State review of Hoover schools shoots down claims of poor work environment, communication ills

Published 4:44 pm Thursday, March 13, 2014

By CASSANDRA MICKENS / Associate Editor

HOOVER — A review of the inner workings of Hoover City Schools by the state school superintendent’s chief of staff found allegations of a poor work environment, communication ills and bad treatment of employees to be mostly baseless.

Craig Pouncey, chief of staff for state school Superintendent Tommy Bice, sent a letter to Hoover Board of Education attorney Donald Sweeney March 4, explaining his findings after visiting Hoover City Schools’ central office last month. The letter was released to the public March 11.

School board president Paulette Pearson and Superintendent Andy Craig requested the third-party review, and Pouncey was charged with determining how Craig and Chief School Financial Officer Cathy Antee played into the allegations.

Regarding the poor work environment in Hoover’s central office, Pouncey wrote, “I am of the opinion that the complaints that have been reported as being pervasive throughout the system are not supported by my findings.”

“In questioning staff I am confident that the work of the board is being conducted in the manner in which the board expects. The office and staff appear to be very businesslike and professional in carrying out their duties. People are expected to be accountable, and there is the appropriate segregation of duties,” Pouncey wrote.

Pouncey also wrote, “The accusations of employees wanting to walk off their job in mass are unfounded. Quite to the contrary, Hoover schools have been able to attract a number of talented applicants for each position vacated.”

On communication ills, Pouncey wrote, “Demands on an individual’s time and determining the depth of details that are to be shared varies greatly amongst superintendents and boards. I have seen where too much information-sharing can be just as detrimental for the good of the organization as not enough information shared at all.”

Hoover City Schools, like many other school systems, has been confronted with many new challenges in the last several years, Pouncey wrote. “Due to a lack of adequate financial support from the state and an increased and ever-changing student population, the Hoover City School System has had to take an in-depth and long-term look at its current model of operations. I have the opportunity to work with all school systems throughout the state and many of them are doing the same things that Hoover is doing. Anytime this occurs the uncertainty of possible outcomes creates a nervousness among people,” Pouncey wrote.

In his letter, Pouncey reassured the school board that “the administrative staff has and will continue to protect the instructional programs offered by the Hoover City School System,” and that “decisions that are put before the board will be well-researched and contemplated by your Superintendent and your Chief School Financial Officer.” Pouncey also commended the school board on ” its commitment to go through a strategic planning process.”

“Mr. Craig and Ms. Antee have a vision for what the system will be faced with 10 years down the road. Very few systems even have a need to have that depth of understanding,” Pouncey wrote.

On bad treatment of employees, Pouncey wrote, “In any organization it is impossible to make all employees happy every day. Therein lies an opportunity for some individuals to become disgruntled.”

Pouncey wrote that while duties and processes change, “that should never justify breaching the organizations chain of command, and neither should it result in spreading one’s disenchantment over a social media platform. Negativism only fuels the fire for those who have never been supportive of public education in the first place.”

Pouncey concluded in his letter that “the vast majority of employees feel like they are treated with respect, and that they can express their opinions even if they differ from their supervisor. They agree that when a decision is final, it is final.”

Pouncey also encouraged school administrators and the board to look for additional ways to express appreciation to employees.

“They have been subjected to some very difficult times over the last three or four years due to a lack of state support and the implementation of new standards and assessments,” Pouncey wrote. “I know that the board is focused on these challenges, and I am confident in your continued success.”