Superintendent's rocky relationship with teachers led to separation

Glen Lake Community Schools Superintendent Sander Scott listens during a special Board of Education meeting Friday morning. Trustees approved a separation agreement with Scott, whose final day at GLCS will be Aug. 23.

MAPLE CITY — Sander Scott described his relationship to Glen Lake Community Schools as a marriage.

It has been a marriage on the rocks for more than a year. The toll it has taken on Scott as the superintendent and those in the school district resulted in both sides agreeing to part ways last week.

Board trustees voted 6-0 to approve the separation agreement that will pay Scott two lump sum payments totaling $138,845.13 and a 33 percent payout of 34.25 days of his unused sick and personal leave time.

Scott has 21 days to accept and sign the agreement.

Lisa Niergarth, GLCS board president, addressed Scott after the vote, saying, "I'm really sorry that this has happened. I really appreciate the work you have done for the district. I wish you luck."

Trustees approved a five-year extension for Scott in the fall, but Niergarth said it became "more challenging within the district in terms of trying to get everyone on the same page."

Scott on June 14 submitted his letter of resignation, which is effective Sept. 30. Scott's last day on campus, however, will be Aug. 23. Scott said, and trustees agreed, that it would not be appropriate for him to be in the district for the start of a new school year. The search for an interim superintendent began Monday with the open position being posted.

"Part of having a successful marriage is having a shared set of values and a shared set of expectations," Scott said. "When you find that you don't have those shared values and expectations, it's not a good fit. That's really what this came down to."

Scott described it as "an amicable divorce," but he declined to elaborate on what those differing values and expectations were. He did, however, say he was surprised that he was a mismatch for Glen Lake after having grown up in Leelanau County and having been a professional educator — mostly in northern Michigan — for 25 years.

"I feel right with myself," Scott said. "It was a relationship that just was not working and was not healthy for either the district or for me to continue."

Tensions between Scott and the Glen Lake Federation of Teachers became apparent during the last 18 months. In December, he spoke to what he referred to as “a school on the edge,” saying that many in the district felt stressed and undervalued. He pointed to his own leadership issues as having contributed to that state.

GLCS teachers worked without a contract for four months, and negotiations went on for nearly a year before a three-year deal was reached late last year. GLFT President Jennifer Gretzmacher said the contract took a backseat to what the teachers considered a poor work environment, with many staff members being disciplined more harshly than what is called for.

"We settled for a mediocre contract so we could deal with the real issues," Gretzmacher said. "It felt like they wanted to make it sound like it was a contract issue and that as soon as the contract was settled, everything would be fine. The contract was a side note."

Gretzmacher said the "real issues" have not been addressed and the relationship between Scott and the teachers has not improved. She noted there have been some "baby steps from the board's perspective," including a three-year strategic planning process.

"Most districts have three-year strategic plans and school improvement teams. Those are things that are the norm," she said. "They have been absent here and things we've been requesting here for a while. Those are the checks and balances we need to make sure things are moving forward and getting done. We have not had any of those."

Gretzmacher said she and the other teachers are looking forward to the fresh start with a new superintendent.

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