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Almost two years to the day after Dr. Chuck Hamilton was hired to become the Marion County Superintendent, he unexpectedly announced his retirement Thursday evening, May 2.
Hamilton’s announcement came during a special-called meeting at the Marion County Board of Education office. At 5 p.m., the board went into executive session to discuss personnel under KRS 61.810(1)(f).
The closed session lasted only two minutes and the board reconvened into open session and unanimously accepted Hamilton’s retirement, effective June 30.
There was no discussion and the board immediately adjourned.
After the meeting, Board Chairman Michael Mullins told the Enterprise that he had called the executive session so the board could discuss the ongoing communication problems they had been having with Hamilton. He said he had no idea Hamilton was going to announce his retirement.
“Before we had a chance to even speak, he handed us the letter,” Mullins said. “Now that sounds like a communication problem to me.”
Hamilton’s letter was simply one sentence, dated May 1, and it read, “I am retiring from my position with the Marion County Board of Education effective the close of the day June 30, 2013.”
“I had no idea this was coming,” Mullins said. “I knew absolutely nothing about this, but it doesn’t surprise me because this is the relationship the superintendent and I, as chairman, have had since the beginning. No communication.”
Hamilton, who the board unanimously voted to hired as Marion County’s superintendent on May 5, 2011, had a glowing evaluation in June of last year. The board gave Hamilton an overall rating of 3.5 out of a possible 4.0.
"We all agree he's doing a great job," Chairman Mullins said after Hamilton’s yearly evaluation on June 22, 2012. "We're looking forward to the next year. We all agree that the school system is moving forward ... and making strides regardless of the financial impact we've had to deal with the past year. We all agree that we hired the right man for the job. We're very satisfied with his first year here and look forward to many more."
Board Vice Chairman Ed Hacker agreed.
"Dr. Hamilton has taken the ship and set it upright and put it on course," Hacker was quoted saying in the June 27 edition of the Enterprise.
However, since then, Mullins said Hamilton basically stopped communicating with the board.
“I believe Dr. Hamilton looked at us as micromanaging him,” Mullins said. “I don’t think we were doing that.”
According to Mullins, at times the board would talk to Hamilton and give him information about things that were allegedly going on in the district and ask if he could check into them and let them know what he found out. But, they were often dissatisfied with the answers Hamilton would give them, Mullins said.
One example, Mullins said, is the alleged gunshot that was fired at Lebanon Middle School on Nov. 19, 2012. According to Mullins, a teacher emailed Hamilton and said she and her students heard what they thought was a gunshot near Lebanon Middle School. Superintendent Hamilton confirmed that a teacher did inform him that she and her students heard what they described as a gunshot from somewhere outside the building. The Lebanon Police Department was called and responded to the school, but nothing and no one was found.
“The notification of the superintendent's office and local law enforcement is the appropriate response to such a situation,” Hamilton said after the alleged incident occurred. “The teacher and students leapt to the assumption it was a hunter, since they had seen deer behind the LMS property earlier that morning.”
Hamilton said the report was investigated by the school district, the Lebanon Police Department and school resource officer.
The incident might have involved a district employee (or former employee), which the board discussed during an executive session in December.
According to Mullins, the superintendent didn’t handle the incident properly.
“We as board members asked the superintendent to look into it and we were not satisfied with his methods that he used to investigate it,” Mullins said. “From the answers that were given to us, it didn’t appear to be much of an investigation at all.”
In January during Hamilton’s mid-year evaluation, Mullins said the board discussed their concerns with Hamilton regarding his lack of communication.
“There were no other issues other than the communication issues,” Mullins said. “That’s the only problem the superintendent and I have had. I hate the fact that we are not going to have the opportunity to work through the problems that we had.”
Mullins said he’s extremely disappointed that things have ended this way.
“We hired Chuck because we thought he was the best man for the job and we know the community was looking forward to him being our superintendent,” he said. “But, with that, comes the responsibility to work well with the board. I think that’s where the problem lied. There’s nobody in this town, in this county, that’s more disappointed than I am. I most definitely didn’t think things would end this way.”
What the other board members are saying ...
Board Vice Chairman Ed Hacker, along with the remaining board members, all agree that there were some communication problems between Hamilton and the board.
“He didn’t want any input from us,” Hacker said. “Any time we would bring something to him, it seemed like he took offense to it.”
Hacker said communication between the board and Hamilton was a “one-way street.”
“We would go to Chuck with ideas and situations that we didn’t feel like he was addressing and I think he took it personal,” he said. “I felt like we were not being heard.”
Board Member DeLane Pinkston said he believes there was a “difference of philosophy” between the board and Hamilton.
“I do wish it had worked out, but it’s a difficult job when you’re superintendent,” Pinkston said. “There’s a lot of people to please, and you can’t please them all. Maybe that was the problem, too. He’s just a nice person, and you just can’t please everybody.”
Board Member Michael Cecil said Hamilton is a “quality person” but that he didn’t take criticism well and he was resistant to accepting input from board members.
“We told him that if he had to make some tough decisions, we’ve got your back,” Cecil said. “He never seemed to accept that offer.”
Board Member Bernard Miles said while Hamilton’s retirement is unexpected, it’s something that is happening statewide.
“So many superintendents are leaving,” he said. “School districts are having to do more and more and more with less and less and less. There is a stress level there that is very, very high. If you watch, there are a lot of retirements that come quickly.”
Superintendent Hamilton responds ...
In an emailed response to the Enterprise, Hamilton said his decision to retire was based on “several personal and professional factors.”
“It is not in my personal values or professional ethics to discuss either in an open forum,” Hamilton wrote to the Enterprise. “I regret this will leave the decision open to speculation, but I am confident those who have interacted with me over the years as a teacher, coach, co-worker, friend and even casual acquaintances will respect the decision was not made impulsively or without deep thought as to the effects to me and those I have served.”
In response to the board’s comments regarding him having poor communication skills, Hamilton wrote: “My professional training and multiple methods of communicating with board members in an ethically and legally responsible manner obviously did not reflect their standards in my second year on the job.”
The Enterprise asked Hamilton if the strained relationship between him and the board was the reason he was retiring.
“The strain my relationship with the board was having on MCPS staff and the efficient operations of the district contributed to my decision,” Hamilton wrote.
In regards to the rumors that Hamilton has already accepted another job, Hamilton wrote:
“I have not officially committed to anything permanent. I am teaching a graduate course in school finance at the University of Kentucky this summer and will continue to serve as a trainer of school board members across the state in finance and ethics for the Kentucky School Boards Association.”
When asked if he had any additional comments, Hamilton wrote the following:
“My current contract, only formal evaluation, and history of service can be found on our district website, under the 'Superintendent’ link,” Hamilton wrote. “The Kentucky Department of Education has recommended these documents be available to the community.”
Breaking the news to his leadership team and staff ...
Dr. Hamilton sent the following email to principals and teachers Friday, May 3, following his retirement announcement:
I want to personally thank each of you for the service you provide our students each and every day. It is a blessing to know the youth in our community are attended and directed by people of good moral character and strong ethical convictions. The genuine care I see for students as I visit buildings or attend afterschool events makes my heart swell with pride. For some of you this is amplified even stronger as you taught and modeled for my own children and Fran and I feel blessed at the lessons they learned about academics and humanity under your watch. The choice to become a teacher is often made well before you learn the reality of the job. The work is not something anyone outside the circle will ever truly understand. That is why I hope you will take my praise for your dedication, perseverance and professionalism at its value, from one who walked in your shoes and beside you for 25 years. My love for the profession and what I see as a district staff who put kids first makes my closing comments just that much more difficult. I have decided to retire effective the close of the day June 30, 2013. Fran, my wife and best friend, and I feel it is in the best interest of the system and me personally to explore other options at this point in my life. God bless each of you for making teaching your vocation!