Parents for Change at Berea Community School sign now

Mr. Gary Conkin, Superintendent
Berea Community Schools
Pirate Parkway
Berea, KY 40403

April 12, 2010

Dear Mr. Conkin,

We are writing to you with urgency and grave concerns about the current and future state of Berea Community Schools.

Many of us have for years expressed our concerns about Mr. Masters performance to him, to you and to other school board members and have seen no substantial improvements in the quality of his leadership, in the school environment or in the general academic performance of Bereas students. The 2009 standardized test scores and subsequent December 2009 state audit of Berea Community Middle School (BCMS) are the latest indications that our school is in crisis; it was the second year that the middle school had failed to meet its Adequate Yearly Progress. Remarkably, no comprehensive planning document or strategy appears to exist to address the deficiencies outlined in the most recent audit. This is simply unacceptable.

As parents, grandparents and guardians of students at BCS, we are accountable for ensuring that our children and others in the Berea community receive the best possible education, and it is clear that BCMS/HS is in desperate need of new, effective leadership in the principal position. Therefore we respectfully ask that you remove Mr. Masters from his position as Middle School and High School Principal.

At question is not Mr. Masters commitment to the betterment of our children; we believe that he is deeply concerned about BCS students and wants them to succeed in and outside of the classroom. We believe that he cares about BCS teachers and wants to be able to assist them, as well. However it is our belief, based on our own observations and that of others in the BCS community, that Mr. Masters lacks the skills to lead the school to academic excellence, and ensure a positive, challenging environment to keep it there. Following are our specific concerns:

Poor, inadequate communication with parents, teachers and staff. Basic flow of information from Mr. Masters on academic performance, testing schedules and results, disciplinary changes, strategic planning have been inadequate for years despite advances in electronic communication, one-call systems and a revamped website. Meetings are poorly facilitated, with lack of continuity of agenda items and therefore missed opportunities for follow-through.
Low expectations for academic achievement. The clearest indication of these reduced expectations is the downward trend of scoring in the last few years, and a message at times subtle, at times direct that our goal is average. Variances in scoring and other academic performance measures are explained by smart classes and slower classes, with a goal to level out performance at a scoring level where a majority of students lie. Parents of higher-performing students have had to hound Mr. Masters to provide mechanisms for their children to stay challenged. This sets up students for problems not only at BCS, but when they move on to college. Numerous A students who have gone on to college and university have explained how BCS advanced preparation classes, self- or parent organized study groups and summer academic camps were not enough to prepare them well for the kind of academic expectations in college. IT is true that the BCMS/HS Site Based Decision Making council is responsible for handling curriculum and other academic decisions. However the functionality of this group is largely dependent on a chair/principal that sets high expectations and goals and knows how to translate those goals into action and success.
Inability to provide productive guidance and adequate planning time to teachers. Teachers have for years reported to us that Mr. Masters has failed to provide them with the kind of class planning time they need and the opportunity for cross-collaboration with other staff; failed in many cases to allow more flexibility in teaching methods and pursuit of new ideas, and has not been able to provide helpful guidance to them. Mr. Masters walkthroughs apparently do result in general feedback to teachers, which are not helpful to teachers as more specific suggestions, and often come in an overly critical rather than nurturing manner. There are no curriculum maps or pacing guides. Adding in more testing practices and tutoring appears to be his panacea though these tactics have yet to produce tangible positive results, while class time on basic content and foundational skills is being cut.
Demoralization of staff. Teachers have routinely admitted to parents that they often lack enthusiasm about their work, and are frustrated at being berated by Mr. Masters, including during class and other times in front of students. As such many teachers are less likely to raise concerns, suggestions for corrective action, or other new ideas with him or with you; they feel less confident in their work and supported by administration, and suffer from souring relationships. Thankfully, many teachers good teachers say that they stay at BCS out of their commitment to the students and to the institution itself. But none should have to deal with the added stress of a principal who does not or is not capable of valuing their work.
Rash, reactionary decision-making. Teachers and students report that Mr. Masters routinely makes quick, rash decisions without full consideration of the consequences, without explaining his rationale, and is apt to reversing that decision just as quickly. Far from a display of good leadership, his decision making style appears to have created more confusion and resentment among teachers and staff, lack of respect among students, and a general erosion of school climate.
Failure to create and deploy comprehensive strategies. Parents are unaware of any comprehensive plan or strategy to address the decline in academic performance and lack of morale among teachers and staff. The 2009 audit seems to have identified the deficiencies in planning that have concerned us for years. Rather than reiterate the more specific points raised in the audit, we note that this failure, among all others, is what makes the need for new leadership so clear.


Based on these reasons, we ask that you immediately take action as follows.

1. Terminate Mr. Masters contract by June 2010, and begin the search process for a new principal as soon as possible. Mr. Masters has had 8 years to prove his leadership abilities, and has failed to do so. In the best interests of BCS students, new, more highly qualified principal is needed immediately. If the ideal candidate cannot be identified and hired in time for a smooth transition before the 2010-11 school year, we recommend considering a short-term interim principal until the best person is found.

2. Identify a date for an all-day, third party facilitated dialogue to walk through, incrementally, the December 2009 audit and create a strategic frame with which positive changes can be made. The meeting agenda should be developed in coordination with a team of parents, teachers, SBDM and board members, and set for a day before the end of the 2009-10 school year. Lack of a solid plan to address the deficiencies outlined in the December 2009 audit and other prior audits and measures has resulted in confusion and lack of clear direction for improvement. A planning document developed collaboratively by BCS leadership and parent and student stakeholders would help identify root problems, clarify expectations, define who is accountable for what specific action steps, and make clear solutions. Such a planning process and document would indicate to any new principal candidates that the BCS community is serious about getting the school on the right track.

3. Immediately communicate to parents, teachers and school board members and the media your commitment to oversee an effective transformation from BCSs current academic performance level to a school of academic excellence. Following numerous newspaper reports, a lengthy school board meeting, countless BCS internal conversations and those among parents and students with other community members, it is shocking that no formal statement has been issued by the District office. Even a simple statement assuring that you take seriously the problems facing the school would send a message to teachers and students that they are valued and respected.


Leadership is shared by many people; Mr. Masters is not solely responsible for the schools current condition nor is any principal, alone, responsible for making changes. As such, we ask that you as Superintendent reinforce in concept and in practice, that academic excellence is expected, and measured not only by test scores but also by a faculty, staff and students who are constantly, highly motivated and challenged for improvement.

The 2009 scholastic audit concluded with this question: What would Berea Middle School look like if all stakeholders were united behind the common goal of advancing student achievement? We as parent stakeholders take our job seriously and we look forward to working with you and BCS school board members, teachers, staff and students to answer that question.

We appreciate that your job involves carrying out difficult or uncomfortable decisions. But we also trust that you have the best interests of our children at heart and hope that you will take our requests in that spirit. We look forward to a response from you and the school board by April 19th, with clear indication of how you plan to consider and move forward with our recommendations.

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