• October 23, 2014

Killeen ISD board should have given Craft longer pact

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Posted: Sunday, July 13, 2014 4:30 am

The Killeen school board’s appointment of Deputy Superintendent John Craft as interim superintendent is a logical move.

However, the decision to offer him only a six-month contract could prove to be a bit problematic.

No doubt, Superintendent Robert Muller took the board by surprise when he announced in April that he would be leaving at the end of August to take a clinical professor’s post at Texas A&M University in College Station. That gave the board just over four months to find a suitable replacement for a man who had been the Killeen Independent School District’s superintendent since 2008.

Given the short timetable, the board made the right decision in looking inside the district’s administration to find new leadership. Craft, who was hired as deputy superintendent in June 2012 from a pool of 16 applicants, came to Killeen from Hamilton ISD, where he served as superintendent for three years.

The Hamilton district received an “exemplary” rating for the 2010 school year and a “recognized” rating for 2011, according Texas Education Agency records. Still, the district has three only schools and fewer than 1,000 students, compared to 55 campuses and 40,000-plus students enrolled in Killeen ISD.

Still, Craft has had two years to work closely with Muller, whom Craft described as “a great mentor and a wonderful friend.” It’s unlikely the board would have felt comfortable handing the reins to Craft — even on an interim basis — if Muller hadn’t expressed confidence in his deputy.

With Muller using his collected leave time to leave early, Craft is now center stage. Tuesday’s board action put him in charge of all district affairs for six months at a salary of $96,000 plus travel and expenses. After the six-month contract expires, board members will re-evaluate his performance in the superintendent position.

That’s a conservative route for the board to take, but the contract’s timing could cause problems down the road.

For example, if the board decides not to keep Craft in the post, the district could find itself without a superintendent in the middle of the school year — not a good time to find a replacement.

Also, if the board were to use the contract period to interview other superintendent candidates, that would put both the board and Craft in an awkward and uncomfortable situation.

It also could be argued that six months is not an adequate length of time to fully evaluate Craft’s job performance and leadership skills. As such, the board may not be in any position to extend or terminate his contract once January rolls around.

How well Craft works with the board over the next six months also likely will be a factor in his next evaluation. The ability to bring consensus from a sometimes divided group of trustees would be a valuable and much-needed skill.

No doubt, Craft has some big shoes to fill. In Muller’s six years at the helm of Killeen ISD, he oversaw a rapidly growing district with a transient, military-connected student population, evolving state testing requirements and federal funding challenges. With 6,100 employees and an annual budget of $377 million, the district is the largest between Austin and Dallas.

Muller also proved adept at dealing with the challenges of procuring federal Impact Aid — which accounted for $44 million of the current Killeen ISD budget. With uncertainty clouding the process this year, Craft’s mastery of the issue is likely to be tested quickly.

At 37, Craft is young and energetic — and optimistic about his new role. After receiving the appointment, he said all the right things, praising the teachers, administrative staff, school board and community.

And considering he has worked as a high school principal, assistant principal, teacher and coach, Craft has the kind of rounded background that will help him relate to district educators and administrators alike.

Ultimately, Craft may well be the right person to lead the Killeen school district for years to come.

It’s just unfortunate the board didn’t give him more time to prove it.

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