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Superintendent says she's working for change

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POSTED: June 25, 2014 10:34 a.m.

Editor’s note: The past few months, the Coastal Courier received several letters and phone calls, all anonymous, alleging poor management and questionable use of funds by the Liberty County School System administration, now headed by Dr. Valya Lee. The Courier’s policy has been and remains that sources sign and acknowledge the letters we receive for publication, but in some cases, when a slew of letters make similar claims, we look into the matter, report on what we know and offer all sides the opportunity to respond. That is the case here. We began our coverage by bringing the allegations presented to us to Lee for her response on behalf of the school system. This story is the second of a two-part series into the letters’ allegations and Lee’s responses.

One year ago today, Dr. Valya Lee signed a three-year contract and officially began her tenure as Liberty County School System’s superintendent. Though LCSS has undergone many changes in the year since, Lee remains optimistic about the state of the district and the direction in which it is head Lee recently sat down with the Courier to address rumors and allegations that have surfaced regarding misuse of funds and hostile work environments.
One anonymous letter purported that the superintendent and her central-office staff have taken multiple out-of-state trips over the past year — a claim that Lee readily admitted to.
She said that three staff members were sent to California to participate in an Apple technology conference, which LCSS qualified for by being named an Apple Distinguished District. This trip was of no cost to the district, Lee said, as Apple paid the way for all six staffers.
Lee also said that she went to New Orleans at the request of the board to attend the National School Board Association conference. Representatives from LCSS’ technology department also presented at a national conference in Orlando, an expense that was not paid by LCSS, according to Lee.
Trips to Las Vegas for an American Association of School Administrators conference and Washington, D.C., for an impact-aid conference also were made by Lee and other staff members.
“We get millions for serving military kids,” Lee said, referencing the impact-aid conference. “Attending the conference is an expectation — some of us go in the fall, some go in the spring.”
Lee also said she and her staff members must be “well-versed on compliance issues and other associated responsibilities.”
“Travel is essential to the work of the district,” she added. “LCSS doesn’t dictate where conferences are held.”
One common theme shared by all the letters the Courier has received is an allusion to a negative work environment — one marked by general dissatisfaction and a fear of reprisal for speaking out — since Lee took over as superintendent.
Lee challenged this point by saying that she has welcomed input from staff at all levels and made herself accessible through school visits and “coffee chats.”
“There are very few (superintendents) who would go around and meet with every faculty and staff and tell them, ‘Put it on the line — tell me what you want to tell me, just be respectful,’” Lee said. She also offered examples of one-on-one meetings she’s held with faculty members who expressed concerns to her.
“By the time I finished explaining to them, they felt a lot better about it,” she said.
Lee also revealed that she conducted an administrative-effectiveness survey that was open to district administrators, but not teachers, last Christmas. The survey’s first statement — “I am satisfied with the vision and leadership of the superintendent” — received 53 total responses. Of the 53, 23 people said they “strongly agree,” 25 said they “agree,” four marked “disagree” and one responded with “I don’t know.”
Other survey statements respondents could weigh in on included “the superintendent is accessible,” to which 14 people said they “strongly agree,” 16 said they “agree,” seven said “disagree,” five said “strongly disagree” and 10 marked “I don’t know.” The statement “the superintendent encourages us to share ideas and opinions” garnered 19 responses of “strongly agree” and 20 of “agree,” while five people said they “disagree,” two said “strongly disagree” and seven responded with “I don’t know.”
Overall, Lee said she thinks the climate of the district is “very favorable” and attributed many of the letters’ accusations to misperceptions and misinformation.
“Perception is reality,” she said. “People are usually just unaware or ill-informed as to what is really going on.
“I believe in being very transparent,” the superintendent said. “I believe that if you let people know what’s going on, they can have a better understanding of it and hopefully have buy-in. But then there are always those naysayers who are just not given to change, and anything that you do — I don’t care how clear you make it or how transparent you make it — the fact that it’s a change, it’s uncomfortable for people.
“I’ve always been a change agent,” Lee said, “and everything that I’ve set my hands to in any district, I’ve always had favorable outcomes — for the students and the district at large.”


 

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