Tahlequah Daily Press

May 30, 2014

Screaming at kids isn’t the way to restore discipline


TAHLEQUAH — Shannon Goodsell is in the hot seat in the Casa Grande, Ariz., school district – and we’re not surprised.

Goodsell was superintendent of Tahlequah Public Schools before Lisa Presley took the helm. He followed in the footsteps of Paul Hurst, who was popular with the community at-large, and whose work was lauded by his peers, including a turn as state Administrator of the Year. Another notable quality was Hurst’s general openness with the media. He returned phone calls, answered questions and accepted public criticism, a trait he shared with his predecessor, Jim Miller, and an earlier superintendent, Barbara Staggs. TPS has had other good administrators, but a few have been frank in trying to get the media to refrain from printing negative news about the schools.

The suppression mentality returned to TPS with Goodsell. Attempts to shut down the flow of information started early, as phone calls began coming in from parents, teachers and patrons unsettled by Goodsell’s heavy-handed style. When the Press called to get his side of the story, he was defensive, and sometimes hostile. He did not like criticism, and insisted he be called “Dr. Goodsell.” In our laid-back, low-key community, that made some folks uncomfortable.

Before he came to TPS, Goodsell was at Crooked Oak, where he was charged with two counts of obstructing an officer in performance of official duties. Though he was acquitted, the incident should have set off warning bells with Tahlequah school board members. But they determined the charges were “bogus,” and one said, “Everyone [at Crooked Oak] thinks the world of him.” We have no doubt the people to whom the board member spoke expressed that sentiment, but they were not the same ones who warned the Press Goodsell could be a “loose cannon.”

The flaps in which Goodsell found himself embroiled at TPS are too numerous to list, but one sticky wicket involved a proposed tax, and he was unhappy the Press reported the controversy. Then, during a committee meeting to address the transition to the new elementary campus, several teachers and administrators told the Press Goodsell’s wife scolded panel members for what she perceived as their failure to support her husband’s proposals. Ms. Goodsell was again the nexus for trouble when allegations surfaced over the purchase of tickets to a charitable banquet. When the Press reported this incident, the reporter was rewarded with a profanity-laced tongue-lashing from Ms. Goodsell. A Facebook message to the managing editor from Goodsell himself raged against the paper for putting his wife in the spotlight, though he himself had put her there. That message was dispatched to a board member, and Goodsell apologized.

The community was dismayed when the board, by a 3-2 vote, tacked on a third year to Goodsell’s generous six-figure contract, which had just been renewed. One board member said they wanted to give him “job security” – a statement that upset many on the TPS payroll. By this time, Goodsell had become such a lightning rod that the Press rarely went a day without hearing from unhappy patrons, and several prominent community members pledged they would campaign against his supporters on the board. One did get voted out, and the other two – most likely sick of the turmoil – didn’t seek re-election.

Goodsell finally did resign and moved on to Casa Grande, where he wasted no time in generating heat. When an audit suggested financial irregularities, the Press began getting calls from Casa Grande residents. Most recently, Goodsell became a YouTube star, after he was captured on a cell phone, yelling in front of a class: “I and I alone decide whether or not you graduate, and you lied to me!” As it turns out, the target of his wrath – a special-needs student, apparently – wasn’t wearing a requisite ID badge. Parents who showed up at a meeting called Goodsell a bully, and accused him of invoking “fear, neglect and verbal abuse.” Goodsell apologized, but he blamed his behavior on student recalcitrance, which very well could be true: “Wherever there is drugs and drug use, there is also weapons, and that is something I cannot tolerate.” Given his pride in his doctoral degree, we wonder why he couldn’t at least use proper grammar in front of the TV cameras.

The Casa Grande School Board ultimately decided to give Goodsell “another chance,” but in truth, he should not be entrusted with a student body in a public school district. His abrasive personality would be better suited to an institution where he would have little direct contact with youngsters. It takes a special kind of patience to handle children, especially teenagers – and Goodsell doesn’t have it.

We’re not championing a lack of discipline, as anyone who regularly reads this page will know. Lack of control by teachers and administrators, typically at the insistence of lax, apathetic and/or prominent parents, is a huge problem in public schools today. But calm, intelligent and strategic maneuvering, rather than screaming in front of everyone, is the way to make that happen.

And interfering with the media’s attempts to inform the public won’t work, either. The public has a right to know what’s happening in our schools. Any administrators in Cherokee County who disagree should consider themselves on notice.