The five Flagler County School Board members’ combined evaluation scores for Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt average 3.69 points out of a possible 5, rating her “Acceptable/Satisfactory” as the board heads into Tuesday’s special meeting to decide whether to renew her contract, and if so, how.
The five-point scale breaks down thus: 5 (Outstanding), 4 (Meets Expectations), 3 (Acceptable/Satisfactory), 2 (Improvement Expected), 1 (Unsatisfactory). The score equates to a 74 percent rating. Last month, Mittelstadt gave herself 78 percent on a self-evaluation. She deems that rating preliminary, because it lacked several metrics that the state Department of Education won;t issue until May or June.
As expected, Mittelstadt got her highest scores from Board members Colleen Conklin (4.11 out of 5, when averaging out the board member’s scores on nine categories) and Cheryl Massaro (4.44), while she got her lowest scores from Will Furry (3.11) and Sally Hunt (2.78).
Hunt has been seeking to fire Mittelstadt since at least February, and had been closely working to that end with Wadsworth Elementary Principal Paul Peacock. (see: “Peacock Sent Sally Hunt Script on Firing Superintendent Even as She Claimed ‘Due Diligence’.”
|Category||Christy Chong||Colleen Conklin||Will Furry||Sally Hunt||Cheryl Massaro||Average|
|Short and Long-term Goals||4||4||3||3||5||3.8|
|Representing the Board||3||3||3||3||4||3.2|
|Planning and Financing||5||4||3||3||5||4|
The surprise–if there was to be a surprise–was Board member Christy Chong, whose average score aligned nearly with that of Conklin: 4. Chong gave Mittelstadt three “outstanding” scores, under reporting, planning and financing, and work standards, and provided this observation for the 3 she gave her regarding her representation of the board: “Our board is split on views, political sides, and priorities; so I don;t think it’s possible to fully represent all of us.”
Conklin alluded to that theme in her evaluation, taking a broader angle to encompass the unprecedented context of Mittelstadt’s tenure in the last three years: “The last three years have been exceptionally challenging for any school superintendent,” Conklin wrote as part of the 5 she gave Mittelstadt on the policy category. “Radical and political legislative initiatives and statues have lite our district on fire. As a new Superintendent Cathy continues worked overtime to keep not only the school board but the entire district focused on student achievement. It unfortunate that things have become so politicized and education is being used in this way.”
Chong, whose vote may prove key on Tuesday, applauded the superintendent for her integrity, though questioned the district’s book-review process as “one-sided and biased.” Chong provided few comments, limiting her evaluation to checking the boxes for scores on the nine categories. “I do believe you pursue excellent work standards,” she wrote regarding the last category.
Furry was more detailed in his responses. But they rely heavily on what he hears from parents or reads in media, only occasionally relying on his own experiences. The evaluation focuses disproportionately on peripheral issues that have little to do with district goals and education issues, which may be an indication of Furry’s greenness on the board (he was elected in November with no education experience or much knowledge of the district).
He notes, in explanation of his 3 for integrity: “In my communications with the Superintendent her responses seem guarded and calculated.” Mittelstadt is notoriously reserved, especially in early interactions with individuals, including board members, and has been known to lower her guard only gradually. Conklin took a while to get there, but did, as she notes in her evaluation: “She is a delight one on one,” Conklin wrote. “She is warm, welcoming and engaged. In public this side of Cathy often gets lost and doesn’t translate for the benefit of the public or other community stakeholders. This is an area that Cathy has worked this year to improve. … She has recognized that the role requires more than having a focus on student achievement.”
The line ironically alludes to some of the criticism Mittelstadt has sustained–that she is too focused on students’ business, student achievement, students’ interests, and not enough focused on the business community and its interests–two very different things.
Under the category regarding her visibility in schools and the community, Furry writes: “The business community has collectively been very outspoken of their disapproval of the Superintendent,” a reference to last week’s announcement by a representative of the local chamber of commerce that she had lost the chamber’s confidence. Neither Furry nor the representative provided any specifics about the “disapproval,” and the reference to the business community “collectively being very outspoken appears to be an exaggeration.
He gives her higher ratings for policies and reporting, but reserves some of his harshest criticism regarding leadership–lack of visibility in schools, high turnover, student behavioral issues. “I see the Superintendent as an Ivory Tower leader lacking an extroverted personality that is needed to build meaningful relationships with the community,” he writes. “I will give praise to her efforts in the ½ penny sales tax push, but witnessing her engagement with this revealed she was outside her comfort zone.” On at least two occasions he notes pending legal action against the district, which he blames on the superintendent: Peacock, the Wadsworth principal, has been threatening to sue.
Furry adds: “I do not feel that the board is kept informed outside of our regular meetings and often find things out on social media or local reporting before we hear from the district.” For the past 14 years or so, however, under all five superintendents who have served in that stretch, school board members have all complained about local reporting outpacing the district’s ability (or, more accurately, willingness) to inform the community on emergencies or unflattering issues in much detail.
Conklin’s and Massaro’s evaluations are as if those of a different person. Conklin, who has been on the board since 2000 and worked with seven superintendents in that stretch, at times uses some of the language Furry does when Furry referred to Mittelstadt’s “comfort zone.” Furry had applauded her for passing the half-cent sales tax supplement renewal last year, but said she’d done so only by stepping out of that comfort zone. Conklin saw in that evidence of growth and willingness to do just that: “She is fully aware that this is a challenge area for her but has embraced it fully as an opportunity to grow,” Conklin wrote.
Conklin also underscores what has vexed both Mittelstat’s supporters and detractors, and has even vexed Conklin, who was outraged at some of Mittelstadt’s handling of certain issues like the firing of a teacher over a TikTok video or the banning of books, neither of which Conklin agreed with: “Cathy is committed to elevating excellence. When she finds a gap in a procedure or policy she doesn’t avoid the issue,” she wrote. “She deals with it head on, no matter how challenging or controversial. If it is something that needs to be addressed or corrected she is going to provide the leadership necessary to address the issue and refine the procedure.”
Conklin, noting Mittelstadt’s “laser focus,” also provided a page of additional comments, unrelated to the evaluations’ categories, to rum up the superintendent’s achievements, which have often seemed left altogether out of sight by her detractors–” 1/2 Penny Sales tax renewal; creating a new Citizens Oversight Committee to be accountable to local taxpayers; Obtaining buy-in from local municipalities; working through the revisions of the interlocal agreement with the county and cities; construction of the expansion of Matanzas High school; establishing protocols ad procedures to align with the Parent’s Bill of Rights act; Rezoning; Realigning our school grades from k-6 and 7-8 to a k-5 and 6-8; and Covid.” Conklin counters the claim that Mittelstadt has been a no-show in the business community.
Massaro’s evaluation is likewise detailed and focused on achievements in the district, in relation to stated goals. Massaro lists some of the accomplishments echoed in the Conklin review but adds more, including her fostering an improved relationship with the district’s exceptional student education advisory board and outcomes through the ESE program. (See: “‘Promises Made and Kept’: ESE Parent Advisory Council Voices Unanimous Support for Superintendent.”)
Massaro, who often addresses Mittelstadt directly in the evaluation–as opposed to writing the evaluation as if it were addressed to an audience–describes the superintendent as “a very professional leader” who “works diligently to develop a team approach” through her top staff.
“Visibility and Accessibility are two main attributes necessary to a great leader,” Massaro writes. “The more people see and interact with you, in different environments the stronger you become. It is virtually impossible to be everything to everyone. However, I feel you have been building a strong foundation to support the districts strategic plan. Now, the time has come to strengthen associations with all staff, students, families and communities. As for skilled in conflict resolutions, I feel you have been working hard in developing this skill. Often, in this crazy county it is so hard to reach a consensus on anything, but I believe you have polished your skills and are headed in the right direction in gaining approval & respect.”
Hunt provided her evaluation separately from the official form, typing all her answers on a three-page document. It was to be the first clear insight into Hunt’s qualms about the superintendent. But the evaluation, bereft of analysis, has a haphazard, grasping-at-straws quality that mirrors Hunt’s declamatory style on the board.
It also can’t be separated from the numerous revelations about Hunt’s mercurial recent months: her close alliance with Peacock in seeking to get the superintendent fired despite Peacock’s pending legal actions before the board, her secretly shopping around for a different superintendent, her brief resignation, the numerously dishonest ways she had portrayed her “due diligence” about the superintendent until reporting proved otherwise, her contact with Mike Chiumento, the attorney who represents Peacock and is a director of the local chamber.
Hunt’s behavior can only undermined the credibility of her evaluation, such as it is, and raise legitimate questions about whether she wrote it (she asked Peacock, for example, to provide questions for a survey that was to go to district “stakeholders”). She devotes almost the evaluation’s entire first page to cutting and pasting the recent statement by the chamber against Mittelstadt, giving it undue weight despite its lack of specifics. She does not mention–as even Furry does–the more detailed letter she received from EPAC, the Exceptional Student Education Parental Advisory Council’s 22-member board, that provided far more detail of direct and detailed accomplishments under Mittelstadt in special education.
To explain a rating of 2 on one of the categories, Hunt repeats her claims that district security procedures are lacking, basing almost that entire page’s answer on more cut-and-pasted material from a recent audit, despite the audit’s finding that the issue was limited in scope and was addressed.
The evaluation, in sum, reads more like a scattered series of complaints and generalities that show a rather profound lack of knowledge about the district or much curiosity about ongoing initiatives, as opposed to what Hunt again and again refers to as the “mixed feedback” she receives: there are no indications of authentic “due diligence” conducted by Hunt herself in the evaluation.
Superintendent Evaluation Form.23 (1)
How can the new board members fairly evaluate the superintendent? They can’t. At the very least they should give her a year-long contract and then reassess. We can also assess how the new board members are doing.
P.S. No I’m not a bleeding heart liberal. I am a conservative teacher.
Former Teacher says
Thank you for being a fair and unbiased voice of sensibility. With Hunt’s bizarre behavior prior to this vote, she should recuse herself anyway. Chong should look at the fact that her rating is only ONE point lower than Conklin’s. That should tell everyone something.
JOE D says
I’m concerned that given the relative (and blatantly OBVIOUS) lack of expertise and experience of the 2 newest school board members, that one of two things will happen:
1-the board will push this HIGHLY qualified Superintendent out the door and shove the school district into CRISIS… AGAIN like the last time a new Superintendent job search was conducted
2- the Superintendent will get tired of having to defend her actions, competencies, and policies to a politically polarized School Board, and decide she’s been PROFESSIONALLY ABUSED enough, and resign, and will move to a more congenial and APPRECIATIVE locality (potentially even out of state) given the insane climate of Florida’s current school system legislation.
This would be a travesty to Flagler County’s children …then again, by certain BOARD behaviors, the support of our Children are LOW on the priority list, well behind PERSONAL ADVANCEMENT!
Michael Cocchiola says
I fully agree with JustBe Nice. The rookies on the board do not have enough time in office to properly evaluate Superintendent. Cathy Mittlestadt. Having said this, the superintendent has enough positive rankings to be rehired.
Board member Sally Hunt must recuse herself. She is much too close to her intended candidate, Paul Peacock, to fill the superintendent’s chair should Cathy Mittlestadt be fired.
Bill C says
Hunt deserves a 2 on stability and a 1 on honesty.
She deserves a straight jacket and a pink slip.
It is refreshing to see people in agreement, coming from different political perspectives, on this comment thread. It proves it is possible for us to find common ground, especially when it comes to the well-being of our community’s children.
I echo some of the above comments. The newest board members have not had an adequate period of time to fully evaluate the superintendent’s performance. Sally Hunt did not even properly perform the evaluation, I don’t think her answers should be incorporated into the average.
Mr. Furry, I am trying to give you the benefit of the doubt in terms of your newness. But please remember that your responsibility is not to the business community, it is to the school children. Please try and refocus.
Edith Campins says
What this has shown is that Hunt was nt qualified for this position. She still hasn’t cited one factual, failure on the Superintendent’s part. She has been manipulated by people smarter than her and she still can’t see it.
Ms. Hunt doesn’t know Peacock. All of us that had the displeasure of working with him do. Ms. Hunt can’t possibly serve this district. She was such an easy mark. So gullible to entertain a disgruntled demoted employee. She doesn’t have good judgement.