With Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt’s contract scheduled to expire on June 30, Flagler County School Board member Sally Hunt wants to begin discussions on Mittelstadt’s future immediately.
But in what looks almost like a generational divide, School Board Chair Cheryl Massaro and long-time board member Colleen Conklin said that Hunt and the board’s two other new members — Will Furry and Christy Chong — do not know enough about the superintendent or the evaluation process to make an informed decision.
“Time is of the essence,” Hunt said at the board’s Feb. 22 workshop.
Hunt said she was afraid of a ripple effect in the district should the board wait to review Mittelstadt’s contract.
I feel like today we need to talk about the structure of that vote, the structure of that conversation. While this hangs out there, we have a district team wondering what’s ahead. We have parents wondering what’s ahead. — SALLY HUNT
“I feel like today we need to talk about the structure of that vote, the structure of that conversation,” she said. “While this hangs out there, we have a district team wondering what’s ahead. We have parents wondering what’s ahead.”
But Massaro said the board has four months to decide, and the decision is too important to rush into.
“I, myself, don’t believe a School Board with three new members who’ve only known the superintendent for three months can make the decision without having experienced the actual evaluation process. That concerns me,” Massaro said.
Massaro said important information will be coming in with data on how the district is progressing on its Strategic Plan, and the district’s principals will soon be discussing their School Improvement Plans with the board.
But Hunt said there are other components to the superintendent position besides metrics.
“There’s communication, leadership, morale, a lot of pieces. I’m hearing from across staff. I’m hearing from key community members,” she said. “I would like to figure out the structure.”
While Massaro said it’s too soon to evaluate Mittelstadt, Conklin defended the superintendent’s performance and said she hopes Mittelstadt decides to stay on. Mittelstadt was selected for the position in March 2020, days before the COVID-19 lockdown.
“I have no issues with her performance,” Conklin said. “I think we go through the process and find out what Cathy’s intention is. Hopefully she will choose to continue. This has been a challenging three years as a first-time superintendent. Her ability to continue to refocus everybody’s attention on student academics, I admire that tremendously.”
Massaro said there is also the possibility of extending Mittelstadt’s current contract if the superintendent is willing.
But Hunt said that since the new board members were sworn in on Nov. 22, they never heard about the superintendent’s contract being up for renewal until a School Board retreat on Feb. 7. Since then, she said, she’s been getting conflicting information on the process.
Hunt also said she would like to advertise for public comment on Mittelstadt’s performance.
I know it’s a race. But I learned a long time ago, a race to the finish line without the process to get there is going to create a stumble somewhere. — CATHY MITTELSTADT
Chong agreed with her fellow new board member about the urgency of getting the process started.
“We do have to decide what direction we’re going,” Chong said.
School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin said it’s perfectly appropriate to begin discussions in March on renewal or an extension.
Finally, Mittelstadt, listening to the discussion, asked to speak.
“To make an informed decision, you need to have the breath of the organization and everything that’s been done under my 30 months of leading the school district,” she said.
She said she has already agreed to submit her self-evaluation by March 17, two weeks before she would make her contract request.
March is very important because of the School Improvement Plans, Mittelstadt said. Before the workshop’s discussion turned to Mittelstadt’s contract, staff had presented the board with an overview of the district’s academic assessments.
“I think it’s critical to you as board members to be privy to all the information, so you can make an informed decision. After that,” Mittlestadt told the board, “part of my contract allows for us to have one-on-one conversation time, so you can give me feedback before you come to a meeting to determine if you want to do an extension or not.
“I know it’s a race,” Mittelstadt said. “But I learned a long time ago, a race to the finish line without the process to get there is going to create a stumble somewhere. And I just think in terms of being fully transparent and working with you, trying to achieve that in a very methodical manner, so you can make the decision that you need to for the future of the district, is all I ask, respectfully.”