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District data examined over recent years

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of two articles reporting on an interview with Brookhaven School District Superintendent Lisa Karmacharya discussing her record leading the district.

Lisa Karmacharya has been on the job as the Brookhaven School District superintendent a little more than two years now, but she’s leading a district in which some parents and community members have become increasingly discontented with her performance.

With tension in the district obviously evident, Karmacharya sat for an interview last week, discussed her record and offered her responses to some of her detractors.

Criticism most visibly began in late spring of 2012 when the Rev. Larry Jointer began addressing the Brookhaven school board regarding his concerns.

He’s consistently charged Karmacharya with not hiring enough black personnel, overlooking qualified black employees in the district for promotion and in general hiring too many employees from outside the district rather than looking inward.

“Dr. Karmacharya has a issue with hiring qualified Brookhavenites and qualified African Americans,” Jointer wrote in a statement he read to the board in March.

Black Employment

Data obtained from the Brookhaven School District provides some numbers to help guide evaluation and discussion of these charges.

Records were provided indicating the number of white and black administrators each year since the 2001-02 school year.

Currently, 29 percent of the Brookhaven School District administrators are black. Of 27 district positions considered administrative, eight are filled by blacks compared to 19 by whites.

That’s the lowest percentage of black administrators since the 2001-02 school year. The district also currently has the highest number of administrative positions since 2001-02.

The highest number of black administrators occurred in the 2003-04 school year under Superintendent Sam Bounds. In that year, 45 percent of administrators, 11 of 24 positions, were black.

During Lea Barrett’s tenure, the highest percentage of black administrators, 39 percent, occurred in her first year as superintendent, 2004-05. The lowest number occurred during her last year at the post, 2010-11 when 36 percent of administrators were black – nine of 25 positions.

When asked about the current percentage of black administrators, Karmacharya said she doesn’t believe this statistic should be singled out as a benchmark by which to judge the district or her leadership.

Instead, she’d rather the community look to how she and her team perform based on educational benchmarks.

“I think what people need to be concerned about is student achievement,” Karmacharya said.

As to the employment decisions she’s made, Karmacharya defended them as based on the qualifications of the candidates and said the race of job candidates plays no role in hiring decisions.

“My goal is quality, and it doesn’t have anything to do with race,” she said. “Our goal is to hire and hold onto the most qualified people who are going to do a good job in their position.”

Karmacharya further reported that within the past year and a half two complaints have been filed by district employees with the U.S. Equal Employment Commission, with the commission clearing the district in both cases.

“I worked with a person out of Dallas, Texas, presenting all of my evidence, my documentations, my hiring processes, my rubrics, and they found no evidence of discrimination in either case,” the superintendent said.

Promotion

Regarding the broader charge that she’s not promoted from within enough, Karmacharya again defended her decisions as based upon finding the best candidates possible.

“I would like to promote from within when I can, but you always want to look at your opportunities for the best candidate, no matter where he or she may live,” Karmacharya said.

The district provided some data as to how Karmacharya compares to her two immediate predecessors.

Under Bounds (who was superintendent 10 years), estimates indicate at least six and maybe up to eight or more administrators and directors were hired from outside the Brookhaven School District.

Under Barrett (with about seven years as superintendent), estimates indicate she filled three such positions with candidates not in the district.

Karmacharya is on pace with Bounds thus far, with six administrative or director-level positions filled by hires from outside the district.

She added, however, that she’s filled another six such positions by promotion.

In her time leading the district, Karmacharya believes she’s helped implement more standardized hiring processes, utilizing committees and interview rubrics for many positions.

She described hiring processes before her time as somewhat haphazard.

“Prior to me coming, there was no process,” the superintendent said. “It was a ‘tag you’re it’ process.”

An administration-level position that Karmacharya created was filled by her decision alone, she said; many other hires, however, including principal vacancies, have been reportedly made by committees Karmacharya appointed.

She described her appointments as seeking to achieve racial and gender balance.

Retention

Data obtained from the school district shows turnover rates among the district’s teaching staff have been highly variable during the past seven years, with no markedly clear trends discernable.

Thus far, in 2013, records indicate that approximately 13 teachers have resigned and 13 retired, for a total of approximately 26 teachers leaving the district.

That’s very comparable with the previous two years. In 2012, which saw the end of Karmacharya’s first full school year in office, 36 teachers left (16 resignations and 20 retirements).

In 2011, with Karmacharya replacing Barrett near the very end of the school year, 26 teachers left (16 resignations and 10 retirements).

There was far less turnover the year before. In 2010, nine teachers resigned and none retired.

In 2009, 16 teachers left (13 resignations and three retirements).

The record for staff departures, though, occurred in 2008, which saw 42 teachers leave the school district (28 resignations and 14 retirements).

In 2007, eight resigned and eight retired, a total of 16.

Reviewing these records, Karmacharya said she’s seen surveys indicating teacher morale is at a record-low across the nation. She believes that accountability systems put into place to measure school success – including a teacher evaluation system the state is working to roll out and proposals for teacher merit pay – have made teaching an increasingly stressful profession

“The more pressure put on teachers, the more you’re going to see retirements,” she said. “The more pressure from the federal government and the state government, the more people that will leave education.”

Moving Forward

Looking back over her first two years as superintendent in Brookhaven, Karmacharya suggested she may have been blunt at times and too quick to communicate her assessments.

“I think I was too honest too quick,” she said. “I do think if I had to do it all over again, I would stop and slow down a little bit and not give so much information so quickly.”

In looking to move forward through what has become an at-times tense environment in the community, Karmacharya expressed a hope to be able to communicate directly in order to cut through what she characterized as rumors and misperceptions.

“I would say that a large number of my critics who are out there right now have not come and sat with me and had a conversation with me individually,” Karmacharya said.

The superintendent indicated she still remains open to those individual conversations.

“I wish, in my heart of hearts, that people who have an issue with me would come and sit down with me,” she said. I would hope that people would be willing to engage with one-on-one conversation with me.”