Covington from KC to Detroit August 2011

by Anonymous

Dr. John Covington was hired by a unanimous vote of the Kansas City Missouri School District Board in April of 2009.  He was hired on a promise of “streamlining” or making more efficient an urban district that has been in the national news for decades (4 or more) for mismanagement of funds and low performance of students who are taught by teachers with a strong union presence. KC also was guilty of rampant nepotism and favoritism.  (The KCMSD is ranked second in employers in Kansas City – right after the City itself.)  He had been superintendent of the Pueblo, Colorado School District immediately prior to coming to Kansas City and had just completed his fellowship with the Broad Academy of Superintendents, where he earned high marks. 

Within one year of hire and less than a year of his start date in July, 2009, Covington had hammered out his “Right-sizing Plan” set to transform the district in three phases.  Phase 1 began immediately with the announcement that half of all the schools in the district would be shuttered and with half of all “support” staff (custodians, secretaries, etc.) fired based on least amount of seniority and not evaluation of performance.  Also a part of Phase 1 was the suspension of all contracts with all vendors, consultants and outside agencies.  (The Right-sizing Plan is a 300+ page document that is available online through the school district website.)  Five schools were named as “Standards Based Schools” as an experiment  in assessment:  students were not to be promoted to the next grade until they had mastered all the skills and concepts as set forth on the Missouri Core Curriculum and assessed through the MAP (Missouri Assessment Program).  Some Teach for America teachers were placed in these schools as the District had signed a contract with TFA in 2008 to place approximately 50 teachers in public and charter schools throughout the district, but many non-tenured teachers were placed there as well.  The number of TFA teachers doubled and then tripled from 2008 to 2011, with over 175 teachers currently in place in classrooms.  These teachers were able to find placement even with 26 schools closing (final count of schools closing came in at 40%) because in the spring of 2010 Dr. Covington terminated approximately 87 non-tenured teachers, many of whom were well-experienced teachers who had recently begun working in the district and were on committees for school improvement due to their levels of expertise, not to mention with the highest evaluation rankings possible.  Although several pleaded with the Union for some intercession and at least a few sought out legal assistance, only a handful of these non-tenured were asked to return to the classroom.

The school year for 2011-2012 began with the state releasing the dismal test results from the previous school year and promises that difficulties at the high school level (read: daily, often hourly, emergency vehicles responding to 9-1-1 calls for police and fire due to arson and fighting at one particular high school that had been “right-sized” from three distinct schools into one mega-school) would finally be addressed as well as Phase 2 of the “Right-sizing Plan” to begin implementation.  Three weeks into the school year, August 23rd, at what was scheduled to be a “typical” School Board meeting, Dr. Covington announced his resignation and intimated that it was due to “micro-management” and the possibility of malfeasance by the School Board President, Mr. Airick Leonard West.  Dr. Covington was so convincing in his cries of wrongdoing that he ordered one of his senior staff members to request an open record under the Sunshine Law for all of Mr. West’s email addresses to show that Mr. West was entertaining conversation with a potential bidder for an $86 million dollar building improvement project that was a part of Phases 2 and 3 of the “Right-sizing Plan.”  Mr. Arthur Benson, another school board member, immediately followed Dr. Covington’s lead and declared his resignation from the board; however, not 24 hours later, more details emerged that Dr. Covington had been offered a position as Superintendent for a newly created school district in Detroit, Michigan (as he was the only individual considered for the position) and subsequently, Mr. Benson asked to rescind his resignation.  The School Board for the District refused to accept Dr. Covington’s resignation, but he reiterated that he was, indeed, resigning and then boarded a plane for Detroit to interview for/accept the new position.  His official last day with the KCMSD was voted on by the Board as August 31, 2011, although he had asked for September 28th to be his last day.  (Due to the structure of his contract with KCMSD, Dr. Covington is not in breach of contract.)

Dr. Covington issued statements to the community and to the employees of the school district expressing an apology for any misunderstandings, thanking them for all their “hard work” with him and for him as the district is “transformed” and extending hope that they will continue on the path he set before them without him in the coming school year.  He also released a statement that he believed many of the top administrators of the district would follow him to Detroit to work there in “transforming” that district which is made up of 30 to 40 of the lowest-performing (based on state test results) schools in a newly created Education Achievement System.  (No announcements regarding any administrators going to Detroit have surfaced to date.)  During the four years of his contract with Michigan, Dr. Covington will potentially earn $1.5 million dollars, and if the goals are met, the EAS will expand to the entire state of Michigan.  The Education Achievement System’s creation was announced in June by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts with the support of US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and is being funded in large part by the Broad Foundation.     

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, investigative reporter Michael Mahoney has exonerated Airick Leonard West of any misconduct after examining the emails called into question, although Mr. West has temporarily stepped aside as President of the KCMSD school board.  Dr. R Stephen Green has left the Kauffman Foundation, a major philanthropic group in Kansas City that has just opened its’ first charter school this month, to become the Interim Superintendent.