Supterintendent Culkeen receives positve marks from yearly review committee

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BENNINGTON — Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Superintendent Jim Culkeen received a positive recommendation after this year's evaluation process.

SVSU Chairman Nelson Brownell, who also served on the evaluation committee, delivered the report at Wednesday's school board meeting. Also serving on that committee were Dick Frantz, George Sleeman, Ray Mullineaux, Fran Kinney, and Angie Rawling. The superintendent's performance is reviewed every year.

"Both the committee members and James Culkeen value the concept of continuous improvement in our schools and have integrated that concept into this summary," the committee began its report. "Our comments below are the cumulation of several weeks review of the past year. During the review time, the school board met in executive session on several occasions to reflect on and discuss Mr. James Culkeen's accomplishments, as well as challenges, of the past year. Mr. Culkeen provided the board with a self-evaluation, and had an open discussion on what he thought were the previous year's progress and shortcomings."

"As many of us know, there were major challenges last year that were handled in a sensitive manner by board committees and through the central office," the report continues, "although it was difficult for our community to accept some of the resulting outcomes of that time. However, during the same time, Mr. Culkeen kept the boards focused on the future, not past happenings, to make sure that this district moved forward on improving our students' educational choices."

In summary, Brownell concluded, "We found that Mr. Culkeen maintained a professional demeanor while performing his duties in an effective and ethical manner through personnel and educational upheaval, and at times open questioning of his leadership during the past year. We recognize that he did not satisfy everyone, but he continued to be responsive to concerns about improving the SVSU and the districts who constitute it. We therefore recommend his continued service to the district and the SVSU."

During his report, Culkeen said that his office remains concerned with the high turnover of staff each year, especially at the middle and high school and in the special education department. He said there were 72 openings this summer, and only 18 of those were from retirements. Some of those positions have still not been filled, as some staff members gave their letters of resignation only within the last few weeks.

"It's a strain on HR, on finance, and on my office to fill 72 positions, and if I look back at last year, that number was similar," he said. The school has started offering exit interviews for any staff member who resigns, although few take the school up on that offer.

Culkeen said 21 of those positions were filled internally, by shifting resources, but that still left 51 spots that needed to be filled through external hiring.

"The exit interviews are not going far enough, because they're voluntary, we can't force someone to come and do an exit interview," he said, "Also, when you have resignations this week, with school starting on Wednesday (for teachers), which we did experience a couple, they're in all probability not going to give us an exit interview. So what I'm having HR do for me is develop a spreadsheet to put more information on one sheet that will help us see if we can start to see patterns... I don't want anecdotal information, I want data."

The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union board meets the fourth Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. in the Mount Anthony Union Middle School library. Full recordings of the meetings are available on Catamount Access Television, and on the station's YouTube page.

Contact Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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