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April 28, 2015

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Wife says former principal being thrown under bus over national conference charges

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Pat Skorkowsky

At least one Clark County School Board member and Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky knew of Sunrise Mountain High School's plans to host a national conference that taxpayers are now being forced to bail out, the Sun has learned.

Last week, the School Board unanimously approved $100,000 in emergency money from the district's general fund to help Sunrise Mountain cover the cost of hosting 900 student council advisers and members for the National Association of Student Councils' leadership conference, June 22-24.

School District leaders pointed their fingers at Sunrise Mountain's former principal John Barlow, who was reassigned to a central office position after Sunrise Mountain became a "turnaround" school in March.

They said Barlow failed to adequately plan for the event, which was supposed to be funded by outside donations and fundraiser money.

They said Barlow also failed to notify the proper authorities until about a month ago that the school might not reach its fundraising goals.

The School District is now investigating what occurred.

However, at least two district leaders knew of Sunrise Mountain's commitment to host the national conference and apparently didn't monitor its preparations for the event, ultimately costing taxpayers up to $100,000. Sunrise Mountain's contract with the conference states the school is responsible for supplying food and transportation, which the school cannot provide without district resources.

School Board member Chris Garvey had known of Sunrise Mountain's plans to host the national conference since March 2012. Garvey signed Sunrise Mountain's application and a letter of support to host the conference.

"We, the undersigned, understand the school and personal commitments in hosting an NASC Conference as outlined in this packet and thereby submit this application," the line above the signature states.

According to the School Board's operating policies, applications and contracts between district schools and national organizations must be approved by a vote from the entire board — not just one member. That policy was not followed in this case, said School Board President Carolyn Edwards.

Garvey said in a text message that she could not comment on the current School District investigation. However, she said she signed the application and a letter of support for Sunrise Mountain because she “believes that student council is a wonderful leadership experience for our students.”

“Beyond the application for consideration and a letter of support, I was not aware of what occurred subsequently,” she said in the text.

Additionally, the district confirmed Skorkowsky, who was recently appointed as superintendent, had a phone conversation about the conference with the National Association of Student Councils in late March — more than a month before School District leadership was told proper planning and fundraising for the conference did not occur.

Skorkowsky did not divulge what his conversation with the national organization entailed. Calls to the National Association of Student Councils were not returned.

The School District, which is ultimately responsible for the actions of its 357 schools, attempted to disassociate itself from Sunrise Mountain High School this week. District spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson argued that preparing for the conference was Sunrise Mountain’s responsibility, not the district’s.

"Being apprised of an event doesn't take the ownership and responsibility from the employee tasked with the event," Fulkerson said, adding that the employee being investigated "dropped the ball." "The board and superintendent are made aware of thousands of events happening in the district each school year. Notifying leadership (that) a conference is taking place is very different than informing anyone that there were no plans being made to execute the details or funding being done to cover costs of the event.

"No one knew we'd be on the hook for costs and planning until two weeks ago."

Pamela Barlow, the wife of the embattled former Sunrise Mountain principal, defended her husband. She said her husband was told by the district to not talk publicly about the ongoing investigation.

When former Superintendent Dwight Jones approached John Barlow with plans to put the "turnaround" model in place at his low-performing high school, he told Jones about the national conference, Pamela Barlow said. John Barlow allegedly asked Jones if he was sure he wanted to change leadership while the school was supposed to be preparing for the national conference.

Jones suddenly resigned from his position in late March. He could not be reached for comment.

"(The School District) is trying to throw him under the bus," Pamela Barlow said, referring to her husband. "They're trying to prove that there was reason why (Sunrise Mountain) needed the turnaround."

John Barlow, who has 24 years of experience teaching in the district, opened Sunrise Mountain High School. During his three years at its helm, "he worked his butt off to do everything he could for that school," Pamela Barlow said.

John Barlow helped organize the national student council conference previously, Pamela Barlow said, back in 2004, when it was at Silverado High School. John Barlow "had everything in place" for this year's conference, she added, although she said she didn't know how much money her husband had raised.

"He got no help from anyone at the School District (during his time as Sunrise Mountain principal)," Pamela Barlow said. "Now, they're throwing him under the bus because a paper wasn't filed.

"I'm tired he's taking the heat, because he really cares about his kids."

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  1. Are we beginning to see some of the fruits of Dwight Jones' tenure or is this simply an isolated instance of poor planning?

  2. Pat Hayes...

    When the final chapter is written on Dwight Jones' tenure, the book will be hailed as 'A cautionary tale for school boards everywhere' & 'a veritable trove for avoiding embarrassing misjudgments in the hiring process' & titled, 'Grievous, Gross Incompetence; The Dwight Jones Story.'

    I wonder if in the history of America, a CEO-level executive walked into a board meeting and told them, 'I have to quit; my mom's sick.'
    Possibly unprecedented.

  3. As I understand it, the NASC was going to cancel the annual gathering due to a lack of funds until Barlow jumped in guaranteeing to host the conference.
    Barlow appears to have over reached without consulting the school district.

    What I love in all this is that Barlow was removed from Sunrise HS because the school and administration was failing. So guess what job Barlow is doing now for CCSD? He trains new Principals!!!!

  4. Part 1 of 2
    There seems to be plenty of blame to go around. Let's not forget that this problem was created during the watch of Superintendent Jones, and he should NOT be exonerated in this issue just because he suddenly left. He knew(this would be a feather in his public relations career cap should it succeed), several school secretaries had to of known, besides any and all committees (for school fund raising, there were teaching staff and students involved) that were in charge of getting and keeping the ball rolling on bring this well intentioned, wonderful conference to Las Vegas via the Sunrise Mountain High School facility, in hopes to inspire young people interested in learning about "leadership". Well, here in a living example of how "leadership" can run awry.

    They (whoever were the originators of suggesting and bringing forward the idea in the first place) tried to pull this all off in an area that was devastated by the recent economic crisis, and demographic shift of lower socio-economic residents. Good intentions were there to get positive press and do a very depressed area some good.

    I can appreciate that, because I live in the area since 2005, and have witnessed and gone through the area's evolution. There is so much poverty, despair, and it is now a problem to go shopping and have some beggars lurking in the parking lots shaking folks down for money, food, or cigarettes. This includes young people engaged in such activities.

    There is a saying, that "A moving target is hard to hit". Now Sunrise Mountain High School is a "turnaround school". The real change will happen if or when the neighborborhood population reverts back or shifts to better demographics. To blame educators for the condition of the students moving into the area seems disengenious. Test scores started dropping when the population of the area drastically changed in recent years.

    Blessings and Peace,

    PS-it has taken 2 hours to post this comment. Hummmmmm

  5. Part 2 of 2

    To his credit, Principal John Barlow, reached out to those in the community's neighborhood feeder schools, and tried to better prepare incoming students by communicating to feeder school teachers and principals on how to improve upon instructional strategies, delivery, and mitigate student needs as the population continued to shift.

    The school district's motto "Doing more with less," has created a host of unintended consequences. The whole organization is in a constant state of change or flux, with employees forever being moved around, programs come and go, and oft times, "the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing".

    This may be a symptom of a bigger problem that has been brewing in education, in general: turning educational institutions into corporate "top-down" leadership models. And when THIS is the case, it is not, "all about the children," no, it is all about the money, power, control, and upward career mobility of leadership. The spin in the careers of such players seem to be turning in that direction.

    The commenters above seem to see a pattern. In the last decade, Clark County has had unchecked, unsustainable growth, and now we are beginning to feel the results of it. Citizen residents in Clark County have had their voices marginalized over the voices of local businesses and their goals. The corporate culture has invaded every aspect of our lives, and reforms for the "good" of the People, will be metered out, per corporate dictates.

    Yes, there is plenty of blame to go around. This snaffu may only be a glimmer of what is really going on throughout Clark County on many levels. Time will tell, so stay tuned.

    Blessings and Peace,

  6. Just was able to view Commenter TigerMike's comments in the untrusted comment section. Am promoting his comments as they are relevant to the ongoing conversation, so here it is:
    As I understand it, the NASC was going to cancel the annual gathering due to a lack of funds until Barlow jumped in guaranteeing to host the conference.
    Barlow appears to have over reached without consulting the school district.

    What I love in all this is that Barlow was removed from Sunrise HS because the school and administration was failing. So guess what job Barlow is doing now for CCSD? He trains new Principals!!!!"

    TigerMike continues with, "...
    Dwight Jones wasn't involved at the national meeting last year when Barlow jumped in and 'saved' the annual NASC.
    Barlow 'personally guaranteed' the event despite the majority wanting to cancel the annual event due to ongoing financial concerns. It would have been cancelled without Barlow jumping in."

    Thank you, TigerMike, for coming forward. There have to be/are others in the mix, who knew this was all happening, especially when doing any kind of public school fundraisers (my point). I appreciate you clearing the air.

    Blessings and Peace,

  7. Chris Garvey needs to go as well. This is unacceptable.

  8. @Vegastony

    I believe Chris Garvey only signed on to the idea, but from the start it was Barlow's baby. Barlow was the one who would organize and fund raise.
    Now I don't know the reasons why he didn't follow through and inform CCSD of the event, but little was done in terms of planning such as adding the event to the master calendar of the school and CCSD. It wasn't the matter of failing to file a couple of forms, you would expect Barlow's boss to be informed and a fundraising effort to be planned. None of that appears to have been done.

    In March 2012, Barlow made the commitment to host the event. He wasn't replaced as Principal till March 2013.
    There is an entire year that went by with very few people informed as to what was happening.

  9. Certainly more than one school district employee is GUILTY OF MISCONDUCT, malfeasance, neglect. We overpay these clowns with pay scales that START IN SIX FIGURES yet they have limited ability to perform and totally ignore their fiduciary responsibilities.

  10. I worked for John Barlow for four years. He always comes off as a "nice guy," but as a leader, he is a disaster. He has big plans, but has no follow through. He leaves it up to others to get things done, and never understands why everything falls apart. Wherever John is, money problems follow. His purchases for schools are questionable: Thomas Kinkade paintings for his office, expensive murals, flags, planters, trees for the outside courtyard, meals for parent meetings, etc., etc. None of which has anything to do with student achievement. John is a good image person. Big ideas, flashy images, lofty mission statements, no substance, no follow through, no results. He never should have been made principal of a school that the district knew would be at risk. (And that also goes for his former school, Del Sol HS.)

  11. @mjl89
    Your comments re Barlow isn't an isolated opinion within CCSD. That was the general consensus before this event.
    One former Principal used to use the phrase 'talks wonders, s***s blunders'. Talking to members of staff at Barlow's schools, lots of ideas and initiatives, but very little follow through. Some have suggested he had too many ideas and plans, many of which contradicted, that it caused chaos.