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State ed board approves Evergreen plan

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Principal Wayne Livingston will remain at the helm

The state Board of Education has approved Marion County Public Schools’ turnaround plan of Evergreen Elementary School, agreeing to allow Principal Wayne Livingston to remain at the helm.

Though Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, a former Marion County teacher and principal, had her doubts about allowing Livingston to remain, she did agree with many conditions that will require the district to submit monthly reports to the state about teacher vacancies and student progress.

Stewart said she agrees that Livingston is a fine man and a good principal, but she is concerned that Evergreen Elementary School’s grade did not rise to a C in the two years he was at the helm. Evergreen has received five consecutive D or F grades.

She said many good principals succeed at some schools, but not at others. She said many factors play a role and the “evidence is that Mr. Livingston may be best suited for a different school.”

Because of Evergreen’s poor performance, the state Department of Education gave the district three choices last fall: close Evergreen, convert it to a charter school, or hire an outside operator. Despite Maier’s recommendation for closure, the School Board voted to use an outside operator.

The board chose Educational Directions to serve as the external operator. Joe DeSensi represented Ed Directions at the state Board of Education meeting on Wednesday.

DeSensi told the state board that his company replaces 80 percent to 85 percent of principals when they take over the curriculum at turnaround schools.

However, he said they interviewed Livingston and found that he had a history of increasing school performance at Evergreen, when the school earned an A grade more than a decade ago. That was before Livingston left to become a high school principal. Livingston volunteered two years ago to go back to Evergreen in hopes he could help raise the grade again.

DeSensi said students had shown progress in some areas during the two years under Livingston’s leadership, though Stewart challenged that assertion. DeSensi told the state board that Livingston was willing to learn the company’s turnaround techniques without debate and that he is the best person to lead the school.

DeSensi said Livingston had been faced with teacher shortages at the school all last year and that he believes the school will rise to a B at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

“My reputation is on the line,” DeSensi told the board, adding that he will “be on the hook” if Evergreen does not rise to at least a C by spring.

DeSenzi said his company will find another principal if the state board ordered him to, but “you will make it easier if we can keep Mr. Livingston.”

One of the issues at hand was that Evergreen was not fully staffed with 30 effective and highly effective teachers last year. The district announced at the meeting the school is now fully staffed with effective and highly effective teachers.

Stewart said she wanted Marion administrators to file an updated school roster of teachers. Stewart said she also wants regular written updates about student performance, vacancies and discussions between the school district and Educational Directions.

State board Chairwoman Marva Johnson said she applauded Educational Directions’ decision to retain Livingston.

Other state board members struggled with the decision, since Superintendent of Schools Heidi Maier’s administrative team recommended in a letter sent to the state that revealed that they felt Livingston should be removed. The letter was sent after the July meeting with the state board, which wanted more reasons why Livingston should be retained.

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