Study to proceed without support of superintendents’ organization

February 9, 2016
Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor

An Alberta Teachers’ Association study into the role of the superintendent will proceed despite the withdrawal of support by the College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS).

The study began as a pilot last year and was being expanded to roll out in a more comprehensive form this year. Association officials were under the impression that CASS was on board but received word in December that the organization would no longer be supporting the project.

The committee overseeing the study met in late January and decided to proceed anyway, in the hope that some superintendents would volunteer to participate despite the recommendation of their voluntary organization.

“I’m deeply disappointed that CASS refuses to engage in education research that’s been initiated by the Association,” said ATA president Mark Ramsankar.

He said CASS willingly participated in last year’s pilot project and appeared to be supportive of the more comprehensive study. While there had been concerns from CASS that the study would be a way for the Association to engage in finger-pointing at superintendents, Ramsankar felt that these concerns had been addressed.

He added that a committee was established in October to oversee the research, a committee that included CASS membership.

In a written statement provided to the ATA News, CASS executive director Barry Litun refuted that claim, stating that the organization had not been involved in the oversight committee. This was among four main reasons he listed for the CASS board’s decision to withdraw its support:

  1. Lack of a clear understanding of the goal of the study
  2. Lack of involvement by CASS in the oversight committee for the study and the development of the interview questions
  3. A lack of involvement by at least some of the identified external researchers in the oversight of the study and the interview questions
  4. A determination that the focus of the interviews questions was very narrow

“There was a belief by the CASS board of directors that the study would focus on responsibilities of superintendents that are viewed, by some, in a negative light,” Litun wrote in the statement.

The CASS board met in December and decided that it would not be recommending to superintendents that they participate in the study, he wrote.

Litun said via email that he distributed the statement to superintendents with a request that it also be provided to local presidents.

Ramsankar said he’ll be discussing CASS’s statement with local presidents.

“Our table officers are not at all pleased with CASS’s response. At this time, the research study will proceed without CASS,” he said.

Great relations

Ramsankar said the purpose of the study is to develop a better understanding of superintendents’ roles and to build a better relationship between the teaching profession and superintendents. The idea for such study arose after he noticed that he was hearing from many teachers around the province about strained relations with superintendents and a lack of understanding of their roles.

Ramsankar added that CASS is seeking to block or boycott research that might be negative to some superintendents, and absolutely denied that there has been a lack of involvement of CASS in the study, on the committee and in the development of research questions.

He questioned why CASS wouldn’t want to participate “in an open dialogue with the Association.”

“There are some problems, but the Association has great relations with many superintendents across the province,” he said.

On a local level, he noted that relations between teachers and superintendents around the province are “all over the map.”

“There are some teachers that speak very highly of their superintendents and are very positive about their relationship and the opportunity for decision-making. And there are some instances around the province where it’s toxic, where teachers live in an atmosphere of stress and bullying and there is no conversation,” he said.

“I think the question that needs to be asked is, do superintendents respect teachers as professionals? And if the answer is no, that’s one kettle of fish. If the answer is yes, then how is that demonstrated?”❚