Culver: Retirements, not raids, drive East St. Louis school shake-up

News-DemocratMarch 27, 2014 

Retirements of three top staffers and a meeting with the state school superintendent fueled enough speculation to prompt East St. Louis School Superintendent Arthur Culver to issue a statement saying he isn't going anywhere.

Culver on Thursday said three of the people who came to the district with him as part of an agreement with the state to help the financially and academically ailing district will retire at the end of the year. Additionally, there was just a visit by Illinois Superintendent of Schools Christopher Koch with Culver, school board President Lonzo Greenwood and state financial oversight panel chairman Ranadore Foggs as required by the agreement. He said there is no investigation or purge.

"This rumor is false. Superintendent Koch did on March 24 come to meet with the board president, the financial oversight chairman and me as required by the consent decree," Culver's letter stated.

The three top aides retiring at the end of this school year are Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Community Relations Beth Shepperd, Deputy Superintendent Dorland Norris and Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Sue McGowan.

Shepperd said she recently decided to retire for family reasons. She said she was not ready to leave the district, but knows she made the right decision.

"The work is worthwhile and challenging. I work with some very committed people. I will miss it terribly, but I believe in the work that Superintendent Culver, the board, and the state are trying to accomplish," Shepperd said.

She said she knew her co-workers were not ready to leave, either, but changes in the state Teachers Retirement System create a disincentive for them to work past retirement age.

"We all want to improve the academic outcomes for our students. I have spent my entire career working on that goal," said Shepperd, who has worked with Culver since 1999.

Norris also has financial and family factors driving her decision.

"With a combination of concerns I have with TRS and I have a 90-year-old mother and my first grandchild on the way, I made the decision to retire at the end of this school year," she said.

She said the administrators did a lot of foundation work but much remains to be done.

"The district is headed in the right direction. Superintendent Culver will be able to attract really strong candidates for these positions," Norris said.

Culver's letter about the retirements stated the veteran administrators have between 35 and 40 years of experience in education.

"We are fortunate to have benefited from their leadership and expertise, which will be missed. We will seek high quality replacements for these key leadership roles," he wrote.

Culver said he will remain: "I am committed to the students, the staff and the community. And, I am excited about continuing our work together."

Much has to be done before the end of the school year and Culver said he and the administrative team are committed to completing important projects and preparing for the coming year.

Shepperd said the jobs will be filled.

"Our positions will be posted and the superintendent will seek our replacements," she said. "(Culver) is very skilled at attracting talent. He makes your work a mission and this makes people very passionate about improving the lives of children. I feel confident that he will find people who are capable of doing the hard work required here."

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

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