Five steps to stop Federal Way school district's downward spiral | If I Were Czar

Matthew Jarvis - Contributed
Matthew Jarvis
— image credit: Contributed

Just when the fire chief of South King Fire and Rescue (SKFR) set a new low for our community by wasting $23,000 in legal fees over allegations against a commissioner as frivolous as “he stares at me during meetings,” Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) takes the prize by wasting $220,000 as a result of the alleged bullying and illegal firing of Lisa Greibel, Federal Way High School principal.

Unfortunately, for our children, this is only the most recent of a growing list of poor decisions, including trips around the world, meritless pay raises, overpriced consultants and the botched implementation of the new grading system. By my math, the bill for this mess is now well north of $500,000.

If that doesn’t get your blood boiling, then consider that this money was wasted while our students continue to underperform the state averages in almost every area (according to the 2012-2013 Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction data).

If I were Czar, here are the five steps I would take immediately:

1. If for no other reason than to restore employee confidence, the school board must launch an independent investigation of the Greibel scandal. Whoever is responsible for the alleged bullying and illegal termination of Greibel also needs to lose their job. How can we expect district staff to give their best effort when they work in fear of retaliation? I’d move quickly on this investigation because if Superintendent Rob Neu is to blame, I’d fire him before he quits.

2. The school board and district administration need to work around the clock to restore trust and confidence among staff, students, parents and the community at large. Without the support of all players, we have no chance of delivering the education our students deserve.

I’d start by doing open-house type meetings at every school and meeting with every community group.

3. The board needs to begin a very careful search for a new superintendent. Instead of looking for another sexy resume, we need to find someone who can deliver results and is willing to be paid accordingly.

Instead of traveling around the world, our new superintendent should be traveling around our district building trust and support with teachers, principals and our entire community. He or she must be focused on empowering teachers, principals, district staff, parents and the community to achieve the results we all want for our children. This person must also have very, very thick skin as our community is full of passionate people who, like me, are quick to criticize perceived mistakes.

4. The board needs to create a measurable set of goals (or “ends”) that can be constantly monitored with regular progress reports to the community. The achievement of these goals should guide every policy decision and will require the support of our entire community.

5. The school board members need help. While I am often very critical of their decisions, our school board members are easily some of the most passionate and dedicated people in our community. They take an endless amount of abuse in exchange for a salary well below minimum wage.

However, this passion is not the same as having the skills required to lead a $200 million organization. Board members need to receive regular training on effective board leadership. This training needs to be done by people with real world experience and not by another overpriced consultant.

With a ton of effort, these five steps could create one of the best school districts in the state. Without these steps, FWPS will likely continue the downward spiral, which has already resulted in the loss of talented staff and gifted students.

Even citizens without children in FWPS are feeling the pain as countless people refuse to buy homes in Federal Way due to the reputation of our schools.

Contact Federal Way resident Matthew Jarvis at Matthew@jarvisfinancial.com


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