Superintendent Gets Vote of No Confidence
By Patricia Roy
This week, Holliston educators took an overwhelming vote of ‘no confidence’ in Dr. Susan Kustka as the Superintendent of Holliston Public Schools.
Citing the Superintendent’s failure to provide a supportive work environment within Holliston Public Schools (HPS) where educators feel safe and can flourish, 98% of the voting members of the Holliston Federation of Teachers voted “no confidence” in Dr. Kustka as the Superintendent of Holliston Public Schools. The vote, held by secret ballot over the past week, was 303 votes of “no confidence” to just seven votes of confidence.
“Holliston educators care deeply about the future of our school district. Our school community deserves a leader who is able to prioritize developing relationships and can effectively collaborate with all members of our school community,” said Holliston Federation of Teachers President Jaime Cutone. “The membership of the Holliston Federation of Teachers is united in our view that we have no confidence in the leadership ability of Dr. Susan Kustka. It is time that the School Committee hear our concerns and take action to address the issues brought forward.”
“Holliston Public Schools raised me. Our teachers, our support staff, and our administrators worked as one to serve the students,” said a Robert Adams Middle School educator who wishes to remain anonymous. “Never did I ever imagine feeling the tension and sadness our Superintendent fosters; and that’s exactly what our students are being exposed to now.”“Students are no longer at the center of decisions being made at the administrative level,” said a Placentino Elementary School educator who asked to remain anonymous. Their sentiments were echoed by another Placentino colleague, who said “Holliston Public Schools deserve a leader whose main priority is helping the kids, not their own agenda.” your article here...Educators say that major issues with the Superintendent’s leadership include:
• Educator Voice: Dr. Kustka has demonstrated an unwillingness to value educator voice, by not addressing concerns brought forth by educators that directly impact students and by not including educator voice in decision making.
• Collaboration & Communication: Dr. Kustka has demonstrated an inability to take responsibility for and effectively acknowledge and resolve work-related issues.
• Professionalism: Dr. Kustka has demonstrated an inability to consistently maintain the professionalism that is expected by public school educators.
• Retention Crisis: Dr. Kustka has demonstrated an inability to take responsibility for the high rate of loss of valuable educators within Holliston Public Schools, and has been unwilling to create a plan that addresses significant retention issues throughout the district that are leading to high turnover rates. In a school district with 375 staff positions, we have had 216 new staff members in the past 2 ½ years.
• Equity: Dr. Kustka has demonstrated an unwillingness to create and uphold an equitable work environment by making decisions that promote deeper inequities.
“A leader’s number one responsibility is to foster connection, trust, deep listening and empathy across their organization. Dr. Kustka not only falls short, but she openly denies these duties as her responsibility,” said a Holliston High School educator who wishes to remain anonymous. “Our students and our town deserve better.”
“I joined the Holliston Public Schools with enthusiasm, understanding that it is a collaborative and student-centered environment,” said an HPS educator who asked to remain anonymous. “I have seen staff morale plummet in the past two years as educators’ voices have been stifled, their expertise questioned, and their creativity stripped away. Educators who work in fear of the administration are not able to teach effectively or innovatively; ultimately, student learning outcomes suffer.”
The members of the Holliston Federation of Teachers expect the School Committee to take immediate action to address these issues and make the following suggestions:
• Educator Voice: Require the Superintendent to value the professional opinions of staff by working with staff in an equitable way to identify issues and seek solutions that address their concerns.
• Collaboration & Communication: Expect that the Superintendent actively engage in perspective-taking to understand that work-related issues are shared issues that all stakeholders must prioritize. Enroll the Superintendent in a communications course and hire a consultant to provide training on effective communication with stakeholders. Establish a plan for resolving issues in a more efficient manner. Engage the Superintendent, School Committee and Union leadership in training through Federal Mediation Conciliation Services.
• Professionalism: Work with the Town’s Human Resources Director to educate the Superintendent on how to act professionally with all employees. Update the HPS policies to include an anti-hostile work environment policy that includes addressing aggressive behaviors that can lead to a toxic work environment, and include steps for reporting such violations made by the Superintendent directly to the Town’s Human Resources Department. Investigate all claims of unprofessional and hostile behavior by the Superintendent in the same manner as claims are handled for other staff members.
• Retention: Establish a subcommittee of stakeholders that addresses the reasons why staff are leaving HPS and create a plan that promotes a quality work environment to retain valuable staff. Enroll the Superintendent in leadership training to educate them in how organizational leaders impact workplace culture, how to lead with integrity and compassion, how to inspire staff, and effectively gain buy-in when making major decisions. Require the Superintendent to create a plan on how to gain regular input from staff as it relates to culture and morale and create a process to routinely address issues that lead to turnover.
• Equity: Require the Superintendent to practice equitable treatment of staff and require the Superintendent to be trained on how differential treatment of staff negatively impacts the work environment.
The feelings of the membership are summed up by Holliston Federation of Teachers Vice President Amanda Rivera, who said: “This is a difficult day for the Holliston community. No educator wanted to have to take this vote in order to get action on these leadership issues that are negatively impacting students and staff. The Holliston Federation of Teachers has been trying for the past two years to explain to Dr. Kustka and the School Committee our concerns with her leadership style, her opinions about our district and its educators, her educational priorities, and the direction she is taking our schools that have always been treasured for their creativity, innovative programming and long-standing expert staff. Our hope is that this vote gets the School Committee to take seriously the voices of the educators in Holliston who are deeply committed to the success and well-being of their students and colleagues.”
Any change to building leadership at the high school will lead to further instability and could diminish student outcomes, decrease staff morale and take years to return to making effective progress,” Cutone said during the meeting. “Holliston High School is a safe space for educators to take risks, be innovative, prioritize student agency and to collaborate with colleagues in meaningful ways.”