State substantiates one allegation against Danville superintendent

Board of Education member calls finding against Keith Look ‘questionable’

The state Office of Educational Accountability has determined that Danville Schools Superintendent Keith Look “impeded implementation of school-based decision making … by interfering with staff allocations at Danville High School” by sending an email to Danville High School Site-Based Decision-Making Council members in 2015.

The OEA has released the findings of its investigation into seven allegations against Look, of which only one allegation was substantiated; in the other six cases, the OEA determined Look acted appropriately.

As a result of the investigation, Look was required to attend a a three-hour workshop on the subject of “The Role of the Superintendent and Principal in School Hiring,” which he did in November.

Look addressed the investigation’s findings on Monday night, during a Danville Board of Education working session.

Look said the substantiated allegation arose during a time of transition at Danville High School.

“In that transition, because staffing, quite honestly, is the most complex part of an SBDM’s job … I had wanted to meet with the SBDM and make sure they understood all the options and permutations available.”

Look said he reached out to the site-based council via email.

The email was sent on June 2, 2015, according to the OEA. It read:

“Greetings, as we discussed this morning, I’d like for the SBDM to proceed with Mr. Etherington filling in the teaching vacancies: Spanish, Choir, (is there another?) For the time being, I’d like to hold on the counselor vacancy until I can meet with the SBDM to discuss principal search matters as it may/may not impact overall administrative staffing decisions.”

Look said sending that email, according to OEA, was a violation and not the right way to communicate with the school council.

The OEA investigation found that “Superintendent Dr. Keith Look impeded implementation of school-based decision making under KRS 160.345 by interfering with staff allocations at Danville High School.”

At the time of the violation, then-Principal Aaron Etherington favored increasing a part-time counselor position to full-time status.

“According to those interviewed, Dr. Look did not want the part-time counselor upgraded to full-time for 2015-2016 school year,” the investigation reads. “On June 2, 2015, Aaron Etherington tenured his resignation as principal, effective at the end of his contractual term on June 30, 2015.”

The document states that Look responded to a preliminary draft of the allegation, stating “that he was not asking the school council to delay filling a counselor position, which was not detrimental to or impeding school-based decision making.”

In conclusion, the “OEA concludes that Dr. Look circumvented the implementation of school-based decision making in the district by improperly becoming involved in the DHS council staff allocation decision-making process.”

The conclusion also states that Etherington remained the chair of the council until June 30, therefore “the council was not in need of participation or leadership by the superintendent.”

After Look explained the allegations and his response to the board, Board Member Steve Becker said he felt the substantiated finding was “questionable.”

“It’s strange, the way I see it,” Becker said. “After reviewing all of this, the fact that you were exonerated — you assured us you had done your homework on it and it proved true — I have to, really, extend to you a thank you on how you handled that, because it was not a pleasant time. It all turned out well.”

Becker said he felt bad that Look had to face the allegations, but that he had to “commend” Look.

“It’s not often that OEA walks away from allegations and says you did a perfect job.”

Some in attendance cheered after Becker’s comments.

The other six allegations against Look were not substantiated by the OEA. Most were alleged to have occurred in November and December 2016 and had to do with changes in staffing at Danville High School.

Among other findings, the OEA determined that an elementary teacher hired by Look was properly certified; Look “did not circumvent the DHS Council or the Danville Independent School Board of Education” in assigning an employee new duties; appropriately handled the appointment of Haley Ralston as interim principal; and did not inappropriately create or open positions for specific people.

The allegations against Look concerned a lengthy time of transition for Danville High School, when four different principals headed the school over a period of less than two years.

Following the departure of Etherington in the summer of 2015, veteran educator Win Smith took over as interim principal for Danville High School, until the summer of 2016, when Catherine Slack was hired as Danville High School principal. Slack came from Florida, where she had been working in education for around 22 years.

In November 2016, Look made an unexpected announcement that then-Assistant Principal Haley Ralston had taken over as principal and Slack had been given different job duties.

Look issued a letter at the time stating that Slack “courageously entered an entirely new school system,” but “the learning curve is steep and demands are high considering the growth necessary for Danville High School. It would be difficult for anyone unfamiliar with Kentucky education and Danville Schools history to achieve the targeted performance on an accelerated timeframe.”

Ralston is still principal of Danville High School today.

Following the meeting, Look issued a statement regarding the investigation, “The toughest work of school councils is allocating their most important resource:  school staff.  The email’s intent was to help them think through their options as it related to a critical vacancy.  With every vacancy comes new ways of assembling the school staff puzzle. While I would contest OEA’s finding that my request is a directive, I do understand that any communication from a superintendent carries a different weight to its message. Having completed the professional development in November 2017, I am working to communicate differently with school councils when it comes to supporting their decision-making capacity.”