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Confidential Report of Investigation Complaints regarding Superintendent Harold Maready

November 12th, 2013 12:06 pm | by

Note: You’ll notice the odd title to this document. While it was published as the “Confidential report….” the Ledger released the document today. In the spirit of making the document available for those without a PDF reader (or Ledger subscription), we offer the document in plain text. If you’ll like to read the Ledger article by Mary Toothman, we suggest a subscription.

Confidential Report of Investigation Complaints regarding Superintendent Harold Maready

Mailed via USPS Priority Mail

November 8, 2013

To: Taylor Caffey Board of Trustees, The Schools of McKeel Academy

From: Stuart Charlson J.D., Independent Investigator Consultstu LLC

Re: Report of Investigation Regarding the Concerns/Grievances at McKeel Academy

Independence of Investigator
At the outset of the investigation,I advised all witnesses that I was an independent investigator and that I did not have any known personal or professional relationships with Board members, administrators, staff or students at McKeel schools. I did not receive any pressure to make certain findings, and was not restricted in the manner I conducted the investigation.

Scope of Investigation

At the request of the Board of Trustees representative, Taylor Caffey, I initiated and completed an investigation of a complaint and grievance submitted to the Board. After reviewing the complaints, I conducted in person interviews with McKeel staff to determine whether the complaint items were substantiated. The complaint allegations involved the behavior and conduct of Harold Maready, Superintendent of McKeel Schools. More specifically, the complaint items involved the treatment of staff, remarks/conduct and the working atmosphere at the schools. I interviewed a number of McKeel school staff over three (3) separate days in late October. The witnesses were selected because they were believed to have relevant information regarding the complaint allegations. The scope of this investigation focused on the complaint issues, and I was primarily interested to know the personal experiences of witnesses during the recent past. After interviewing witnesses, I interviewed Harold Maready, and provided him an opportunity to respond to the general complaint allegations and to explain any context to the complaints, from his perspective. He has almost twenty (20) years of service at McKeel schools.

Each witness was asked to maintain confidentiality regarding the investigation. While conducting the interviews, it was abundantly clear that the witnesses were apprehensive to talk with me, and they expressed some fear about the possibility of retaliation. Due to these concerns and at the direction of the Board, my report of investigation contains summarized information based on all witness interviews. Additionally, I present the response from Mr. Maready, and whether I believe there is substantiation for the various allegations.

Summary of Complaint(s)

The Board received two complaints regarding the conduct of Mr. Maready. First, there is a grievance (dated 9/6/13) [1] filed by Dan Backes, McKeel Academy (MAT) Assistant Principal. Mr. Backes complained about a comment by Mr. Maready that he was “fired” during a staff meeting, in the presence of his boss, colleagues and some suborindates. His complaint also identified other negative comments made by Mr. Maready about his job performance, and that Mr. Backes viewed Mr. Maready’s actions as humiliating and threatening to his job. The second complaint was an undated, anonymous letter allegedly written by a “former McKeel teacher” that identified additional complaints regarding Mr. Maready. For organizational purposes, I identified the following specific complaint items about Mr. Maready from the letter:

1. He makes inappropriate comments to staff regarding their personal appearance and dress (for instance, weight, hair, make up).
2. He yells, belittles and makes unreasonable demands on staff
3. He micro-manages matters at the school level, administrators have limited power
4. He shows favoritism toward certain staff that are his “buddies” and bends policies
5. He fosters an environment where staff is not comfortable discussing concerns about his decisions and actions
6. While at the Orlando FETC Conference in January 2013, he acted unprofessionally when he “tapped” teacher Robert Gandy in the groin area.

This report of investigation is organized around the various complaint allegations. Based on the personal interviews, I made a determination on whether there is evidence to substantiate each individual complaint item. In some cases, the occurrence of the event is not disputed.

Handbook Policies Relevant to the Investigation
I requested a copy of the Schools of McKeel Academy Employee Handbook, as well as the details concerning the nepotism policy and Family disclosure memo. Since favoritism is alleged, I wanted to know who had family working within the schools. The Board also needs to review the investigation results in the context of existing school policy, and accepted standards of conduct for McKeel employees. The following policies are relevant to the investigation and attached to this report.

Policy 2.4
Policy 10.1
Policy 10.5
Policy 10.8
Policy 11.10
Policy 17.1
Employment of Relatives (page 10)
Ethics and Professional Conduct (page 36)
Appearance and Dress Code (page 40)
Progressive Discipline (page 42)
Workplace Violence (covers horseplay) (page 49)
EEO Commitment (page 74)
Policy 17.2
Policy 18.1
Policy 18.2
Harassment and Harassing Conduct (covers bullying) (page 74)
Complaint Procedures (page 77)
Open Door Policy (page 77)

Executive Summary

My investigation findings generally substantiate the complaint and grievance allegations. It is noted that the complaints also coincide with MAT’s recent loss of its “A” rating and the current efforts by the Superintendent to dig into the reasons why the school is under performing and to address concerns about employee performance deficiencies. Mr. Maready is a superintendent for a large and growing organization comprised of thousands of students and hundreds of staff. In addition to the knowledge of charter school law, effective management and personal skills are needed to run such a large organization. Clearly, Mr. Maready has a wealth of knowledge and skills regarding Charter schools and he was the driving force to create and build the Schools of McKeel Academy. He arrived at South McKeel in 1994 to turn it around, and has spent the last 20 years at McKeel. The schools are successful and there are waiting lists for students and
teaching jobs. It also appears that over the years, he has left people feeling mistreated, behaved inappropriately at times and has created the current tense and stressful workplace atmosphere. A good number of employees are nervous to talk about their experiences with Mr. Maready and fear losing their job. In 2011, Mr. Maready’s workplace behavior was checked by the Board (and the organization put policies in place and hired a human resources specialist), but that has not resulted in lasting change. This investigation shows that since 2011 Mr. Maready has made several inappropriate remarks to employees (although less frequent than in the past), has displayed unprofessional conduct toward colleagues and showed reckless disregard for respectful workplace conduct at the FETC Conference. He emphasizes high standards and expectations for those at McKeel, but he has not consistently demonstrated those standards with his personal conduct at work.

Report of Investigation

Grievance issue #1: On September 16, 2013, during a meeting of McKeel administrators and potential administrators, Mr. Maready said to Dan Backes that he was “fired” for suggesting that the summer conference be held at the schools to save money.

Substantiated. There was a meeting on this date and witnesses confirmed that Mr. Maready snapped at Mr. Backes that he was fired. However, Mr. Backes was not fired after the meeting, and he continues to serve as Assistant Principal at MAT. Witnesses also stated that shortly
after the “firing” comment, the meeting ended, and that there was some additional conversation between Mr. Backes and Mr. Maready. The witnesses that know both parties believed that Mr. Maready’s “you’re fired” comment was delivered in a stern, serious tone and that Mr. Maready was clearly upset by Mr. Backes’ suggestion to move the beach conference to the schools. This comment was said loud enough for people in the room to hear, including prospective administrators, including some that are supervised by Mr. Backes. Some people kind of laughed after the “firing” comment, and one person may have said it was nice knowing you Dan. After the meeting, someone heard Mr. Maready gruffly tell Mr. Backes not to make any more suggestions about the beach conference. Mr. Backes was very upset about the comment, and felt that the beach conference was an appropriate point to discuss and that Mr. Maready tried to humiliate him in front of his peers and the prospective administrators in the meeting.

Mr. Maready was not sure how the summer conference came up at the meeting because the agenda for the meeting was about teacher evaluations. He provided background to me on how important the beach conference is to the school. The summer conference has been going on for 10 years, 98% of teachers like the conference and it kicks off the start of the new school year. Knowing all that, he wondered why Mr. Backes would make a suggestion to move the conference to the schools. Mr. Maready did not remember exactly what he said at the meeting, but thought it was more a flippant comment, and it was not something that was dwelt upon. In my conversations with Mr. Maready, he views himself as the keeper of the school’s culture and the beach conference is very important to him. Mr. Maready has been criticized by Polk County school board members for years about the conference, but has kept doing it because it is popular with staff and he thinks it is very important to the school.

Those employees that had been with the school for years understood that this was a very serious comment, and that it was another example of how Mr. Maready shuts down dissent or disagreement, and does not foster an open, interactive decision making environment at the schools. Things are done the way Mr. Maready wants them done. As most witnesses agreed, Mr. Maready has a direct and confrontational style. Instead of responding to the suggestion and setting boundaries for discussion, he chose to verbally attack the speaker, in order to quiet dissent. This was an experience shared by other McKeel employees.

Grievance issue #2: Further, Mr. Backes alleges that Mr. Maready has threatened his job during his last 2 evaluations and has made him feel humiliated in front of his boss, Dr. Acocelli. He claims that he did not receive any negative performance feedback during the school year.

Partially Substantiated. The latest two performance reviews received of Mr. Backes were completed by the Superintendent and presented to him by Dr. Acocelli and they showed he needed to improve in several areas. These reviews contrasted with the very glowing performance reviews he received from the principal when he worked at McKeel South Academy (MSA). After the previous investigation in 2011, Mr. Backes was required to move to MAT as Assistant Principal because of some other personnel juggling, and I think that he has been unhappy there since the beginning. MAT administrators have been told by Mr. Maready
that their performance needed to improve. The school rating for MAT is a “B”, when in the past it was an “A”. Based on my interviews, I do not doubt that Mr. Maready had stern conversations with Mr. Backes about performance, and it would be consistent with what I have been told about Mr. Maready’s communication style and management practices for him to tell Mr. Backes that he was “the worst administrator McKeel has ever hired.” I did not ask to review any written discipline regarding Mr. Backes, so I cannot confirm or deny the existence of written disciplinary warnings during the last two years. I saw Mr. Backes’ performance reviews and the last two reviews show lower performance marks, as compared to the reviews he received at his other school.

According to the Employee Handbook policies, all employees at McKeel are employed “at will” and work on one year terms, which must be renewed at the end of the school year (or prior to the start of the next school year). Performance evaluations for administrators are delivered at the end of the school year, after teachers complete a 360 evaluation about their administrators. According to all, the feedback forms for MAT administrators over the last few
years have not been good. However, there is a difference of opinion about the reasons why the administrators were not given higher marks. There was also a question about how the evaluations were scored, and whether the lower marks are the result of Mr. Maready’s “hands on” involvement, or the ineffectiveness of the administrators.

According to Mr. Maready, the draw of the McKeel schools is the discipline, and good discipline produces the culture and expectation of achievement. He believes that MAT currently has severe leadership issues at MAT, and this has been going on for a number of years. It is his perception that the problems have to do with the weakening or changing of the discipline culture by the MAT administrators, including specific deficiencies by Mr. Backes, who handles the disciplinary matters ASAP. He expresses confidence that the MAT administrators can get things turned around, but he has had to devote more of his time to MAT issues lately. These comments are consistent with MAT employees’ perceptions that Mr. Maready is treating their school differently, and providing more oversight and involvement. It would also explain why comments from staff at MSA and MAC may not match the experiences of those at MAT. According to Mr. Maready, feedback coming from the 360 reviews done by teachers has been used to conduct evaluations of the Principal and Assistant Principals at the schools. [2] The feedback has been getting worse at MAT, and therefore he was getting more involved in asking questions and seeking answers. He believes that the current administration has made (or has attempted to make) changes in the culture at MAT (such as stopping grade level overnight trips and not emphasizing the currency system enough), and this has hurt the effectiveness of the teachers, and results by students. In the last year, he has met with Dr. Acocelli and Mr. Backes about the status of the economy system at MAT. Mr Backes admitted that he had not updated the software tracking system used for the economy system for about 2 years. He had also not fully implemented (via new teacher training) it across all teachers at the school. This is something that needs to be done by everyone, or the system will not work effectively. Also, reports concerning attendance, and how the school has dealt with attendance discipline, are also not up to date. Mr. Maready’s approach with the MAT administrators is to say that he will not fire them,but their performance will decide it. He stated, you will fire yourself. Mr. Maready has told MAT staff that if evaluations do not improve, that he will clean house. At various points in the last few years, Mr. Maready states that some of the senior teachers at MAT went to Alan Black and threatened to leave if things did not improve with the administrators. He asserts that teachers and staff had noticed disagreement occurring in front of them, between the Principal and Assistant Principals. Mr. Maready sees this as a problem, and that the MAT Assistant Principals need to listen to Dr. Acoceli because she is the boss.

Based on interviews, almost all performance feedback at McKeel (except the annual evaluation, and some disciplinary notes) is delivered verbally, and there is not likely any documentation for Mr. Backes. Although there is some open questions about how the evaluations were scored [3] interviews did confirm that teachers have been frustrated with administrators at MAT in the past. Mr. Backes also questioned why he did not receive his last two evaluations right away (when requested), and it took Human Resources a while to locate the copies (while his other ones were in his personnel file).

Several people told me that the Superintendent told one of the prospective administrators that they would get an administrator positions at MAT. Since there are only three positions there, someone was going to lose their job. This comment was made at a party attended by the Superintendent and some teachers. It added to the stress of current MAT administrators and reinforces the power of the Superintendent. It also reinforces the impression (real or imagined) of favoritism, and rewards to those that socialize with Mr. Maready.

Lastly, Mr. Backes questions the timing of being told about the new quarterly reviews. Mr. Black was informed about the September 16 [1] meeting incident by Dr. Acocelli after few days later. No response came back from Mr. Black. However, after Mr. Maready was made aware of the grievance, Dr. Acocelli told him that he was now going to have quarterly evaluations. He feels that this is retaliation for bringing his grievance [4]

Complaint Letter Issue #1: Mr. Maready makes comments to staff regarding their personal appearance and dress (for instance about weight, hair, make up).

Substantiated. According to the complaint, Mr. Maready has made comments to employees, such as they need to lose weight, do something with their hair, need new clothes or that their appearance is awful. These comments were confirmed through interviews with witnesses. Some of the comments made by Mr. Maready were years ago, so I tried to focus on what has happened since 2011(if anything). At that time, he was informed that these type of comments were unwelcome and inappropriate. With respect to past comments about weight and appearance, these were made to both male and female employees. Comments about hair and makeup were made to female employees. The employees that received these unsolicited and random comments viewed these comments as derogatory, demeaning and unrelated to their work. It was generally agreed that after the previous complaint about these comments, and a 360 feedback, that Mr. Maready made improvements and was more careful about his office comments. One person speculated that the improvement may have not lasted, and he may be sliding back to his past ways. Several staff members stated that Mr. Maready has made random, inappropriate remarks since 2011. There were two comments (one in 2012 and one in 2013), made to female employees on the subject of sex. In both cases, the comment may have been made in jest, or in an attempt at humor, but the recipient thought that a reference to sex was not an appropriate topic for work. Both instances were unwelcome and inappropriate. Due to the climate of fear among staff, one employee did not say anything to Mr. Maready at the time, and did not file a complaint. In the other case, the employee said “excuse me”, and no further sexual comments were made around this person. Mr. Maready is known as a jokester, and it is likely he felt he was just clowning around. Whether intentional or otherwise, he does not seem to be aware of the impact that his behavior inflicts on other people. Both incidents happened after 2011, when Mr. Maready was put on notice to be careful about what
he says to co-workers.

Based on past comments made by Mr. Maready, there is an impression among staff employees that he does not like heavy people or sloppy dressers. He has made negative comments about the dress of several employees, both male and female. In one case,he commented that when a heavier teacher dresses down, that they do not look so good and it will ruin “dress down” day for everyone. Given the school’s conformity and uniforms, it seems to upset him if someone stands out, or does not fit his image of a model McKeel teacher or staffer. With respect to dress code, the Employee Handbook has some ambiguity because the policy does not give specific detail about key terms like “professional.” Most witnesses agreed (even those who were supportive of the Superintendent) that even in cases where Mr. Maready has a legitimate point about proper dress, he could say things in a different way and get his point across. His comments tend to be harsh and judgmental. If comments about appearance do not have a connection to the dress code, employees also agreed that they should not be made by the Superintendent.

With respect to making the type of comments in the allegation, Mr. Maready states that since 2011 he is more guarded about what he says at work. He has been a jokester in the past, and knows that he is also sarcastic. He believes that if an employee is not in the proper dress for work, that this needs to be addressed- but that would be a matter for the school administration to handle. Without my asking, he brought up the situation with Dana Davie, as an example of where he has helped a teacher that asked for his guidance. She went to him and asked him what she could do to get promoted. He made suggestions, she has taken the advice and is now a team leader and in the prospective administrators group. Ms. Davie’s name was listed in the anonymous complaint, as a person that had been told that her appearance was awful and that she needed new clothes. Back in 2010, she had been disciplined by Mr. Maready and had been told that she was frumpy and she was not dressing appropriately. These events are old, but were confirmed.

Complaint Letter Issue #2: Mr. Maready yells, belittles and makes unreasonable demands on staff.

Partially Substantiated. According to Mr. Maready, he acknowledges that he disciplines in a firm tone, and that some people have told him that this could be perceived as yelling. He concedes that he has yelled at only two people in recent memory. One was the former MAT Principal, Mr. Jeff Haag, and it was a situation where there was yelling back and forth between both of them. The other incident involved Robert Gandy, even though they are friends. The discipline meeting with Robert Gandy occurred after he left the FETC Conference earlier and gave his credentials to another McKeel employee. Somehow this person was identified at FETC, and a picture was taken of this person wearing the Robert Gandy event badge. He acknowledged that he raised his voice during this disciplinary meeting. Aside from these two events, Mr. Maready states that he does not yell at anyone.

During other interviews, employees stated that he can be volatile during meetings and when he is upset about something. When problems occur or he is upset, his communication style is direct and can be confrontational. He may use lots of volume and sometimes his body language adds to the fearfulness of people. Several employees thought that he is very self focused, and that his behavior with staff could be perceived as bullying. He can be gruff and demeaning in conversation, and make harsh statements. Although he primarily communicates verbally, his written communication via email can have a threatening tone too. If he feels threatened, he can hunker down and it will be difficult for those that have to interact with him. When discussing problems with some employees, he will not let people speak in front of him, and will say, no excuses, just tell me how you are going to fix it. One person says, if your opinion matches Harold’s then you are fine, but if it clashes, watch out, because it could be explosive. People get to know him, and when he is having a good day, they will approach him. On the bad days, they try to avoid him.

At other times, Mr. Maready is very supportive, available to mentor and collaborative with staff. Some employees feel free to express their opinions and can explore the boundaries of decision making. Despite the difficulties some people have with his personal conduct, Mr. Maready has helped staff develop, offered them opportunities and has been a mentor to their professional careers. They are appreciative of those efforts.

The way the Superintendent communicates with people, accepts feedback and demands to be kept in the loop on matters (especially at MAT) was consistent among interviewees.

Teachers generally have positive experiences with Mr. Maready. He cherishes his involvement with teachers, and does what he can to support them and reduce the burdens that interfere with their teaching time (such as paperwork). One person said that Mr. Maready works hard to keep teachers happy, and cares deeply about the schools, teachers and students. One person thought that Harold was doing a great job and tried to let teachers teach. Mr. Maready also delivers bonus checks to employees, seeks their input in the surveys and dresses up for gifts and pictures for the holidays.

Several employees shared that Mr. Maready’s goals and expectations for them are unachievable and unreasonable, or that he does not involve them in critical, job specific matters and it makes their job performance more difficult. In some cases, Mr. Maready will do what he wants to do, and then tell an affected employee that they needed to figure out how to make it happen. Mr. Maready is also very controlling. He will come up with an idea and then task an employee to get information for him to make a decision (often a quick turnaround time). This often involves a large amount of work, and the after it is complete,he makes a decision that is not supported by the facts, or he decides not to do anything. There is a lot of time spent chasing ideas, and then a lack of follow up and solid decision-making by the Superintendent. This is hard when they have so many other things to do already.

People with complaints do not feel comfortable bringing them to the organization. One reason is that if Mr. Maready is the subject of the complaint, neither Mr. Maready nor Mr. Black will do anything. Mr. Black has told people that Mr. Maready reports to the Board. Second, there is a perceived lack of confidentiality within the schools and the number of family relationships is a likely a factor. [5] Third, the Superintendent receives a very limited survey from a few senior people, and those employees who were around in 2011 remember he got upset by the previous critical feedback. Fourth, the Board would not know about these issues, absent the complaint. Mr. Maready controls the type of information presented to the Board. There is at least one example where Mr. Maready misrepresented a situation to the Board. He was asked about how the transition to a third party food service vendor went, and he said it had gone well. In fact, it had not gone well. The former McKeel food service employees had been very upset when told, and had handling the situation very poorly, which caused problems for the new vendor.

Complaint Letter Issue #3: He micro-manages matters at the school level, administrators have limited power.

Partially substantiated. This is a complicated issue. The interviews I conducted did not support this statement at the SMA and MAC campuses. At those schools, the evidence showed that decisions were being made by the local administrators. Of course, it was acknowledged that Mr. Maready liked to be informed of significant things and those matters were discussed with the Superintendent for his input. However, the leadership felt that they were in charge of their schools and were able to make appropriate decisions at the school level. Mr. Maready also confirmed that he does not need to spend as much time with these schools.

It was acknowledged that things are different at MAT. Mr. Maready, as former Principal, has a previous history at this school. His primary office is at MAT. Due to the downgrade of MAT to a “B” rated school, there is more pressure on staff to get back to an “A” school rating. MAT is treated differently. There are two sides to the story at MAT. Mr. Maready asserts that the school is having severe leadership troubles and therefore he acknowledges that he is much more hands on at MAT, than at SMA or MAC. It explains why the Assistant Principals received quarterly reviews, while the other Assistant Principals do not. [6] Over the last few years, he has been engaged with the MAT administrative staff to ensure that they are fulfilling the schools mission and supporting the programs that have created the McKeel culture. He has also seen declining results from the teacher surveys at MAT. When questioning administrative staff at MAT about two of the important aspects of discipline, monitoring attendance standards and enforcement of the currency system, he did not receive satisfactory answers from Mr. Backes who handles these issues at MAT. These are also concerns about the enforcement of standards of dress and hair length among students, and how Mr. Backes handles disciplinary actions. From Mr. Maready’s perspective, Mr. Backes has not provided enough training to teachers and support and maintenance to the systems in place to maintain a sufficient level of discipline and structure for the students. As the challenges at MAT continue, he has tightened his involvement.

Mr. Maready views himself as the guardian of the culture at McKeel. If the culture is threatened (such as when Mr. Backes suggested that the beach conference be moved back to the schools) his response of lashing out and trying to shut down things that he does not agree with, is consistent with past behavior. There is a perception that Mr. Maready (as its first principal and first charter school) casts a big shadow over the MAT campus, and that being the Principal of this school is particularly hard. People perceive that Mr. Maready compares the performance of all Principals to the job he did there. I was told that there has been a greater level of turnover with MAT administration,than at the other schools. It is also interesting to note that while the school has increased in size over the years (with added grade levels), it continues to have three (3) administrators (P and 2 APs) for the school.

The other side of the story is that the survey scores from teachers may be getting worse because teachers are frustrated with the MAT administration. If they are showing indecisiveness and disorganization, it may be partially due to the increased involvement and permission seeking with the Superintendent. If the Superintendent has not set clear expectations and boundaries for MAT staff, then decision reversals and teachers by passing the chain of command may contribute to the lack of cohesion among administrative staff. The Superintendent may not have a firm understanding of the daily operations and should spent time listening to his team and valuing their opinions, before making his decisions.

I heard from many employees that it is Mr. Maready’s way or the highway and he makes the decisions. Over the years, people have been conditioned to not disagree with him during conversations, because they do not want to experience his temper. Mr. Maready believes that sometimes the Principals make quick decisions and make mistakes, and he has to correct them. For example, during an assembly on bullying Mr. Maready observed students acting inappropriately in the bleachers, and when Mr. Backes went up to speak to them, he only told them to knock it off. Mr. Maready believes he should have took them out of the assembly and taken to his office for a discussion. On the other hand, I also heard stories of how decisions made at the school level were reversed by Mr. Maready, allegedly because he did not want people complaining, or that the student was the child of a prominent parent in the community. I did not investigate the validity of these type of events, but it is clear that Mr. Maready believes that in some cases, discipline is not being enforced properly- and there are times that staff see their decisions reversed or changed by the Superintendent. A lack of effective communication can produce these different opinions. Mr. Maready is fully involved in decisions that relate to students being considered for discipline or dismissal. If required documentation is missing or the staff did not follow the proper procedures, then these decisions needed to be reversed. Alan Black is the hearing officer, and he will overturn a discipline/dismissal decision if the proper steps were not taken by the school.

Another example of how Mr. Maready’s involvement at MAT may undermine the authority of the Principal is when he reversed the decision regarding re-employment letters for the 2013-14 year. MAT administration had been working with HR and the Assistant Superintendent to not bring back teachers that had been disciplined during the school year. The plan was communicated and later she received direction to take the opposite action based on the decision of the Superintendent. People with disciplinary history would not received re­ employment letters, but she was unable to act on this policy, because of the Superintendent’s direction. All four employees in question were issued letters to return. Some of this was due to the actions of the Superintendent at the FETC event (discussed below).

Complaint Letter Issue #4: He shows favoritism toward certain staff that are his “buddies” and bends policies.

Substantiated. This issue was a subject of significant discussion in the interviews. It is believed that favoritism is an issue at McKeel schools. People have a belief that Mr. Maready has favorites and that they can get away with things. It was also said that people can be in and out of good status with Mr. Maready. For instance, even though Robert Gandy considered himself friends with Mr. Maready, when the issue about the shared credentials came up and he was subject to discipline,he received a very harsh disciplinary meeting. When reviewing the circumstances of Mr. Gandy’s discipline, there was a question about the grounds for his discipline. He claims that he satisfied the requirements for conference attendance, and that he shared his credentials with an employee at McKeel. He was not the only staff employee that left the conference in the morning after the keynote speaker and he gave his credentials to another McKeel employee, and this person gave it to a non-employee. Further investigation would need to be conducted to determine if disciplinary action was administered to any other employees for conduct at the conference. Even if the Superintendent would handle the situation in the exact same way because of the facts in the case, when he has a personal relationship with people, it creates the perception that the results may be based on the relationship and not the facts.

Another concern about favoritism is the personal relationships that Mr. Maready may have with teachers and employees outside work. There is a perception that he has his favorites and that they receive special treatment. He acknowledged that he visits some classrooms more often. People notice that he engages in more workplace communication with his favorites. There are favorites in the prospective administrators group, and it is observed that they may also be tasked with doing certain duties that will help their professional development, and others may not be assigned those opportunities despite volunteering for them. For instance, he is scheduled to take a trip to New York with the 9th grade, along with Mr. Gandy [7] Second, as mentioned above, Mr. Maready allegedly told a prospective administrator that she would have an administrator’s position, while at a party, away from work. Third, there was a hiring decision for an advisor position at South McKeel that was awarded to an employee that did not have sufficient education and leadership experience, but was friendly with the Superintendent. Other applicants had greater qualifications. It is believed that Mr. Maready was the decision maker for that hiring decision.

Mr. Maready does not believe favoritism is a problem. He stated that he does not get involved in teacher issues, and he steers them to Alan Black. He stays away because he wants to support the administration. He states that because he has family working at the schools, he removes himself from personnel. [8] The Human Resources person reports to Alan. There are examples where teachers or staff provide extra duty at work- or volunteer to work overnight field trips, and there is discretion for the Principals to reward them. It might be a paid day off, or some other way. He stated that at least two teachers that were going through health issues, were given paid days off to cover their treatment time. Mr. Maready also stated that there have been friends that he hired and later had to terminate, for instance Jeff Haag. This has also been an issue for the Board, and Mr. Maready thinks that Board members develop close relationships with McKeel employees, and that this may impact their decision making. He also wanted me to know that Taylor Caffey, Board Chairman, had children at the school and had a close relationship with Mr. Backes.

Lastly, it is my observation that there are a number of family members working at McKeel. Mr. Maready’s wife and daughter both teach at SMA and MAC schools, respectively. According to the Nepotism policy and family listing, Alan Black, the Assistant Superintendent has four family members working at McKeel. His wife, Susan (Communications Specialist, reports to Superintendent), son/stepson Craig (IT Project Manager reports to Senior Director of Schools/SMA Principal), sister-in-law Sherry (MAT Teacher reports to MAT Principal), brother Ron (Facilities Maintenance reports to Superintendent). Senior Administration officials with family members working in direct report administrative support positions (as opposed to teaching positions) certainly creates the appearance of permissible favoritism in hiring (despite the organizational reporting line). Further, it fosters the impression that it is advantageous to be close to the top administrators, whether this is true or not.

Complaint Letter Issue #S: He fosters an environment where staff is not comfortable discussing concerns and disagreement about decisions and actions.

Substantiated. It was clear in my conversations that many employees were reluctant to voice disagreement, or to share opinions that were contrary to the Superintendent. There is a culture of not being able to challenge his opinions or engage in open dialogue about decisions at the schools. Even when his suggestions are not feasible or are supported by the most teachers (such as moving grades 3 days prior to end of the year or common subject/common discipline planning versus grade level planning), employees are reluctant to comment on his suggestions. Everyone knows that they will end up doing what Mr. Maready wants to do. The meeting with Mr. Backes is an example of why the culture has become ingrained within the school. Perhaps due to the nature of the charter school system and the lack of support from the school district, he is used to fighting for the things the school needs. He has an authoritative leadership style, which is confirmed by those that work regularly with him. Others say that he does not have a lot of empathy for the positions of others, and that he is mainly focused on his needs and requirements.

Another aspect that comes up is that Mr. Maready makes it clear that he is the power within the organization. One of the biggest aspects of power is the fact that all employees are in an “at will” employment relationship with the school. Not only that, but they need to renew their employment status each year, through the employment letter process. Interviewees informed me that there have been employees that have had disagreements with Mr. Maready and they were not offered a position the next year. Whether true or not, there is the perception that it you disagree with Mr. Maready, or cause problems for him, you will not be coming back to the school. Despite what people have said about Mr. Maready, there are many teachers that are interested in working at McKeel schools. Due to this demand, there is not as much job security as occurs in the County School District. Employees need their jobs, love the Charter School environment and do not want to do things that will jeopardize their employment.

In a related matter, several employees recalled that Mr. Maready required administrators to contribute to a recent political campaign (Stargell). He made a comment that everyone would need to give him a check to give to the candidate. He had his executive assistant contact Business office staff and administrators to remind them about getting him the check for the candidate. Employees believed that they were required to contribute and did so, and certainly felt pressured by Mr. Maready to do so. Due to the no complaint culture, no one made a formal complaint about it, despite thinking that this was not a proper request by the Superintendent.

Complaint Letter Issue #6: While at the Orlando FETC Conference in January 2013, he acted unprofessionally when he “tapped” teacher Robert Gandy in the groin area.

Substantiated. During my interview with the Superintendent, he said that he did not recall the exact details of the incident but admitted that he had been horsing around, and that it had been inappropriate. He acknowledged that he has a close relationship with Robert Gandy, and that he let his guard down and had screwed up. This incident occurred back in late January 2013, and he said that a member of the Board knew about the incident, did an investigation and provided Mr. Gandy with a timeline to file a complaint. No written complaint was submitted, and he did not think there was no further investigation of the incident. He does not dispute it occurred, but states that it was horseplay, based on his friendship with Mr. Gandy. As stated above, based on Mr. Gandy’s discipline for sharing his credentials, he was on the “not to return” list for the 2013-14 school year. However, because of the fallout from this incident, Mr. Gandy and the three other teachers on the “not to return” list, were given re-employment letters by Mr. Maready. MAT administrators were frustrated by this incident, and that they were not able to address the teacher performance issues as they felt necessary.

The groin tapping incident occurred in the open area outside the conference meeting rooms. Mr. Gandy as walking with a group of 10-12 people (no names were given). Mr. Maready came up to him suddenly and tapped in his groin area. After Mr. Gandy doubled over a little, Mr. Maready made a joking comment that he only missed because his dick was too small. After the incident, Mr. Maready kept walking along like nothing happened. He thought that Mr. Maready was fooling around with him.

When he returned to school, he was called to the office and could see that Mr. Maready and Dr. Acocelli were upset. Mr. Maready starting yelling at him, that he had embarrassed McKeel and that somebody had a picture of a person with his badge. He believes that this meeting lasted about 30 minutes. He told him he was an embarrassment and a fat slob. When Mr. Gandy tried to explain what happened, he was told to shut up and that it did not matter. He was sent home and given assignment to write up a statement/career plan and give to Dr. Acocelli when he returned. He was told a few days later that he would not be getting a recommendation to return. After something was posted on Facebook about the incident, he was informed by Mr. Maready (not Dr. Acocelli) that he was getting his letter of return. He was not told whether any other employees who has left the conference early, or the employee who had given the credentials to a family member had also been disciplined. He believed that he was discipline unfairly over the credentials issue,because no one else was disciplined. Mr. Gandy thinks that he did what was required for the conference, based on the direction he received from Dr. Acocelli.

The McKeel Schools Code of ethics and professional conduct states that employees will refrain from rude, offensive or outrageous behavior; refrain from ridicule and hostile jokes; treat people with respect and consideration; communicate openly with supervisors and co-workers; and be courteous and helpful to others.

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[1] I believe this grievance is incorrectly dated, and was actually submitted on September 16

[2] Mr. Maready also has a 360 review process, but he receives feedback from just a few direct reports. It is not believed that he receives honest feedback. In 2011, during the beach conference, Mr. Maready assembled the senior leadership from the schools (P and APs) for a meeting because he had received some negative feedback on a 360 feedback. Mr. Maready was not happy with the feedback, and said that he felt that he was not being supported, and that he could not trust the people that worked for him. He seemed to want to know who had said things about him. These actions would not encourage an open honest feedback process.

[3] Whether a non-applicable item was scored a 11011 and therefore dropped the administrator’s overall score.

[4] Mr. Backes stated that even though Mr. Maready was on administrative leave during the investigation, he purposely forward a positive, congratulatory email about himself to all staff in order to sway the investigation.

[5] A witness stated that Susan Black received text messages from someone on the Executive Committee, and she told people about the employee complaint, and the incident between Mr. Maready and Mr. Gandy at FETC.

[6] Some further review of the timing of this change should be investigated by the Board.

[7] Mr. Maready states that it is the up to the Principals to select the chaperones for the overnight field trips. This is extra work for the teacher, and takes them away from their family.

[8] This contradicts the Family at McKeel memo that shows his supervisory responsibility over several of Mr. Black’s family members.

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4 Responses to “Confidential Report of Investigation Complaints regarding Superintendent Harold Maready”

  1. Susan Henry Says:

    “In a related matter, several employees recalled that Mr. Maready required administrators to contribute to a recent political campaign (Stargell). He made a comment that everyone would need to give him a check to give to the candidate. He had his executive assistant contact Business office staff and administrators to remind them about getting him the check for the candidate. Employees believed that they were required to contribute and did so, and certainly felt pressured by Mr. Maready to do so. Due to the no complaint culture, no one made a formal complaint about it, despite thinking that this was not a proper request by the Superintendent.”

    Is that even legal? Given the nepotism, it sounds less like a school and more like a family business.

  2. Luanne Says:

    No, it’s definitely NOT legal.

  3. rae jackson Says:

    This is so crazy. It sounds like he’s bipolar. It is a business. And a good ole’ boys club. All being done with Federal funds. Someone should open an investigation into his political contributions and those possibly being made by the school. Touching someone’s genitalia would get anyone fired from any job. Why is he still there? Who knows what else or who else he is touching in that manner. It seems like everyone is so scared of him to say anything.

  4. Susan Henry Says:

    I was “not asked back” to teach at McKeel and was NEVER told why. But he can hit someone in the groin and make his employees contribute to a political campaign and that is acceptable?

    When you are “not asked back” to teach at McKeel, you get a letter in the mail on a Friday afternoon in May. Then, you are shamed by all the staff and some students like something is deeply wrong with you. Then they have the “beach conference” sign ups the very next week, where everyone signs up for rooms and different meetings to attend. Lastly, NO ONE, no administration, no team leaders, no grade level leaders, not Maready or board members will tell you why you were not asked back. You are left looking for a job with no reason as to why you were let go from McKeel. It ruins all job interviews. Well, maybe, Maready, has ruined all his job interviews? But I doubt it, he knows too many people. He’ll probably go work for Stargel since he’s been so good and helping with campaign contributions!

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