The Curious Case of Mr. Kirksey

In June, the Camdenton School District announced that they were self-reporting possible MAPP testing violations to DESE. As part of these potential violations, Superintendent Tim Hadfield announced to the media that a principal at the Camdenton Middle School was being suspended as part of the investigation into wrongdoing. According to Hadfield, the principal had violated scheduling rules for administering a Language Arts test, along with other infractions.

Superintendent Hadfield might have consulted DESE’s Spring 2013 Testing Manual before publicly linking an administrator to potential cheating allegations. Had Dr. Hadfield been knowledgable of DESE’s own guidelines for MAPP testing responsibilities, Mr. Sean Kirksey might have been spared the personal and professional anguish that inevitably follows in the wake of these allegations. As Mindi Sales, founder of the Facebook page ‘Mr. Sean Kirksey for Camdenton School Principal’ reported on Friday, these allegations seem to hold Mr. Kirksey responsible for something he has no responsibility for.

” According to the Spring 2013 DESE Test Coordinator’s Manual which is put out by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, it states on page 11 under the title “Test Coordinators’ Roles” number 7

“Maintain the district’s testing schedule and be prepared to provide it to DESE upon request. If the testing schedule changed in any way, the DTC is responsible for updating this information.” ”

Ms. Sales went on to explain:

” Each district has a Test Coordinator, which is the Assistant Superintendent in our case. She is the one in charge of the MAP testing for our district. Then each building has a Building Coordinator, which at the middle school was a counselor. Notice Mr. Kirksey’s name or position were NOT just mentioned. Both the Building Testing Coordinator (BTC) and the District Testing Coordinator (DTC) go to training for their respective jobs. Once the scheduling is decided, that information is placed in the hands of the District Testing Coordinator, which happens in either late March or early April. She is then responsible for maintaining the schedule, making sure it complies with all of DESE’s rules. ”

This poses a couple of questions, as Ms. Sales went on:

” I am completely confused as to how this responsibility, which is clearly that of the District Test Coordinator’s became Sean’s? It just doesn’t make sense.

One more point: DESE only has one side of the story, Dr. Hadfield’s side. They have not heard from Mr. Kirksey and I don’t think they are going to since they have already compiled their report. So here is my question:

IF DESE HAS ONLY HEARD ONE SIDE, AND THEY STILL ARE NOT GOING TO SANCTION CAMDENTION SCHOOL DISTRICT IN ANY WAY, WHY IS MR. KIRKSEY STILL ON LEAVE AND HIS JOB IN JEOPARDY????? ”

Sean Kirksey has been an administrator for the Camdenton School District for several years. His suspension has sparked an outpouring of support throughout the Laker community and a growing group of community members have rallied together in his defense. The curious case of Mr. Kirksey has rapidly spread across social media and throughout the Lake of the Ozarks area. Laker community members, alumni, parents and concerned citizens have rallied together in support of Mr. Kirksey in advance of an August 16 hearing, scheduled to decide his fate.

The Laker Nation, its board and the district, has seen its share of conflict in recent months. In a bitter school board election earlier this year, local media portrayed the district as a political battleground, where battles over ideology got in the way of progress and resulted in staff resignations, presumably in protest of a work environment made toxic by political in-fighting. A narrative of ‘obstructionist’ behavior was repeated and reinforced by business leaders, local media and former board members to characterize the behavior of three-then board members. These board members had questioned grant programs and personnel decisions. Refusing to ‘rubber stamp’ decisions became recast as obstructionism and argumentative. It became the central issue of the spring elections. Important facts were left in the background, victims of a brutal public relations campaign intended to restore the status quo. Hyperbole and accusations covered up convenient omissions of fact, a trend that seems to be repeating itself in the case of Mr. Kirksey.

The Lake Sun, the Lake area’s largest newspaper, has been instrumental in forming public opinion in favor of the current school board. This spring its publisher, John Tucker, took to the editorial page to issue a series of scathing editorials that attacked board members who would question the direction of the district. These editorials also endorsed, by proxy, establishment-approved school board candidates with deep political ties to state and local government. The board’s makeup, after the spring election, now better reflects the influence of the Chamber of Commerce over our school and further highlights the organization’s growing role in shaping our children’s education. Board members willing to stand up against Common Core’s corporate-sponsored take over of education have been safely put back into the ‘bitchy minority’ of the Camdenton School District. Now, it is ‘back to business’ in the district.

Mr. Kirksey, his family and his reputation are the human costs of business as usual. He now stands firmly in the crosshairs of local public relations and marketing machine: Gatehouse Media’s Lake Sun. A recent article on Mr. Kirksey’s suspension in the Lake Sun reflects an editorial bias that is as slanted as any cable news outlet. It is most noteworthy for its focus on the allegations against Mr. Kirksey and for its omission of several key facts that appear to call these accusations directly into question.

For example, Spree Hilliard reported:

“The state requires MAP testing be done during specific time periods for targeted sections without breaks under the supervision of a certified testing administrator. Among the irregularities with the testing procedures identified in the report alleged the building principal allowed an uncertified staff member to oversee classrooms where testing was taking place, handle testing materials and had not followed the testing criteria that states testing should be completed during specified times and in one sitting.”

What the Lake Sun piece neglects to mention is that the investigation was conducted by the DESE District Test Coordinator, the person who is responsible, according to DESE’s own rules, for all things related to test scheduling. This appears to represent a clear conflict of interest. The sole person responsible for testing scheduling is allowed to investigate allegations into breaches of security regarding scheduling. The DTC is then allowed to point the finger at an administrator and cast blame on him for not doing the DTC’s job.

According to Hadfield, this flawed investigation is justification enough to place the popular Mr. Kirksey on leave, pending an August school board meeting that will determine Sean’s future with the district. He announced the appointment of an interim principle in a memo he shared with local media. In it, Hadfield said: “As permanent employee decisions are pending, we thank you for your cooperation and patience at this time.”

Hadfield has been scrambling to suppress debate, commentary and input from the Laker community into the case of Mr. Kirksey. In a move that seems to be beyond the reach of his position as Superintendent, Hadfield and the district’s attorney have ruled that the community cannot add discussion about the DESE investigation and Mr. Sean Kirksey to the agenda of the August 12 meeting of the school board. Their legal argument to prevent citizens from speaking out on behalf of Mr. Kirksey is that it is a ”personnel matter”. As Mindi Sales has pointed out, Hadfield himself has discussed this highly sensitive ”personnel matter” in the local media. This seems to fly in the face of his own attempts to “logically” and “legally” restrict the public’s right to comment.

An investigation that is fundamentally flawed from the beginning, as in this case, where a person is responsible for investigating their own potential wrongdoing, should be the subject of debate. Especially if someone’s job is on the line in the school district we fund. It should be public and should be informed. It should be vigorous and maybe contentious, but it shouldn’t be feared. Hadfield should not have a reason to want to silence the community about the case of Mr. Sean Kirksey.

Nor should Hadfield be considering ”permanent employee decisions” in the case of Mr. Kirksey. As DESE themselves have stated, this will not negatively affect the district’s accreditation. Camdenton School historically has had both high scores and have been free of testing concerns. Because of the DESE grading system, the violations at Camdenton do not have any significant impact. As such, the case of Mr. Kirksey should end on equal terms. It should not be pursued and should not be allowed to have any more of an impact than that already suffered by this man and his family.

Instead, we see what is becoming an all-too familiar strategy being employed and are offered a glimpse at a fundamental national transformation of education.

As previously noted, the local Chamber of Commerce has a significant amount of influence over the sitting school board. These business leaders have a great deal of influence in shaping the direction of our school district. The CoC endorsed and supports implementation of Common Core, which will, in part, produce a scoring system that will lead to an escalation in public school closures. In Missouri, letter grading systems, that have been shown to lead to higher school failure rates in other states, have been proposed in our state legislature. This proposal has been endorsed by CoC sponsored politicians serving our communities in Jefferson City. Votes have been cast in our state capital that will expedite the closing of schools that don’t meet standards. Legislation that makes it easier to fire teachers has been rolled out under the guise of accountability. Millions of tax payer dollars are the real prize, however. The more public schools fail, the larger the market becomes for corporate education to step in with charter schools. This creates more schools that aren’t accountable to elected boards, but to bottom lines and corporate endorsed administrators who can stick to a one-sided story and help keep quiet those who would tell another. This is business as usual.

This type of one-sided narrative can quickly become perceived as fact when debt saddled media outlets, such as Gatehouse’s Lake Sun, refuse to challenge it for fear of upsetting their advertisers. Under these circumstances, a one-sided story, such as the one presented to the board in the case of Mr. Kirksey, becomes adopted as the official narrative while facts and the other side of the story are forgotten.

The case of Mr. Kirksey deserves debate and a presentation of facts to counter the flaws that led to his being suspended in the first place. That he faces possible termination in this case is more than a little curious.

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4 thoughts on “The Curious Case of Mr. Kirksey

  1. I am appalled. The decision to place Sean Kirksey on suspension is an embarrassment to our community. Shame on you, Tim Hadfield! May I suggest seeking further education on integrity? I happen to know of an extremely qualified instructor….Sean Kirksey.

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