At the Editor’s Desk: So Long, Farewell Superintendent Culver

by Laura Weisskopf Bleill

Here’s one news headline you won’t see when you open the Champaign Unit 4 School District website homepage:

“Superintendent Arthur Culver Gives Champaign The Finger”

But that’s exactly what he did in a Q & A article that appeared on the front page of Sunday’s News-Gazette. Well, at least he cleared up that mystery for me — he won’t be in charge of administrating my daughter’s education when we enroll her in the district this fall.

arthur culver champaign unit 4 school district superintendent

Arthur Culver made no bones about it on Sunday - he wants to put the Champaign school district in his rearview mirror. Photo by Cast a Line on flickr

(Not to hijack my own post, but it was announced at the Board of Education meeting on Monday night that kindergarten assignment lottery letters will, in all likelihood, get mailed on Friday. UPDATE: On Wednesday (4/13) we were notified that the best estimate is now April 19 or 20.)

I do not begrudge the man for wanting to find a new challenge or for wanting a change of scenery. He is not from here, and his kids have gone through the school system and graduated. That is completely understandable. Administrators come, and administrators go. It had been reported weeks ago that he was named a finalist for a superintendent position for a very large (and very troubled) district near Atlanta.

What is not understandable is why anyone would publicly scream to the rafters his desire to leave before officially announcing his resignation. This is the kind of interview a person gives AFTER they have secured a new job. That’s just PR 101, folks.

Here are just four of the biggest problems with this interview:

1. It absolutely dripped with hubris (he called it confidence, but there is a big difference in my opinion). And while the district may have come a long way since he got here, it still has a LONG way to go. And the lack of recognition of that fact is, frankly, appalling.

2. Although he says he will continue to give the proverbial “100 percent” while he is still here, if anyone believes that, I have an extension of Olympian Drive to sell you. He made it pretty clear that he is gone. You can’t have it both ways.

3. The overall air of smug.

4. Warranted or not, this interview is another stain on the district’s image. Culver is not a free agent. He is still under contract (more on that in just a second), and still is the figurehead of Unit 4.

Culver’s contract runs through June 30, 2014. In February 2010, the Board of Education had a contentious vote whether or not to extend his contract by a year, which was originally scheduled to expire in 2013. It passed, 4-3, and at the time, all of the board members who voted “no” said that their vote did not reflect on the Superintendent’s performance. (According to the district website, he makes $246,851.16 with a $3,000 “differential,” although reportedly his salary has not increased in some time).

That all seems like a moot point now. It’s fun to speculate, why a man with three years left on his contract would be so very eager to say Sayonara. Did it only take a year for the tide to turn from a Board of Education perspective? We’ll never know the truth — at least not publicly. One thing we do know is that none of the current board members were in office when Culver was brought to Champaign in 2002.

As for the Atlanta job, an announcement regarding the position will be made April 18. If you have some time to kill and want to amuse yourself, you can read some fascinating feedback about Culver the job candidate made public on the DeKalb County School District website.

Perhaps we should hand it to him; we should all be so “confident.” It takes guts — chutzpah is too complimentary a word — to tell anyone who will listen that you want to get the heck out of dodge. But that interview makes it painfully obvious that there has been a vacuum of leadership at Unit 4 for some time now. The district’s teachers, staff and students deserve more.

Funny, I don’t see anyone in Champaign begging him to stay.

Laura Weisskopf Bleill is the co-founder and editor of chambanamoms.com. You can reach her at laura@chambanamoms.com.

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Comments

  1. And people wonder why I’m going to send my kid to private school.

  2. Good riddance! Now if only they’d get rid of school of ‘choice’! Maybe then we could get our district back to what it once was before he arrived!

  3. “Funny, I don’t see anyone in Champaign begging him to stay”

    Heck, I’ll give him gas money!

  4. Honestly- my goal is not to live here when my kids are old enough to go to school. I don’t think I could deal with this child lotto system- just sounds crazy to me.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I agree with you, Laura, that this is the type of article one writes AFTER one has a new job. Here’s hoping our next administrator is more dedicated – and humble.

    Props to the DeKalb school district for their transparency. I can’t imagine it would be so easy to find documents like those on Unit 4’s site.

  6. So long, Art. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. I wish any district that hires him good luck. Hopefully, for the sake of those kids and parents, he won’t be as “successful” there as he was here. My other hope is that he will take all his Texas folks with him and let our district start to get it back together.

  7. Marvelous post Laura—-as always!

  8. Tim Jenvey says:

    Your article sums it up pretty much. My father was a school superintendent in MI and would have never give such an interview prior to securing the next postion. That said you also point out a very valid point in that the Board has change from the one that hired him and the vote on his contract was a signal to him that he was done. From that time on I’m sure he was in full search mode. I suspect Atlanta is not the only iron in fire and there must be at least several additional opportunities ready to fall.

  9. I remember when he took this job he moved his posse with him, despite our local abundance of PhD talent, I was not impressed then and my opinion has not improved.

  10. Im not impressed with anything he has done. More and more people are just sending their kids to private schools. His cocky attitude and inflated salary for doing little to improve the district… will not be missed.

  11. In fact, his article really did not surprise me. It is just another example of his inability to effectively, efficiently, and respectfully lead this district. My first reaction was not “how could have said those things or represented the district like that” because neither have ever been his strong suit. My first reaction was “really? how soon can you leave?”

  12. It’s not surprising that a person who came into this position with little integrity or respect would leave it at the same level. He will not be missed in my family.

  13. I read the same article and had a very different opinion. He sounded honest to me. If he had said that he would stay if he didn’t get the Georgia job, and then he took another job in the next few months, he would be called a liar. I have only had to go to the district administrators one time. I received an immediate meeting and support for solving my problem. I didn’t get everything I wanted, but I got a respectful audience and resolution. Just thought I’d share my experience.

    • Thanks for your comment, Momx3, and your insight. Perhaps the rest of us are too cynical! ;-)

    • I agree, MomX3. He did not choose to release the news. The information got out and he had to respond. I’m not sure what people expected at that point. I will take honesty any time.

  14. Laura, I echo previous comments in saying “kudos” and thanks.

    I appreciate the last few comments (MomX3 and Deborah) only because they bring us back to reality. The News-Gazette interview was quite interesting, but I was appalled at all the weenies hiding behind anonymous monikers and throwing stones as if they were going out of style.

    Mr. Culver is a mixed bag. We are all human, thus to expect someone to be all good or all bad is quite impractical. He did some good things, he did some bad things. Obviously, there are a lot of voices who are more than willing to let the world know, in brutally honest terms, how glad they are that Culver is not sticking around. Personally, I understand the desire to get that off your chest but it does not really help us move forward.

    I would love for us to review “what could have been better” and apply that to the next superintendent. If there is something that Culver did or did not do, let us as a community make sure that we find someone who fills in those gaps. And let us as a community keep the Board of Education accountable to our desires, not merely by throwing our vitriol around the internets, but by identifying clearly defined characteristics we want.

    And not only of the superintendent, but also of the Administration as well. There are a lot of complaints about Unit 4’s “transparency” and lack of visibility online. I have voiced a number of those myself. Now is the time to make changes, so let us do so with well-placed footsteps.

    Not to further your own hijacking, Laura, but I have an FOIA out for the Kindergarten Lottery data and hope to receive it soon and put it online.

    • Charles – thanks for your input as always. It is my hope that the process to hire a new superintendent will be one that will embrace community input. However, I think it’s much more important to look forward and consider what we want in a superintendent – and not look back at what didn’t work or what went wrong. I have already contacted a couple members of the Board of Education and let them know that I am very interested in being a part of that process in whatever way is appropriate.

      As for the kindergarten lottery, thank you for taking that step. I may be following your lead!

    • Karen Roese says:

      I think it’s important for people to speak out so that others realize that they are not alone in their experiences with this school district. ‘I guess it’s just me…’ is what many people thought before, often by happenstance, they realized that others had had eerily similar experiences. And, I very much understand people wanting to keep their annonymity—-some fear retaliation or fallout from going public (and, sadly, I don’t think it’s an unfounded concern).

  15. I encourage parents to attend the Board of Education meetings. I am often the only or one of few parents in the audience. I see more teachers and staff at these meetings.

  16. Just as an aside…I think it’s interesting and very telling that many administrators in the district choose (and can afford) to send their own children to private school.

  17. DeKalbParent says:

    You all can keep him!

  18. From a DeKalb Co. (Atlanta) mom in the trenches–that made me laugh when I read a previous poster compliment our county for transparency. Oh how I wish it were true. That is the MOST transparent DeKalb has ever been. Its a disaster over here! Our last superintendent has been indicted on RICO charges, we have accrediation problems, the never-ending north/south race debate, school board members who can barely put together a coherent sentence (and only if it starts with “those white folks in North DeKalb get all the funding…”), and so much more. Even if you can’t stand Culver, I’m resigned to the fact that he is the guy that we are going to have to pin our hopes to. Pray for us, Champaign residents!

    • DekalbGAdad says:

      As the father of a student in DeKalb County, GA, I hope Arthur goes back to Texas or anywhere else. I attended the public meeting where the three candidates answered questions. To say he’s not a gifted speaker is an understatement. I found myself fighting to stay awake. And when I checked out his claims made in his bio that was submitted, all were embellished. Some were just out and out lies. I think the reason there was no announcement made on 4/18/11 is due to the fact that our school board has finally done some due diligence. I hope so. He sounds like a clone of the Superintendent that we just fired. Good luck in your search to replace him. I hope it goes better than ours!

  19. Wow, I went online and looked at Culver’s resume, and I could not find anything that looked fishy. All resumes put accomplishments in a positive light, and I had read most of the stuff in his in the News Gazette. If there are serious “embellishments”, tell us what they are. If the poster would give examples, we could check them out. If I were Culver, I would look at these defaming posts, as well as the actions of the board in DeKalb, and think very, very hard about moving there. He obviously has other options or he wouldn’t be so open about leaving. I look forward to the future of our schools and working with the new leadership, but I don’t see any value in making disparaging remarks about the current administration. I am sure they are far from perfect, and so am I. But I have had responsive, respectful attention from the principal level on up.

  20. Thanks, Charles Shultz. You write the kind of posts that I like to read….thought provoking and fair. If schools of choice isn’t perfect, let’s work on it. We don’t want segregated schools, and we can’t have “neighborhood schools. Some schools have no neighborhood and some have two or three. Also, I think it is really called controlled choice, which is more accurate, but sounds scary.

  21. Bill peifer says:

    I’m thrilled that the district will have the opportunity to hire a new leader. The so called school of choice program has done some good and some harm. The right leadership going forward is critical to the success of our schools, and how they are perceived by the community. We must stop the the flight of middle class families out of the district to either private schools or other districts.

  22. Now the the district needs to clean house of the couple principals they have who are poorly performing, unethical and not appropriate leaders for our children / schools.

    • Culver Fan says:

      If you were treated by the school board the same way Mr. Culver was, you would want to get “The Heck Out of Dodge” as well. Champaign had serious problems before Mr. Culver got here, he has improved the district incredibly, but all you can do is complain. You are right, you don’t know the whole story.