Is MacArthur Elementary a case study in how a superintendent's favoritism can harm a school? Several present and former teachers and staff say it is.
Soon after Kathy Adams, Superintendent Stan Rounds's fiancée, was hired at MacArthur, Terry Stuart, MacArthur's very capable principal, moved to Central Office, and inexperienced Karla Ragan (then Ruiz) replaced him.
Ragan had briefly been an assistant principal. Often it takes an assistant 2-3 years to become Principal. Rounds says there's no set requirement.
Once Adams started there, Rounds frequently visited MacArthur. (“Day and night,” said one person. Another added, “Mr. Rounds said, 'I love this school. It's my favorite school.' Then the day she left, no more.”)
District employees spoke similarly of Rounds's presence at the LEAP Program when Ms. Adams ran that. “He was there pretty much every day, unless he was traveling on business,” said one source. Staff and students even complained about public displays of affection, including hugging and kissing.
Rounds notes that he helped in designing the program, and that “my frequenting the school may have been more likely because of the design elements.” He declined to comment on student complaints, but said “It could be that I might have held her hand on occasion as we walked from place to place, but I don't think that's inappropriate.
Rounds confirmed reports of an investigation of LEAP, but said the Board hadn't advised him of the precise subject.
Of MacArthur, I heard two very different portraits.
Numerous sources say Ragan bullied and harassed experienced staff into leaving and that complaints or grievances were “swept under the rug” by Rounds. Another said a grievance against Ragan would be “professional suicide. Even if you won, you lost.”
The school experienced high turnover. “The year I left, thirteen of us left. It was scary being there. I knew I could lose my job for nothing,” said one teacher. During Stuart's ten years, few teachers left except to retire. “We were a family,” one said. Another said stability is particularly important to a school in a lower socio-economic area. A third said the school “just fell apart.”
However, Rounds says that under several objective measures, notably student academic performance, MacArthur has improved significantly under Ms. Ragan's leadership.
Was the principal jettisoning teachers whose experience made her nervous -- or spotting serious flaws other principals had missed? She viewed some people who had lengthy and good records, including national board certification, as very bad teachers. When one teacher remarked that she'd never been evaluated so low, Ragan reportedly said Stuart hadn't known what he was doing.
There's certainly discontent at MacArthur. Teachers allege extreme favoritism and “just plain meanness.” They say that Ragan, perhaps because of her inexperience, felt intimidated by more experienced teachers; and several said, in various ways, that she lets her favorites get by with things but lowers the boom on folks she doesn't care for. A grievance letter from former teacher Maribel Villalobos accuses Ms. Ragan of “threatening and/or bullying tactics” and of insulting and biased conduct. Others say Ragan made insulting remarks or demeaned them.
Villalobos (who'd taught for thirty years “with never even a 'needs to improve'”) was suddenly placed on a Growth Plan in May 2013. (“Usually improvement plans come in the fall, when there's time to help someone improve,” one teacher said.)
Others dared not speak up publicly about alleged mistreatment. Others left because they felt that working under Ragan was unpleasant. Several said she'd let her favorites get away with anything, and lower the boom on non-favorites for trivial offenses or asking inconvenient questions.
Based on what I'm hearing, I'd urge someone to take a closer look at MacArthur.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 7 June, and will appear later today on KRWG's website.]