MANATEE -- Manatee Schools Superintendent Rick Mills will begin the next chapter of his tenure next week when he offers his insights into the troubled school district.
June 28 will mark Mill's 100th day on the job, and in time for his milestone, Mills announced at a Manatee Chamber of Commerce luncheon Monday that on June 11 he will unveil his analyses of the district's challenges.
"The bottom line is I get asked the question all the time, 'Is it worse than what you really thought it was?'" Mills told the audience. "And yes, it is."
In his time so far, Mills has toured 50 schools and held endless meetings to help put the school district back on track after finding it $38 million in debt and without reserves. Some moves that Mills has already taken include teacher layoffs and staff restructuring, but he also announced potential school closings in addition to shuttering Central High School at the end of this school year.
Mills will have a strategic plan written in the fall for the school system that will align with academic, department, executive director, operation and school improvement plans that flow from the school district administration level down to the classroom.
"The strategic planning alignment should be pretty much done by next March down to the executive director level. I'm going to give schools a year to write their strategic plans so they can kind of adjust to it," Mills said. "We should be strategically aligned by the fall -- 18 months from now."
Some of Mills' findings on how to keep Manatee schools afloat are expected to coincide with a transition report by the Florida Association of Area District Superintendents.
Mills told the audience he embraces humbleness in his approach, adding that his open door policy has been used quite a bit in the last 75 days.
"I don't want any kind of fear and concern in this district of people being able to share their candor or what they're feeling or thinking," Mills said.
The transition report found evidence of fear in both
Mills' short tenure and his predecessor.
The transition report also said the district operates in "leadership by exception" because of the "extreme absence of accurate, timely and consistent communications" and that there is a lack of trust between the district and school board.
County Commissioner Michael Gallen, a former teacher, said he thinks Mills is the right man for the job.
"I guess it depends on who you are, if you are employed by him or not. From the outside as a parent, I think his management style is appropriate," Gallen said. "I think if I was still a teacher I would be worried. But as a teacher also, I would have new hope in the future in the way he's implementing and aligning the different requirements in the district."
Gallen said as a commissioner it's important to see the teachersand classrooms have what they need and have thesupport from the district,and he hopes teachers will be able to usetheir own techniques when given a boilerplate curriculum.
A steady long-term plan would favor teachers to provide stability, Mills said in hopes of allaying some teachers' concerns.
"They get real excited when they hear you're going to lay out a five-year vision," he said, instead of changing plans every year.
Chamber President Bob Bartz said he was impressed with what Mills has done so far for the situation the superintendent inherited.
"He's not wasting any time whatsoever implementing those things that are proving to be effective in his career, and he's facing tough challenges head on," Bartz said.
Knowing more cuts are likely ahead, Bartz said he hopes the school programs the Chamber has helped implement will survive the chopping block. Those programs include career awareness, work ethic and financial literacy.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to continue to implement those programs and be of assistance to the schools as we go forward," Bartz said.
"Everyone has high hopes this will bring our school system up to the height that we all desire."
Is Mills still thankful he took the job despite the challenges?
"Absolutely," he said.