Already needing a superintendent replacement, Toledo Public Schools may find itself looking for a second-in-command.
Superintendent Jerome Pecko announced last week he will leave the district after his contract runs out this summer.
Soon after that meeting, Toledo Board of Education members learned that TPS Chief Academic Officer Jim Gault is one of four finalists for the superintendent position at Rossford Exempted Village Schools.
Under Mr. Pecko, cabinet members have been given larger responsibilities and a certain amount of autonomy in their roles, with the support of Mr. Pecko.
Mr. Gault was among the chief architects of the district’s transformation plan.
The loss of Mr. Gault — or other cabinet members — could have as much impact on TPS overall as Mr. Pecko’s departure.
“It’s always my concern that we are losing people,” board member Bob Vasquez said.
If Mr. Gault or other cabinet members leave, it wouldn’t be the first time that TPS was faced with a top-level overhaul.
When Eugene Sanders left the TPS superintendent job for the Cleveland public school system, he took with him nearly a dozen administrators from the Toledo system.
The Toledo district has struggled to retain talent, as suburban districts or larger cities hired administrators and teachers by offering promotions, less stressful work environments, or better salaries.
“We teach them, we train them, and we lose them,” board member Larry Sykes said.
Board President Brenda Hill spoke openly after she was elected board president about the need to improve employee morale in TPS in an effort to retain talent.
Cabinet members declined to comment for this story, and Mr. Gault said he has been fortunate in his 15 years at Toledo Public Schools as a teacher, building administrator, and cabinet member.
He said he’s happy at TPS and feels real academic progress is happening.
“I just thought [Rossford] was an opportunity that I thought I could do some good, and would be a good fit for me,” Mr. Gault said.
In recent months, some board members have taken antagonistic stances against the cabinet.
On at least two recent occasions, board members publicly criticized administrative staff. Cecelia Adams sharply questioned Mr. Gault at a December board meeting over an extended period about the use of federal funds and administrative mentoring contracts.
And during a January meeting, board member Lisa Sobecki criticized what she considered a lack of planning for building maintenance, problems with administrators in planning last year’s levy campaign, and their approach in responding to board members’ concerns.
Both Ms. Adams and Ms. Sobecki said Thursday they felt they had good relationships with the cabinet and praised the staff in general and Mr. Gault in particular.
“There’s always a good reason for why things are done, and we certainly support our staff,” Ms. Adams said. “Sometimes we have to ask hard questions.”
Most board members said the district needs to ensure that if staff members do leave, there’s a framework in place so education isn’t disrupted and competent replacements are found.
“We need to have someone else that works there that can step in and take their place,” Ms. Hill said.
Mr. Gault is competing with Daniel Creps, principal of Perrysburg’s Woodland Elementary; Deborah Piotrowski, superintendent of Xenia Community Schools; and Joseph Taylor, Maumee City Schools’ director of special education and student services. Rossford Board of Education Dawn Burks said the board hopes to make a decision on its next superintendent by the end of February or early March.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.