The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Interim Superintendent Hired

The Davis Joint Unified School District moved very quickly to replace the “retiring” Superintendent David Murphy. The school board hired J. Richard Whitmore of Lafeyette, California as interim superintendent.

According to the announcement,
Interim Superintendent Whitmore served as Chief Deputy Superintendent at the California Department of Education under State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin. In that capacity, he was the chief operating officer of the agency responsible for California's public education system. During his tenure there, he oversaw fiscal and academic accountability for school districts throughout California.

He became a recognized voice on school finance policy in California, and has provided advice and counsel to a variety of constituents over the past decade. He also led the state department's efforts to develop accountability systems. He led a strategic planning effort that resulted in the creation of the Superintendent's "Challenge Standards," which became the foundation for California's new standards-based curriculum adopted by the Standards Commission.

Interim Superintendent Whitmore is also a long-time leader in his local school community in Lafayette, serving on the Governing Board of the Acalanes Union High School District, and participating in the Lafayette School District's recent strategic planning process. He spent four years working in higher education, at Stanford University, where he staffed the President's strategic planning effort and managed the University's real estate and faculty housing programs.
When Superintendent Murphy announced he was stepping down, the plan seemed to be that Superintendent Murphy would step down immediately as Superintendent, the board would hire an interim Superintendent, and Murphy would work behind the scenes to facilitate the transition while the school board appointed a search committee to conduct outreach to find a permanent replacement.

However, according to some sources, that plan has changed. Superintendent Murphy is instead stepping down almost immediately with his final day being a week from Friday. This rather sudden departure fuels the continued speculation that rather than retiring, Mr. Murphy has indeed been terminated by the school board. Since this is a personnel matter and the board cannot comment on such matters, this remains only speculation at this point—but speculation fueled by a number of strong pieces of evidence.

Former school board member Joan Sallee was quoted last week as saying:
“I was deeply saddened to hear of Murphy’s retirement. ... I am very sorry that the current school board did not see fit to retain his services. The district has suffered a grievous loss, at a time when we can least afford it.”
Furthermore, given Mr. Whitmore’s very strong background there is speculation that Mr. Whitmore himself will eventually become the permanent Superintendent.

Board President Jim Provenza called Whitmore, “a leader who excels in managing both the education of children and business and financial operations that are so crucial to school districts.”

Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin speaks very highly of Mr. Whitmore. According to The Davis Enterprise:
During his years with the state, Whitmore worked closely with then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, a Davis resident who attended Monday night’s meeting of the Davis school board. Eastin called Whitmore “an inspired choice for interim superintendent” in Davis, and added, “I can think of no finer education leader.”

“His extraordinary intelligence, integrity and administrative skills will serve this great district very well indeed,” Eastin said. “Richard will work closely with his board and his staff, keeping them engaged and well-informed.”
Whether or not Interim Superintendent Whitmore ends up being the permanent Superintendent, the district is in desperate need of fresh and strong new leadership to face a broad array of challenges. One of those challenges is with declining enrollment. This has led to a task force recommendation to close Valley Oak Elementary School. This recommendation has led to a firestorm of controversy.

In addition there has been several recent financial irregularities particularly involving King High and also concerning the former deputy superintendent for business Tahir Ahad who founded an educational consulting firm while employed with the DJUSD. He in turn recruited many fellow district employees to join him at the firm all the while everyone of them continued their full time employment with the district. This "moonlighting" by senior and middle management district employees resulted in them not doing their district jobs full time yet they received full time pay.

Furthermore, the former deputy superintendent for business Tahir Ahad was allowed to do much of his district work from his home office where he actually focused most of his time on his start-up business resulting in shoddy work product for the district and causing it to lose grant monies in the millions of dollars. The new school board put an end to this and has pushed for a new and comprehensive conflict of interest code to prevent this type of conduct from ever occurring again.

Finally, the harassment of a junior high school student has led to lawsuits and a renewed call for tougher standards against bullying and harassment which the new school board has taken to heart forcing the school administration to write a tough new harassment policy. Superintendent Murphy allowed all of this malfeasance to occur on his watch and this eventually led to his "forced" departure by the new school board.

If indeed Mr. Whitmore ends up the new superintendent, it is our hope that he will act quickly to help clean house and make changes that are desperately needed in terms of new blood and ideas in the administration.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting