes details, but I’m certain that the Hillsborough County Schools will pay a huge price for this unfortunate step – in terms of the district’s tarnished image in the community, eroded internal morale, and, by far most important, loss of momentum on the educational front – at the expense of the district’s students, who are its preeminent “customers” and beneficiaries.
What this disruptive action signals loudly and clearly is, first, that in the best of times the precious, high-stakes working relationship between the school board and superintendent is fragile and, second, that steadfast commitment and meticulous management are required to keep the relationship healthy.
This blog is dedicated to providing K-12 leaders with practical, tested guidance that they can use in building close, productive and lasting board-superintendent partnerships and averting the kind of needless, traumatic parting of the ways that will cost the Hillsborough Schools and the Tampa Bay community dearly