Friday, June 12, 2015

Are Bullying and Favoritism Undermining Las Cruces Public Schools?

There's apparently a bullying problem within the Las Cruces Public School District: many employees say Superintendent Stan Rounds shows extreme favoritism toward folks he likes but has many others “very scared.”

This column is based on extensive conversations with people who will go mostly unnamed because they fear retribution from Rounds. I've found many folks convincing. I've noticed consistency among accounts from different people in different schools and in different positions. 
I've also heard the fear in people's voices, a fear that has no place in a well-run organization. One person, declining to comment, said that the walls had ears, adding that someone could be listening outside the door. “I can't afford to lose my job for answering your question.” 
Many allege that Rounds's favoritism torpedoes morale. They complain of his favoritism toward his fiancée Kathy Adams and her family. 
The JUMP (Joint Ungraded Multi-age Program) story is a beautiful one that turns sad. Teachers from JUMP (and LEAP) speak with true excitement about the teaching they did. The idea was to work with kids who might otherwise be held back because they couldn't read, using a creative combination of new technology and ideas as old as the one-room schoolhouse to improve kids' academic performance.

It seems to have worked. Teachers describe a very non-traditional classroom where a second-grader would be helping a kindergarten kid make her letters and another student would be reading to a row of stuffed toys along the wall. “They thought they were playing. They didn't even know they were learning.”

But they did learn. Not by rote, either, but by good old-fashioned creative teaching. My understanding is that by year's end these kids – from the most difficult socio-economic backgrounds and with the poorest histories of reading and study – had gone from “They'll have to be left back” to above-average among their peers.

But Mr. Rounds's personal motives got in the way. He made Ms. Adams the instruction specialist, although she was not particularly qualified. There was an interviewing process in name only.
Barbara Hammond, an experienced teacher who interviewed for the position, says there were applicants far more qualified than she or Ms. Adams; but she says it was clear that the administration had someone in mind. Ms. Adams, whom she likes, even tried to warn her, urging her (before the selection was made) not to be disappointed. An early teacher in the JUMP Program stated that Ms. Adams was by far the least qualified candidate for the position.

Once installed as instruction specialist, and later principal (though she'd never been an assistant principal, so far as I know), Ms. Adams pressed her ideas on the teachers and invoked Mr. Rounds's name to up the pressure when she didn't get what she wanted. According to some teachers, she forced the group to use methods that didn't fit what they were trying to accomplish. Teachers who'd gone to work joyfully began having a very different experience. 
I'm told that most or all of the teachers in JUMP (and LEAP) filed extensive grievances this past year about Adams; but since the grievances go only to her supervisor, Mr. Rounds, getting a fair hearing has been difficult. 
There have also been extensive complaints about JUMP (and LEAP) getting goodies other schools and departments don't procure so easily.

Regardless of whether there's serious bullying and favoritism, I'm wondering about the ethics of Rounds making decisions to spend significant chunks of public money on his girlfriend. How can he be expected to make those decisions in an unbiased way, purely in the school district's interest, as the law requires? We all know love makes things awfully complicated.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 14 June and will appear later today on KRWG-TV's website.  It's the second of two related columns.  The first  primarily discussed MacArthur Elementary.  The comments people posted in response to that first one were interesting.  A couple of additional individuals with experience at MacArthur echoed what I'd been told; and one (who apparently joined the "blogging community" this month just to comment negatively on my post) defended principal Ragan.  Privately, someone I know who left before Ms. Ragan's tenure took issue with my favorable reference to her predecessor Mr. Stuart, and said he too was a bully.]
[Meanwhile, several people have asked me why Mr. Rounds is not on administrative leave pending the reported investigation of LEAP.  He told me he hadn't been told what it's about.  That suggests that the board may not trust him and that he may be a target of the investigation.  That does lead one to wonder why he should not only be still in the office but reportedly scheduling interviews for the outside investigators.  But since the Board also doesn't tell me what's going on either, I can't begin to answer anyone's questions concerning Mr. Rounds.]

[These sorts of columns are draining to write, and this one was all the more so because I was revising it well into the week -- while recovering from a full hip replacement operation I had Tuesday morning.  (btw, if you may need such an operation, let me note that after having had two hips replaced within the past 12 months, plus a little investigation, I could not recommend Dr. Brandon Broome in El Paso more highly.  He seems excellent; I recovered quickly and fully from the first operation, and this one seems to have gone well too; other people I know have also had good experience with him.  He's in El Paso.  Charles Brandon Broome.)  
It's draining to deal with people who are scared and stressed.  It's draining to deal with people who put their hearts and souls into something -- whether it's being a sheriff's deputy or teaching kids -- and are getting unnecessarily abused in a work-place where it's clear that speaking out could be a career-ending move.

[I've worked in a variety of situations, and have never understood the mentality that demands maximum personal credit for everything good, while rinsing oneself clean of blame as frenetically as Lady MacBeth.  I always felt that folks who spread the credit around fairly were more appealing and ultimately more effective.   I tried to do that when I supervised people.  And I worked more comfortably for people who supervised me that way.
Here, from the NBA because it's on my mind, is a great example.  Game four of the championship finals.  Golden State Warriors, favored, fall behind two games to one in the best-of-seven series, knowing no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the finals.  The Cleveland Cavaliers, led by Lebron James, are winning, partly by slowing the game down and partly because Lebron is unstoppable.  
Suddenly in Game 4 the Warriors change their starting line-up, starting aging former all-star Andre Iguodala in place of seven-foot center Andrew Bogut, playing 6 foot 7 forward Draymond Green as center, and putting Iguodala on James most of the time on defense.  They "went small" to speed up the game, risking loss of a bunch of rebounds to the taller Cavs.  At least for the moment, it worked.
Head Coach Steve Kerr readily admits that the suggestion came not from him or his top coaches, and not from a star player, but from the low man on the coaching totem pole, a 28-year-old  video assistant.  But Kerr accepted it and gave the kid full credit.  As one commentator put it, "It's rare to see such an open and supportive environment in the NBA, as head coaches are often afraid to be overshadowed by their assistants. In Oakland it seems no one is afraid to speak their minds."
I thought of the Las Cruces Public Schools, where several knowledgeable people have told me that Stan Rounds will often pick a relatively unqualified candidate for principal over a better-qualified candidate who won't ask inconvenient questions.  (There's some anecdotal support for that view, but it would be hard to prove how accurate it is, particularly since personnel records are rightly confidential.)

[Ugly things continue to happen at the Las Cruces public schools.]


  1. Excuse my dyspeptic analysis, but it seems to me that the reason Rounds is acting so questionably and the members of the School Board are acting so questionably is that none of them has any standards of personal or professional integrity. Much of the ethical culture of this area requires a disregard for straight talk and straight shooting. Transparency and accountability Orwellian-speak for opacity and irresponsibility. I am not surprised that everyone keeps in the dark.

  2. Where is the public outrage about what goes on at LCPS Administration?!!! Where is the School Board and why are they so muted? What can the average Joe Citizen do?

  3. I heartily recommend torches and pitchforks.

    Peter, thank you for shining a light.

    As for public outrage, I believe it's time for another parent-teacher gathering at LCPS central office. I'll be happy to shoot pix for another Animoto video.

  4. The following post concerning "non-ethical considerations" is from Jack Marshall's Ethics Alarms blog at I post it here so we can all gain a better understanding of the problems confronting the education community.

    Alarm Blockers: Non-Ethical Considerations
    Non-Ethical Considerations

    These are human wants, needs and desires that distract all of us from purely ethical analysis. They are not necessarily unethical; indeed, they include most of the motivations that get us through our lives. Comfort, avoidance of pain; money, greed, and the need to be able to buy necessities or luxuries; hunger, fun, sex or lust; shame, fear, anger, jealousy, revenge, envy, ambition …you can name many more. The list is as long as human nature is complex. These non-ethical considerations act as magnets pulling the clapper of our ethics alarms away from the bell.

    Non-ethical considerations can be very powerful, and almost every ethical decision involves them. Sometimes they are so powerful that they win out and overwhelm the ethical and moral arguments. Staying alive is often a non-ethical consideration, for example. The activating virtues are especially necessary to overcome non-ethical considerations when they are particularly strong.

    When strong non-ethical considerations oppose an ethical course of action, it is called an ethical dilemma.

    Compliance vs. Ethics

    It is important to remember that the desire to avoid punishment or sanctions for bad conduct is itself a non-ethical consideration. This is why the current emphasis on compliance in professional and business ethics is, to some extent, a detriment to ethical thinking. Compliance means following rules because you have to; ethics is doing the right thing because you want to, or realize that it is in the best interest of others, stakeholders and society. An individual only interested in compliance will look for loop-holes in law, rules and regulations. If such an individual can accomplish his goals and stay technically compliant, he will do so even if his conduct causes harm.

    An ethical individual, in contrast, is concerned about meeting the spirit of rules and laws, and mere compliance will not be sufficient if the conduct isn’t also good and right.