Interim TPS superintendent: ‘We’ll continue to make progress’Written by Justin R. Kalmes | | email@example.com
John Foley might have walked into a hornet’s nest when he agreed to become interim superintendent of Toledo Public Schools.
With an expected decline to enrollment again this school year, budgetary woes and a divided Board of Education, Foley certainly faces an uphill climb.
But don’t expect him to give up without a fight.
“I think that people need to realize that Dr. [Eugene] Sanders did a great job and we appreciate all that he’s done for the district, but we’re continuing to work toward the improvement of the district and to the benefit of children,” he said. “Things are going well and we’re going to move forward and continue to make progress. We’ve got a great staff that is still here and we’re continuing to work with the best and brightest to maintain student progress. People are doing the work; we’re getting ready for school to start.”
Toledo Free Press met with Foley July 20 to discuss his views on the shape of the district, his new job and what he hopes to accomplish during his time as interim superintendent, which is guaranteed through July 31, 2007.
Toledo Free Press: What can you accomplish when you’re only guaranteed to be in the position until July 31, 2007?
John Foley: I think in this one year we certainly want to continue to maintain the progress we’ve made in the district and hopefully build upon that, to continue to work toward academic progress, continue to address the issues of student mobility and recruiting and retaining students in the district. We have multiple school building projects underway that we need to continue to build the best facilities for our students. I think there is a lot that needs to continue to be accomplished. We’re not planning for a year out; we’re planning for a long-term benefit for kids.
TFP: How has it been working with the Board of Education? Have they been open to you and vice versa?
JF: We’ve had open lines of communication and talk regularly. I talk regularly with all the board members to answer their questions and discuss concerns that they have.
TFP: You’ve been able to focus on your job and not have to feel like they’re not treating you as “the guy?”
JF: I have a job to do so we are working on the job, which is to support the students of Toledo schools.
TFP: Can you talk about the financial shape of the district?
JF: The fact is that we’ve reduced, this past year, $12 million. Those were reductions in programs and staff and closing of schools. That is directly related to our loss of student population and to the funding parameters from the state. Primarily, those issues have been protected and we continue to protect deficits until we can have some changes both in the funding process and in the student loss. The budget projects for a loss of about 2,000 students. We’re hoping that we cannot reach that level. We’re certainly working to maintain our student population. Those changes directly impact our reimbursement from the state.
TFP: Is it a matter of families leaving Toledo or parents selecting other options for their children?
JF: The students we lost this past year, probably less than half of them ended up in charter schools using the choice option. The other half are no longer within the city district, wherever they may have gone. I think there’s a loss of population in Toledo; that is concern for all of us, not just the school system. I also think there’s parent choice that they have the ability to exercise.
TFP: What’s being done to recruit and retain students?
JF: We’ve tried to communicate, particularly with our closed buildings, and have retention plans for all of our schools in terms of activities they can do to try to promote their individual schools and their efforts. We’re also developing and have developed a plan to recruit and retain students in the district that we will be working on that encompasses both a district-wide campaign, a school-level campaign and ultimately some advertising and other issues to inform the public that we remain the best choice and remain the district that offers options for kids from all ranges of ability and interest.
TFP: Is leveling off the enrollment the goal?
JF: Certainly we want to maintain the student population we have. The other portion that I think is more difficult is recruiting students to come back to the district and let parents understand we do provide options for their kids.
TFP: Why do you think TPS is the best choice for parents?
JF: I think that we provide services for the range of students. If a student is interested in the college preparatory program or honors classes, we offer those. We offer a wide variety of foreign language and advanced classes. We offer special education services and support for students that need additional support. We offer career and vocational programs the charter schools and private schools don’t offer. If a student wants to come to school and learn, we can provide them the best possible education. We’ve got an excellent teaching staff and dedicated employees who work hard every day for our kids.
TFP: How much of a transition did you have between when you were named interim superintendent and Dr. Sanders leaving? Did you spend a lot of time with him going over the job?
JF: As chief of staff, I had been familiar with a lot of the issues. We did do some work with the other chiefs as well as with Dr. Sanders in terms of getting information and background on pending issues and unresolved issues. I think I was pretty comfortable with the ongoing efforts. I was certainly not anticipating the resignations and/or retirements of 12 administrators. We’ve been focusing some of our energy on replacing those people so that we have the right individuals in place to maintain our progress.
TFP: How has trying to fill those positions progressed?
JF: We didn’t have a board meeting scheduled for July, so we have some people who are filling in in acting assignments. We’re continuing to schedule interviews with potential candidates for the positions we have determined that are going to be filled. We’re working with input from the team that’s here, having discussions with board members and discussions with individuals that have interest in applying or individuals that we may have interest in seeking.
TFP: Are you setting a deadline before school starts?
JF: I’d rather have people in place that are part of the team that can move forward, so I don’t want to set any artificial deadline that I’ve got to have these folks in place. I’m currently doing some of those duties myself. Everyone has been very helpful and supportive of making sure the work continues.
TFP: Being that the 12 administrators leaving was unexpected, what types of challenges did that present or has that presented?
JF: I think when you have that type of change, there is certainly a lot of institutional knowledge, internal knowledge that individuals in their jobs and expertise have learned due to their experiences. Not only is it a steep learning curve in terms of knowing all the things that they do, but also to be able to have that transition time was limited for various reasons. There hasn’t been a lot of chance to prepare for those other positions in terms of what they did and how they did it. In some areas that has been a problem.
TFP: How has the building project developed?
JF: There’s been a reduction in the master plan, revision to the master plan based on our student enrollment losses. There have been some changes in the structure, but we’re continuing to move forward on building buildings that are ready for students.
TFP: Have you enjoyed the job? Has it been what you expected?
JF: It’s pretty much what I expected. It’s not unlike other times when you start a new job; everybody wants to come in and talk to you and give you their ideas. We’re trying to be open to learning and giving access and giving people an opportunity to be heard and state their opinions to me. It’s been pretty much as I anticipated. I certainly enjoy and always have enjoyed a challenge, which might be why I’ve changed jobs as often as I have. This is certainly a challenge to continue to lead the district forward.
TFP: Are you interested in being named superintendent?
JF: The competitive spirit in me is that I’m going to work hard and do the best job I can. In doing the best job, if that is a direction that I can move the district forward, I certainly would want to be considered for the qualities that I bring to the district.