By Stefanie Jackson – A Northampton school board member’s criticism of Superintendent Eddie Lawrence’s annual performance goals resulted in Chairman William Oakley calling for an impromptu closed session Sept. 12, without specifying the reason for his request.
“Let me finish, I want to answer this,” Lawrence protested when Chairman William Oakley banged the gavel and asked for a motion to go into closed session.
Oakley later explained he called for the closed session because the discussion had shifted to personnel-related issues.
Lawrence was attempting to address the concerns of school board member Nancy Proto, who had expected to see not just a list of goals, but also “a strategic plan to reach the goals and each one of the standards addressed,” meaning the Virginia Department of Education’s performance standards for school superintendents.
The standards address superintendent performance regarding the school division’s mission, vision, and goals, school safety, student academic progress, instructional leadership, planning and assessment, community relations, and professionalism.
Lawrence had set three main goals for the 2019-2020 school year, each written on a separate form as required. Each form included a space to write a goal and another space to list the “indicators of success” for that goal.
“As I look at this, the goal is stated, but the goal is just simply restated under ‘indicators of success.’” Proto said.
For example, one goal was “All four schools in Northampton County will be fully state accredited,” and one of the indicators of success was “The goal is for all of our schools to be fully accredited.”
“What really needs to be there are the steps – essentially, the work plan of what you’re going to do to achieve that particular goal,” Proto said.
It appeared that Proto interpreted “indicators of success” as the actions by which goals are achieved, and Lawrence interpreted “indicators of success” as the results – measurable data – that prove goals have been achieved.
Proto indicated there’s a difference between a goal and “what you do” to achieve the goal. “You’re coming to us with your plan,” she told Lawrence.
“You just threw my plan out,” he said.
“I don’t see a plan. I see ‘We want to be accredited,’” Proto said.
With that remark, Oakley requested a closed session and all members of the public in attendance were ushered out of the conference room into the hall, where they remained for about 20 minutes.
When the public was allowed to return to the room, Oakley did not poll the board to certify that nothing was discussed during the closed session that is required by Virginia law to be discussed in an open session.
Oakley said the school board members discussed the superintendent’s goals, and they will write a separate set of goals that they want him to achieve in the upcoming school year.
At the end of the meeting, the school board went into another closed session to conduct Lawrence’s performance evaluation for the 2018-2019 school year.
A concerned citizen reminded Oakley that he did not certify the previous closed session. Oakley certified both closed sessions simultaneously when the board returned to open session for the final time that evening.
He said the school board was satisfied with Lawrence’s performance and he will continue to serve as superintendent.
Lawrence’s three main goals for the 2019-2020 school year for all four Northampton public schools are achieving full state accreditation, increasing scores on the Standards of Learning (SOL) writing test by 10 points, and decreasing chronic absenteeism rates by 10 points (except at Kiptopeke Elementary school, which has already met the state standard for attendance).
To achieve those goals, the school division will need to figure out how to motivate students to learn and engage parents in the educational process, Lawrence said.
“We have to transition from education being totally the teacher’s responsibility to a shared responsibility between the teacher, the student, and the family.”