Flagler Schools’ district staff members stood in shock in the back of the room as the School Board voted 3-2 to not renew Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt’s contract, which expires on June 30.
They stood in silence as community members in the audience who had spoken in favor of retaining Mittlestadt shouted at the board, “Shame on you.”
Mittelstadt spoke to a few supporters, including the two board members who voted in her favor, and then walked past some of her senior staff members on her way out of the board chambers.
“Come on, stand tall,” she told them. “We’ve got the fourth quarter of the school year to focus on. There’s no other way to do it.”
The board held a special meeting on the night of April 4 to decide whether to renew Mittelstadt’s contract or search for a new superintendent. After more than two hours of public comment, Will Furry made the motion not to renew her contract. Christy Chong seconded the motion.
The three newest board members — Furry, Chong and Sally Hunt — who all joined the board in November, voted in favor of the motion, while veteran board members Colleen Conklin and Board Chair Cheryl Massaro voted against the motion.
After the meeting was adjourned, Conklin and Furry briefly exchanged words before Conklin walked off the dais.
I've come to the conclusion that we'd be better fit to not renew this contract and find a new superintendent to lead Flagler Schools. — WILL FURRY
The five board members’ evaluations were attached to the meeting’s agenda on Flagler Schools’ website. Massaro gave Mittelstadt the highest ratings on a score of 1 to 5, while Hunt gave her the lowest scores among the five board members.
Hunt has spoken out against Mittelstadt’s performance, and, according to text messages, maneuvered with disgruntled Wadsworth Elementary School Principal Paul Peacock to expedite a vote on Mittelstadt's contract on Feb. 22, less than a week after Hunt asked former Flagler Palm Coast Principal Dusty Sims if he would be interested in the superintendent position should it open up.
Chong and Furry did not provide comments on some of the categories.
In the board's discussion of the motion, Furry said there was no collusion among any of the board members, that the board has operated in the sunshine and the members provided their independent reviews.
“I've come to the conclusion that we'd be better fit to not renew this contract and find a new superintendent to lead Flagler Schools,” he said.
In his evaluation, Furry said he’s been getting many complaints that communication needs to be improved, that “community stakeholders have been very vocal about the lack of confidence they have in the superintendent’s leadership and academic results,” and that in his conversations with Mittelstadt she seemed “guarded and calculated.”
Furry also pointed to a looming legal action as a result of the superintendent’s decisions, seemingly referring to Peacock’s intention to sue the district over his demotion from chief of operations and termination as a union negotiator.
Both Furry and Chong mentioned what they said has been a high turnover of district staff and school administrators over the last three years.
In her evaluation, Hunt said Mittelstadt “possesses many great attributes; however, the role of Superintendent of Flagler Schools requires strong business acumen and leadership courage due to the district’s needs. We are not in a maintenance phase; we need a well-rounded leader to help lift and grow. There are skill gaps that need to be developed.”
While nearly all of the public comments were in favor of renewing Mittelstadt’s contract — including comments from representatives of Flagler County’s ESE Parent Advisory Council (EPAC) and the Flagler County NAACP — Palm Coast-Flagler Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Blosé backed up with academic data his board of directors’ vote of no confidence in the superintendent. (Disclosure: Observer Publisher John Walsh is a member of the chamber.)
Blosé said reading scores for eighth graders last year were 49% proficient and third grade reading scores were 58% proficient, down 10% from 2019.
How can you gain stability when you keep making changes? Flagler County eats its own. It’s awful. — CHERYL MASSARO
But Conklin said post-Covid data needs to be put in context, and noted that while Flagler’s numbers have dipped, the county was still in the top 10 to 20 in the state among 67 districts in many categories.
“I’ve never seen anyone stay so focused on student achievement and not allow her team to get distracted with the noise,” Conklin said of Mittelstadt.
Massaro spoke most passionately in favor of extending Mittelstadt's contract and warned the board of past mistakes.
“She’s a team builder. She thinks thorough everything before she does anything,” Massaro said. “We don’t have knee-jerk reactions we’ve had from superintendents in the past.”
Massaro said she’s witnessed five superintendents since she’s lived in Flagler County and the majority, like Mittelstadt, have served three years.
“How can you gain stability when you keep making changes? Flagler County eats its own. It’s awful,” Massaro said. “There are no guarantees in this world that you’re going to get somebody better. You may get somebody 10 times worse.”
Mittelstadt, who will be a lameduck superintendent for the next three months, was asked after the vote what might be next for her. Mittelstadt's answer was similar to her remarks to her staff.
“We have the fourth quarter of school to focus on,” she said. “So what’s next for me is all about focusing on the students. That’s what I’ve always led with. So, we need to finish the school year strong. We’ve got high school graduation, we’ve got every other student that needs to continue working and be supported up until summer break. That’s the work that needs to be done, and that’s what I will continue to do.”