Manassas Journal Messenger | Memo responds to School Board

A memorandum former Manassas superintendent Sidney “Chip” Zullinger wrote to the School Board less than a week before it voted to remove him may shed some light on that decision.

In his annual performance evaluation, some School Board members criticized Zullinger for his inability to “provide inspiration” to the students and staff, for the school system’s Standards of Learning test scores, and for “black and white flight” from the school system, according to the memo, a copy of which was obtained by the Potomac News.

Phone calls made to Zullinger’s home were not returned by Monday evening.

“I think you will agree that it has been a strenuous year for all of us,” Zullinger wrote at the beginning of the 13-page memo. “Nonetheless, the Board recently completed my evaluation, and I am compelled to provide some comments as to the content and to correct several mis-statements.”

In the memo, Zullinger notes that the School Board rated him as meeting or exceeding expectations in almost 80 percent of the categories rated on the evaluation.

The memo is dated Sept. 21. The School Board held discussions in closed sessions regarding the contract on Aug. 30, Sept. 13, Sept. 20 and Sept. 27.

Following their closed session discussion on Sept. 27, the School Board voted 4-2 not to renew the contract. Zullinger was asked to resign his duties immediately. The School Board appointed Assistant Superintendent John Boronkay to serve as acting superintendent until a replacement could be found.

In their evaluation, four School Board members said that Zullinger needed to improve his visibility in the schools and his ability to “provide inspiration” to staff and students.

In his defense, Zullinger wrote, “I suspect that the basis for this rating category is entirely subjective.”

Zullinger wrote that he visited four to six of the school system’s seven schools on a weekly basis.

“I also provide inspiration through the normal channels of employee advisory groups,” he wrote.

Zullinger also wrote that he planned to visit all of the schools every week this year.

“Last year my goal was to visit all the schools every week. I hope to continue that goal with the understanding that often other priorities require my attention. I will continue to improve on this area, because this is where my enthusiasm as an educator truly lies,” he wrote.

In the memo, Zullinger also noted that five School Board members gave a poor rating for his performance on the “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001” performance element.

Zullinger noted that “needs improvement” in this area is defined to mean that all schools failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress. Only one school did not make AYP for the 2004-2005 school year, he wrote.

According to the preliminary data released by the Virginia Department of Education in August, Richard C. Haydon Elementary and Grace E. Metz Middle School did not make AYP. The school system is currently appealing Haydon’s rating.

All of the city’s schools are fully accredited this year.

The memo also addressed specific criticisms made by School Board members.

“A charge is made that long-time employees are leaving because of the perception that MCPS is on a downhill spiral,” Zullinger wrote. “What is the basis of this comment? This is absolutely untrue.”

Another School Board member’s comments charged that Zullinger “was (in part) responsible for the white and black flight in the school district,” he wrote.

“Clearly there are a number of variables involved in families’ decisions to move — from a rapidly increasing housing market, increased immigration to intolerance of cultural diversity,” Zullinger wrote. “I cannot imagine a more baseless comment than to suggest that my presence is the cause of the change in demographics.”

Zullinger closed his memo by saying he appreciated the School Board members’ criticisms.

“Overall the review process has provided me valuable insight in the Board’s concerns, and areas where I might improve. However, on [the points discussed in the 13-page memo], where the Board’s review appears to be based on inaccurate data, recollections, or assumptions, I felt compelled to respond.”

Zullinger served as Manassas’ superintendent for four years before being officially relieved of his duties as of Sept. 28. According to the conditions of his contract, the School Board will continue to pay him his $159,124 annual salary until his contract expires in June.

Before coming to Manassas, Zullinger served as superintendent of the Denver Public Schools for nine months, before the School Board asked him to resign.

At the time, Denver school officials reported that differences in leadership styles lead to their dismissal of Zullinger.

Before arriving in Denver, Zullinger served as Superintendent in Charleston, S.C., before leaving there after months of conflict with the School Board.

Zullinger informed the Manassas School Board of this at the time he was hired, School Board members told the Manassas Journal Messenger in March 2001.

The Manassas School Board plans to begin its search for a new superintendent immediately, but details of that search have not yet been released.

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