Fascinating Look At Holliday’s Educational World

Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education, Terry Holliday, is no stranger to regular readers. He’s been involved in a handful of scandals in various troubled school districts, raised red flags in Louisville with Jefferson County Public Schools and he’s been knee-deep in the Joshua Powell disaster in Montgomery County.

But did you know he wrote a book (published in 2010) about it being okay to break the law if you believe it’s what’s best for kids?

It’s called Running All the Red Lights: A Journey of System-Wide Educational Reform and was written with Brenda Clark.


And it’s a real doozy.

Let’s take a look at a couple excerpts:

The red lights that require school superintendents and school principals to spend the most time idling are staff members themselves.


You can run a red light. In this book we will give examples of when we ran the red light. Running red lights is appropriate for fire, police, and emergency officials when there is a sense of urgency. There is a great sense of urgency in our school systems to eliminate those negative experiences of children that douse their flame for learning. The dropout crisis in schools across this nation is directly related to the fact that 85 percent of prison inmates are high school dropouts. The current economic crisis in our country can only be addressed through a sense of urgency with education.


You can change lanes between red lights. These leaders are always changing lanes and trying to find the lane that will get them through the red lights as fast as possible. These leaders are much like the rabbit strategy leaders. They may start fast out of a red light and then switch lanes whenever they see an opening in hopes of getting through the red lights before they change. These leaders cause many wrecks in an organization. Those in the organization who are moving along with one strategy are often blindsided when the leader changes direction and the other drivers have to slam on their brakes. The ripple effect usually leads to wrecks that slow down the entire traffic flow on the highway within the organization while the leader is still changing lanes miles ahead, never looking back to see what damage he might have caused. These are the superintendents who come in as change agents and make a number of lane changes and then are quickly off to other locations to speed up their school system’s change efforts. This strategy might work in the very short term; however, it will cause many wrecks and much damage in the long run.


While sitting at the red light I reflected on what I had gotten myself into with the superintendent’s job for this school system. During the interview process for the superintendent’s job, I had done my homework. I had read the local newspaper, talked with fellow superintendents, called friends who worked in the school system, and analyzed all the data about the school system. What I found was an exciting challenge and opportunity. The superintendent had just been fired for financial mismanagement. The firing was contested, and there was a very public and lengthy trial that documented all of the charges. As a matter of fact, the charges against the superintendent had been publicized on the school system’s Web page. The charges were picked up by the local newspaper and by television channels in the area. The school system had made promises to citizens and to staff that included new schools, new programs, and high levels of academic performance.

Staff members had been promised large increases in local supplements, new programs, technology, and new facilities. The scandal wiped out public trust in the school system. Not only had the superintendent been accused of financial mismanagement, but the school board had also taken a trip to a national convention and there were numerous allegations of expenditures on improper items. Public confidence in the school system was at an all-time low.

The data I had gathered while preparing for the interview told an interesting story. The school system was a fast-growing district due to its proximity to a major urban area. While the school system was fast growing, the growth was mixed between middle/upper income and the challenging demographics of minority and poverty-based populations. The school system was mired in mediocrity.


Another red light that I discovered was that the relationship between central office—and more importantly, the superintendent and board of education—and the school staff was at an all-time low. I immediately realized that top-down initiatives and mandates were not going to work.

Sound eerily familiar to those of you following what’s gone on in Montgomery County?

There’s more:

After the early success of the attendance policy change, toward the end of the first year, the board began to make explicit changes in the way they did business. The first change was in the development of a budget for the school system. In previous years, the board had been very involved in the detail level of the budget. Not only did the board look at specific functions of the budget, the board looked closely at detailed line items of the budget. Board members described the process as very labor-intensive and very exhausting on their part. The board was open to a change in the process that allowed them to set the priorities and then allow the administration to develop the details. I introduced the board to a zero-based budget process. I had developed a level of trust with the board through the first year by reducing expenditures and balancing a budget that was initially $2 million over budget for available revenues.


As a superintendent, you quickly learn that a very important ability is the ability to count to four, five, or whatever number represents a majority of the board. While children and learning are certainly our focus and our purpose, our primary customer has to be the board of education members. If you do not have a level of satisfaction with this customer group, you do not have a job very long as a superintendent. A superintendent must keep the board well informed and must provide coaching, training, and support over time for board members. If a board does not approve a recommendation from the superintendent, it could be due to lack of preparation and information from the superintendent. A level of trust and confidence must be present between board members and superintendent.


By changing the budget process, strategic planning process, and attendance process in our school system, the board of education signaled several things that they would quit doing. They would quit spending hours of fruitless discussion on line item budgets and spend more time on the purpose and expected learning outcomes. In that way, expenditures could be more closely monitored for alignment to expectations for student results.

Yep, advocating for boards of education to give up control and oversight of taxpayer-funded budgets and spending in order for the superintendent to control everything.

Truly fascinating.

The rest of the book is an advertisement for the Baldrige Criteria/system but it’s a great look at what’s gone on in Kentucky. Sheds new light on why Holliday has turned a blind eye to massive spending scandals and good old boy corruption.

Nothing to see here, move along, yadda yadda.