The Morrill Public School Board announced on Monday they would not renew Superintendent Joe Sherwood’s contract beyond the end of the school year. The decision came after a four-hour public meeting, half of which the board spent in executive session discussing the superintendent’s improvement targets and his future with the district.
Eighty members of the public crammed into the district office at Morrill Elementary School. There were so many spectators some had to cluster around the door since there weren’t enough seats. The school board then decided to change the meeting location to the high school gymnasium a block away.
After the various reports at the beginning of the meeting, visitors were allowed to present public comments. A dozen audience members chose to do so. Most of them expressed concern about Sherwood’s leadership ability and the state of the district. Staff and students alike were leaving for other schools, they said, and Sherwood was not providing them the support they needed.
“I’m here because I support Morrill schools,” Julie Schuler, a former teacher who spoke at the meeting, said. “I’m invested in our school district...I want to make sure we’re going in the right direction.”
It wasn’t until the final two items on the agenda that Sherwood’s position was brought up by the board. The first of these items was to review an evaluation report on him and consider improvement targets he should strive for. School board president Dave Sherrod presented a list of the evaluation categories, and their results, compiled by the Nebraska Association of School Boards. Sherwood’s proficiency in the categories was rated on a scale from zero to six, with a score of six rating the highest.
In the first category, Mission, Visions and Goals, he received a score of 4.46. Category 2 was Policy, in which he received a 4.78. Sherwood’s highest marks were in the third category, Budget Planning and Management. He scored a 5.47. In category 6, Community Relations, he scored a 4.64. For category 8, Board-Superintendent relations, he scored 5.13.
The other three categories, Sherrod said, would need to be discussed in an executive session away from the public.
“I was just told not to discuss those in open session...because there’s derogatory things that might jeopardize reputations,” he said.
Community members requested Sherrod to at least reveal the names and scores of categories 4, 5 and 7, like he had for the others. He agreed to do so. Category 4 was Educational Leadership, with a score of 4.44. Category 5 was Organizational and Cultural Leadership, with a score of only 3.33. For category 7, Professional Leadership, Sherwood scored 4.17.
“The community communicated that there is a perception that I lack people skills and there is a culture of fear and anxiety for jobs, so staff morale, positive culture, those things really need to be worked on,” Sherwood said. “...When the board says ‘You need to work on these things,’ I will work on those things.”
The school board did not announce their improvement targets after their first hour-long executive session. After their second, which Sherrod said was “necessary for the protection of the public interest,” they announced as part of the proceedings that Sherwood’s contract would not be renewed. The motion to his final day as superintendent will be June 30, 2022.
It would mark another instance of someone leaving a leadership position at the district. On Oct. 8, elementary school Principal Joe Wilson announced his resignation, which the board accepted during the Monday meeting. Wilson had only been principal for three months. Some of the community members, who spoke, including Schuler, said he had lacked the necessary guidance and mentorship from district leadership.
The board said they would expand advertising for a new principal, as well as new cafeteria positions. One cafeteria worker is moving, and another is going to work part-time to take care of family issues.
The board did approve extending an offer for their vacant business manager position to Jennifer Pragnell. Pragnell works in that capacity for St. Joseph’s Children’s Home in Torrington. The board agreed to offer her a $70,000 per year contract.
They also approved a proposal by Ferguson Signs to repair their digital sign on Highway 26. Aside from the superintendent situation and the principal’s resignation, the broken sign was one of the issues the community seemed most concerned by.