Superintendent’s Contract Not Renewed

Marianna Michael

As of November 22, 2010, the Jefferson County Board of Education has voted not to renew the contract of Dr. Sheldon Berman. The final vote for this decision was 5-2 with Steve Imhoff and Linda Duncan voting to renew Berman’s contract. One of the main reasons for this decision, according to Board chairwoman Debbie Wesslund, is that the board has “been concerned with the stagnant growth in key areas of reading and math.”

A board employee summed up the feeling in the room when the decision was announced: “The dynamics were crazy. We all just got quiet. It was like our leader was gone.” The employee asked not to be identified.

Berman’s tenure has been overshadowed by difficulties with the student assignment plan, including the many lawsuits that were filed after the Supreme Court made their ruling in December of 2008. Recently, many people have become alarmed by the growing list of failing schools. Six JCPS high schools were listed among the lowest-performing public schools in Kentucky.

“The whole time we were having the bus problems he was trying to blame other people,” said Manual senior London Poole. “He wanted to blame the principals, which made them look bad while he was defending himself and his character. He would always misquote principals and they could not say anything for fear of their jobs.”

Berman has been superintendent of JCPS since 2007. He came to Jefferson County after being superintendent of Hudson Public Schools in Massachusetts for fourteen years. The district that he came from was approximately one-thirteenth the size of JCPS, which is the 28th largest district in the nation.

Manual algebra teacher Kathleen Geary said, “While [Dr. Berman] was here, he did a lot of good things. There are too many variables to running a district and I think it is unfair to hold him accountable for that. Unless there was something we did not know about, I think he should have been able to carry out his plan. Whoever comes after him will have to deal with the same issues.”

Many people are shocked by how sudden this decision was made. Ms. Cathy Panther, a volunteer in Manual’s College and Career Room, said, “I was surprised and did not know if it was a knee-jerk reaction or if it was a major decision. We move superintendents a lot and I think the problem lies deeper than school leadership but instead reflects socioeconomic inequities.”

Principal Larry Wooldridge’s reaction to Berman’s role as superintendent was one of appreciation. “First off, the job of the superintendent is one of the most difficult jobs in education. There are so many different opinions. Dr. Berman understood the importance of magnet schools and is a supporter of Manual and YPAS. He came and saw Big River on Friday. I appreciate that he was a supporter. My hope is that the next superintendent can offer the same,” he said.