In his first public statement since delivering his bombshell announcement on Tuesday that he will quit his position at superintendent of Greenwich Public Schools, Dr. Sidney Freund has laid blame on two school board members.
While not publicly identifying them, in a statement released shortly before midnight Thursday, Freund said, "Questions, requests for information, dissenting views are all expected, in fact, that is the responsibility of the Board. However, when the discourse generated by these two Board members became accusatory, disrespectful and uncivil; when the questions and requests for information became voluminous, repetitive, manipulative and at times incoherent with no clear purpose or outcome; and when work is purposefully misrepresented, maligned and undermined after Board approval, it impedes progress."
Freund continued, "In their unending and, unfortunately, fruitless attempts to be conciliatory, to listen to dissenting views and to work collaboratively with their colleagues, “the six” became distracted by “the two” in addressing the important work of the Board."
During recent board meetings, Freund was locked in verbal confrontations with at least one Republican member of the education board - Marianna Ponns Cohen, who is up for reelection in November. On Tuesday, Board of Education members admitted they failed to curtail negative discussion and to keep dialogues focussed after votes were taken on issues.
Freund announced to the board during an emergency meeting early Tuesday that he was exercising the 120-day contract provision, that requires he notify the board he is severing the three-year pact. The announcement came on the heels of a board decision (6-2) on May 12 that it begin contract extension negotiation talks.
Freund, 62, came to Greenwich from Westchester County, NY in 2009, with an annual salary of $230,000. Freund is expected to stay on through mid-August to help with the start of the 2011-2012 academic year with an interim superintendent who has yet to be chosen.
There has been community outcry since Freund's announcement, that includes a community effort to convince him to reconsider and reverse his decision. One Greenwich parent has organized a Facebook group that as of early Friday had more than 600 members and hundreds of comments and 'likes' of 'Bring Back Dr. Sidney Freund.'
Dr. Freund's complete letter and attachment are below.
May 19, 2011
From: Superintendent of Schools, Sidney A. Freund
I have been pressed to explain the reasons for my decision to resign. This is my candid explanation. I truly appreciate the outpouring of support from the community that I have received over the last few days.
As I began my work in Greenwich, I believed I was given clear direction – Mission, Vision of the Graduate, Board Policies, Budget Limitations, and a three-year strategic improvement plan focused on improving lagging test scores. I set out to achieve the goals outlined for me – restore confidence in the schools, rebuild relationships, and improve achievement.
It wasn’t long before that direction was questioned by one and then two Board members. That’s OK. Questions, requests for information, dissenting views are all expected, in fact, that is the responsibility of the Board. However, when the discourse generated by these two Board members became accusatory, disrespectful and uncivil; when the questions and requests for information became voluminous, repetitive, manipulative and at times incoherent with no clear purpose or outcome; and when work is purposefully misrepresented, maligned and undermined after Board approval, it impedes progress. I repeatedly requested clear direction from the Board. Six members of the Board believed we were on track and supported the direction and the strategies we were implementing in order to improve achievement. In their unending and, unfortunately, fruitless attempts to be conciliatory, to listen to dissenting views and to work collaboratively with their colleagues, “the six” became distracted by “the two” in addressing the important work of the Board. This work is outlined in the memo below, one of my many attempts to encourage the Board to focus on developing a collective direction – if, in fact – the direction already outlined was not representative of the community’s will. Unfortunately, my attempts to focus the Board on policy have been unsuccessful. Under these circumstances, I could not fulfill my duties and responsibilities. The questions presented below were intended to provide the Board with a starting point for meaningful dialogue and an articulation of my concerns and frustrations and have yet to be addressed.
Dr. Sidney A. Freund
Superintendent of Schools
January 3, 2011
Thoughts for a New Year.
Blue sky is good, but clear vision is better. Before we explore what could be, we need to agree what should be. I include myself in the “we”, fully recognizing that it’s the Board of Education that establishes policy that reflects the community’s values and it’s my role to ensure that policy is followed. However, as your instructional leader, I do have an important role in the conversation leading to the establishment of policy and a course of action. I will not relinquish that role, for to do so would be the equivalent of the Board of Education providing me with a car without a license to drive it.
The Board of Education and the Superintendent collectively are not in “sync.” The budget process highlighted this. We need to do better. The community deserves better. It seems to me that first we need to agree on what it is that we disagree over. We need to frame the big issues. These need to become the focus of our conversation at Board meetings. The public needs to see us engaged in discussions of the larger issues facing the District. We may never fully agree. That’s healthy in an organization such as ours. It will ensure that we never become complacent. Ours is an ever changing dynamic of people, politics and policy. It’s both challenging and exciting. It should not be allowed to become contentious and frustrating. Constructive discourse is good and will lead to good decisions. Along the way to reaching decisions and setting direction we need to be sure that our staff shares the vision we establish; we must give them a voice and constantly communicate that we value their work. As we have learned from our past, aligning adults is critical to accomplishing our lofty goals. The Board of Education and the Superintendent must first be aligned if we are to be successful in setting the standard for excellence in public education.
I offer the following ten “big” questions as a starting point for improving our alignment. I hope we make this our common new year’s resolution.
Leaders ask important questions and provide guidance and support to finding and achieving the solutions.
1. What are the criteria to determine that available resources are effectively, efficiently and equitably meeting the learning needs of children across the educational spectrum?
2. What do we have to accomplish to be able to proclaim with confidence that the Greenwich Public Schools are setting the standard for excellence in public education?
3. Does the Vision of the Graduate reflect the 21st century skills our graduates will need to be successful in the work force and more importantly in life in general? How does IB “fit” into the big picture?
4. Are we willing to stand up as a unified body and boldly proclaim that we won’t allow our schools to continue to be evaluated solely on standardized test results?
5. Are we truly willing and able to commit the resources to close the achievement gap? Where do the schools’ responsibilities begin and end?
6. What is our level of commitment and what strategies and resources are required to recruit, retain and train our professional staff? What are the 21st century skills we are striving for in our professional staff?
7. What future changes will need to be made to our school facilities to support changing technology and learning / teaching strategies? What will the classroom of the future look like?
8. Are the current District Strategic Plan and the Success System measuring what the community believes are the important indicators of excellence? Are they aligned?
9. Are neighborhood schools and racial balance mutually exclusive? What is our commitment to both? Should one take precedence over the other?
10. What is the “right” staffing model for the Greenwich Public Schools?
Engaging in conversation and hopefully reaching a consensus on these important issues will help ensure that our efforts are focused and produce expected outcomes.
Sidney A. Freund
Superintendent of Schools