More than 140 residents of the Sheridan School District have signed a petition requesting the resignation of superintendent Kim Harding.
Sheridan resident and former school board member Karen Talley began collecting signatures June 25 and submitted the petition to district clerk Linda Walter on July 3.
The petition requests that Harding resign immediately because of “her incompetence and conduct harmful to the interest of the Sheridan School District.”
This isn’t the first time Talley has organized opposition to Harding. Late last year she along with other citizens filed a grievance against Harding and the Sheridan School Board with the Madison County School Superintendent.
Of this latest petition, Talley said petitioners gave a variety of reasons for their lack of confidence in the direction the district is headed under Harding.
“People care about this school and two mill levies have gone down in a row – year to year – and that’s unprecedented, unheard of for Sheridan,” Talley said.
School board chair Rhonda Boyd suggested the lack of confidence from voters stems from changes the district has undergone in recent years.
For example, Sheridan schools adopted the Montana Common Core Standards before it was actually required of all schools in the state, Boyd said. This change has been difficult, but ultimately one the district had to make. And shifting to a new method or system is not always easy.
“So all systems are going to be dealing with that change, not only Sheridan but everybody. We were just a little ahead of the ballgame,” Boyd said. “Any time you have those changes, you’re going to have frustration.”
Boyd emphasized that the petition does not represent the entire Sheridan school district.
“We have to look at the percentage of people who are not saying anything, and there is also a percentage of people who did vote for the school board or mill levies who are just not taking a forefront,” she said.
Other issues of concern for both parents and students are changes made in staff, but Harding explained there is no easy solution when school districts face budget shortfalls. The school board and administration based their decisions on what is best for the students and taxpayers in the district, she said.
Harding recognizes people in the community are hurting. The economy is struggling and cuts in staff at the school have been tough, but the cuts were a decision the administration and board ultimately felt were the responsible course of action given budget constraints.
Having to cut staff weighed heavy on the board, Harding said, adding that the school board knows it has been controversial in the community.
“So now that this petition has come up they’re (the school board) wearing it all over again,” Harding said. “They are doing what they know is best for kids, best for the taxpayers and best for the community’s school and they are not getting the support from the community they deserve.”
Boyd knows full well the community is unsettled by the changes the district has undergone, but the school board will continue to make difficult decisions in the best interest of the students.
“It’s hard to hear that many people be unhappy,” she said. “Most of the board members I’ve talked to have a lot of sleepless hours.”
With direction from the school board, Harding is going to continue to work with the community to educate them on the new Montana Common Core Standards being implemented at Sheridan Schools.
The new common core standards are changing the way teachers educate their students and for some teachers that change has been difficult, Harding said.
“They’re going to be required to change what they teach and change is hard,” she said.
The new standards require a more interactive setting where classroom work is accomplished in a group, with students learning how to listen, discuss and solve problems together, Harding said.
She is also going to work with the school advisory council to discuss the new curriculum and challenges at the school, along with what is working well. The school advisory council meets twice a year in the fall and spring, she said.
Additionally, she’ll work with student focus groups to help work through the changes from the common core standards.
Harding also is open to meeting with community members to address concerns people have with the school and administration, but she wants to work toward a resolution and not continue the controversy.
“I think part of the problem becomes that there’s too many personal agendas out there and people who want it solved their way,” Harding said.
Boyd voiced the same sentiments as Harding.
“We are trying to move in the right direction, and trying to listen to our public yet not step on toes or hurt people in the meantime,” she said. “It’s just a huge balancing act.”
Editor’s Note: Sheridan School Board held their regular meeting Tuesday night after press time. The understanding was the petition was going to be presented to the board during a time for correspondence from the public. Please check www.madisoniannews.com for any developments from the school board meeting and see next week’s paper for a full story.
Editor Greg Lemon contributed to this story.