This past year was tumultuous on some key fronts for the Manatee County school district.
We earned and deserve the mistrust of our community, as predictions of financial mismanagement came true when the former superintendent resigned after belatedly disclosing an alleged $8 million "oversight." That number continues to climb.
The forensic audit report will inform us on the extent, accountability and actions needed to ensure that there never again be such exposure, which has impacted the morale of our employees and the education of our children.
There are three major steps the board has taken: hiring an experienced and trustworthy educational leader as interim superintendent; commissioning the forensic audit overseen by special counsel; and appointing a citizens superintendent search committee to recommend candidates to the board.
Under new managementincreased oversight
Interim Superintendent David Gayler, experienced in natural disasters following the devastation of Hurricane Charley, began work just 10 weeks ago.
He has supported the board in guiding the superintendent search, discovered ongoing issues, is building an accurate and clear budget, and works with the board to rebuild organizational clarity and teamwork. Dr. Gayler's efforts at solving problems resulting from manmade disasters are highly focused and effective.
The forensic audit will uncover what and who went wrong. Because of the need for objectivity, the board hired special counsel from outside Manatee County so that any findings would not be compromised. That report, the result of interviews with board and staff, will be an important step in corrective action.
The third critical area is the board-appointed search committee, which elected two seasoned members as chair and vice chair. Dr. Richard Conard, a retired physician and longtime volunteer for MTI, is chair. Vice chair is Dr. Bill Vogel, an accomplished retired superintendent. The committee represents all sectors of the county, parents, SAC members, educators, the Chamber of Commerce, the NAACP, the unions, and Manatee school alums.
All these activities -- cleaning up the financial mess, securing a interim superintendent, work on the budget, the audit report and new educational leadership -- have ONE goal: children and their future.
Taking stock of what'sbeen going right in 2012
There are many, many things going right in the schools with the students -- by dedicated teachers and other staff, mentors, volunteers and businesses.
In career and technical education, Manatee excels in Skills USA competitions, in industry certifications earned, in model career academies, providing relevance to learning.
Manatee Technical Institute's long-awaited new building welcomes students in January; staff spent December moving and preparing.
Our high schools showed improved grades, thanks to the continued efforts of staff, students and parents.
In sports, especially Friday Night Lights, Manatee proves over and over again that teamwork, excellent coaching, and students ready and eager to be hometown heroes produce results. Trophies come back to Manatee County schools not just in football, but in golf, track, volleyball, baseball, basketball. College recruiters frequently scout our young talent!
Seniors are doing their Capstone Projects, with shadowing experience for career and college readiness. Manatee High's Human Slavery project exemplified awareness of a major human rights problem.
Southeast High's Career Academy produced a video on unexploded ordinance, a unique project involving the Pentagon, private industry, and the many talented young people in the International Baccalaureate program, ably guided by SETV Instructor Mike Sanders.
So despite the more sensational headlines on problems, the schools are doing what we want -- encouraging, nurturing, coaching, teaching, inspiring, achieving, with excellent results, improving test scores, solid progress in school grades, increased graduation rates, acceptances to colleges, and readiness for careers.
The board will continue to challenge assumptions on high-stakes testing and on the role of race and class in predicting student achievement.
We all learned hard lessons this year about trust, accountability, safeguards and controls. One very important lesson is that we cannot educate and protect our children just in the schools alone. In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, we know that it takes greater vigilance by all, including law enforcement, limits on assault weapons, and increased mental health services.
Please join us, call us, email us, come to our schools and help -- you will see wonderful, dedicated staff caring for, guiding and teaching all of our children.
Come to board meetings and speak up: We need to do a better job and want your guidance!
Please accept my best wishes for a much better year -- 2013!
Karen Carpenter, is chairwoman of the Manatee County school board.