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LCPS School Board Chair Jeff Morse Says “I Think the Board Was Misled”

 

 

The article below is from LoudounNow on 12/8/22.  Yes it’s a week old BUT for those that haven’t seen it or read the stunning article title, it’s worth recycling

The Loudoun County School Board voted Thursday night to appoint Chief of Staff Dan Smith as interim superintendent during a 15-minute meeting with no public discussion.

After the meeting, Chair Jeff Morse (Dulles) spoke publicly about Tuesday night’s firing of Superintendent Scott Ziegler for the first time, saying “I think the board was misled.”  Morse said he felt like the Board didn’t have all the necessary information it needed about the sexual assault case to manage the division. 

He said the decision to fire Ziegler came after the board reviewed the special grand jury report, which he said was very comprehensive and included information the School Board was previously unaware of. He said they saw a lot of issues that needed to be addressed immediately to restore faith with the community. 

“I understand, I completely understand. There was a complete breakdown of leadership, and we know that on the board and our staff knows that and we are going to do everything we can to restore trust with the new superintendent, whoever that may be, and with our acting superintendent, and with the School Board, which will be elected next year,” Morse said.  

Morse said while board members knew some of the information in the special grand jury report, there were significant factors of which they were unaware, but refused to comment further on what those were.

After the news of Ziegler’s firing, former School Board member Andrew Hoyler said there wasn’t much in the special grand jury report that he didn’t already know from his time on the board, but there was not support at the time to fire Ziegler.

Morse said the board opted to fire Ziegler without cause because the most important thing was to get the school division back on track as quickly as possible without any distractions, including any ongoing litigation.

“We had an attorney general who put out a report that did not have any litigation in it. It didn’t provide that. So, we are moving forward as quickly as we could and the board felt that this was the important first step,” he said. 

Morse said the board would discuss in closed session how to move forward with an independent review of the sexual assaults commissioned in October 2021.

“There was certainly information there that outside of the report we reviewed previously that impacted our discussion and impacted the actions we took on Tuesday night,” he said. 

He said he wouldn’t comment on further on division firings until the board was able to fully evaluate the 91-page report from the special grand jury.

Morse said there were several factors in choosing Smith to be the acting superintendent—one being he wasn’t working for the division when the sexual assaults took place, and another the leadership and stabilizing factor he said Smith has been to the division during the turmoil. Smith, the former principal of Lake Braddock Secondary School in Fairfax County, was hired as Ziegler’s chief of staff in April.

Vice Chair Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) said there was strong board consensus that Smith was the right person for the job. 

 

Morse said the division’s ability to demonstrate that it is a nationally leading school division and to get back on track will be crucial in finding a new superintendent over the next six months. He said things have been messy and the actions they’ve taken in the past few days should demonstrate the division is eager to move forward. 

Smith, a longtime educator, said his focus will be on what he called “the most important work” of educating students in a safe and welcoming environment.

“I truly believe this work is a calling. Throughout my career, I always focused on keeping our students and their needs at the center of my work and I commit to do that as your interim superintendent. I accept the challenges that come with the new role and look forward to refocusing the efforts of employees on maintaining and improving a world class school division,” he said.

Smith promised to serve the students and families in the division to the best of his ability and asked for “patience and support as we rebuild the trust,” acknowledging that it’s going to take time.

“In every leadership position I’ve been in, it’s been about transparency. I believe if we share the reasons for decisions folks can see that we want the common good, that we want what is best for our kids. So to be transparent, to be honest but also to continue to work for what is best for our kids every day,” he said.

One of the special grand jury’s findings was a lack of transparency from the school division, such as by refusing to release even a redacted version of the independent investigation the School Board commissioned.

Asked if kids are safe at division schools, he said “absolutely,” and pointed out the resources in schools. “We can always continually improve in everything we do and we will continue to look at that to see how we can improve, but our kids are safe and they will remain a priority,” he said.

Serotkin said appointing Smith was another important step that will allow the community to heal and move forward. He also noted the steps the School Board and the division have taken in the past 13 months to improve safety, including replacing the Title IX Coordinator; creating a full Title IX office; providing additional training to administrators, teachers and school-based staff; rewriting or revising most student discipline policies; improving the process for receiving notification for arrests with the juvenile court system; and working to clarify division obligations and Sheriff’s Office obligations, among others.

The vote to appoint Smith interim superintendent was not unanimous. School Board member Tiffany Polifko (Broad Run) voted against the appointment, saying she had “grave concerns” based on the outcry she has heard from the community, and said people had lost trust in the division.  

“I firmly believe that we as a school board must demand that the person in charge of running our school system, the superintendent, hold accountable the individuals that were in involved in the events that occurred last year,” she said. “And while I realize that while Dr. Daniel Smith wasn’t involved in what occurred he will be overseeing individuals who were, and it is critical that a person who is assuming that role will take the necessary steps to display the leadership that is so needed in this school system right now.”

The School Board plans to conduct a nationwide search for a permanent superintendent with the goal of having one in place July 1, in time for the start of the 2023-2024 school year. 

Serotkin said the entire work session of the Dec. 13 School Board meeting will be devoted to reviewing the eight recommendations from the special grand jury report, and pledged the board would look to make improvements. 


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