Education, Emergency Managers, Michigan, Rick Snyder — August 30, 2011 at 9:28 am

John Covington, new chancellor for failing Michigan schools, faked conflict to break his previous contract


This past week, John Covington was hired by the state of Michigan to oversee a collection of underperforming schools in the state. The new group, the Education Achievement Authority (EAA), will focus its efforts on improving failing schools around Michigan. In his new position, Covington may make as much as $1.5 million per year over 4 years if he meets goals set for him.

Covington comes to Michigan under a cloud of questions and accusations from the Kansas City school system. A Huffington Post column details a rift between Covington and the president of the Kansas City School Board, Airick West, which Covington to said was the reason he abruptly resigned. Another board member, Arthur Benson, resigned as well, saying that improper conduct by West made Covington’s job impossible.

However, a short time later, Benson rescinded his resignation. He learned, it turns out, that Covington had deceived and betrayed him. From KCTV5:

Covington was described as “the best” by a board member for the newly formed Education Achievement Authority. As chancellor, Covington will oversee the 38 lowest performing schools in Michigan.

Earlier, Kansas City school board member Arthur Benson said Covington abruptly resigned this week because of the job in Michigan. He said Covington manufactured a dispute with board president Airick West to be able to renege on his contract.

Covington interviewed with the school board there Friday afternoon. The board said they want Covington to start on Sept. 23 or whenever he is done with Kansas City. Covington had said his resignation in Kansas City would be effective Sept. 23.

“I’m extremely excited,” Covington told the Michigan board. He said he plans to hit the ground running and get a team in place.

He touted his record in Kansas City during his interview broadcast live from Detroit.

Benson said the job had been long in the works. Covington used a dispute with board president Airick West over a contract for his own purposes, the board member said.

“He used a disagreement with West to manufacture an excuse to break his contract,” Benson said Friday morning in an email to

Ironically, Covington was the only candidate for the job because, according to Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts, other candidates did not want to be seen as “fishing” for a new job.

Roy Roberts, emergency manager for the Detroit Public Schools, said the Covington surfaced as a candidate as a search firm looked for a DPS superintendent – a vacant position – as well as a chancellor for the new statewide school system. Roberts said conversations with five candidates yielded interest in the EAA position, but no interest in the DPS superintendent job.

All but Covington withdrew from the EAA chancellor search progress, Roberts said.

“We were not able to have multiple candidates vying for the post because none wished to have their board think they were ‘fishing’,” for a job, Roberts said.

The people of Kansas City are, as you might imagine, none too pleased, An opinion piece published in the Kansas City Star titled “John Covington’s sneaky betrayal” put it this way:

[Covington’s] sudden and mysterious resignation Wednesday [now makes] sense. He knew there’s a good chance he’ll be leaving, and I guess he decided to take down his adversary, school board President Airick Leonard West, on his way out, by leveling meddling accusations.

Covington loves a challenge, and obviously overseeing several low-performing districts is a bigger plum than simply running one low-performing district. I still say he owed it to Kansas City’s children, families and teachers and his staff to stay the course, at least until his contract runs out June 30. His departure has seriously jeopardized the district’s chances of remaining provisionally accredited.

At the very least, Covington should have been up-front with his bosses on the school board. He should not have framed his resignation in a way destined to create conflict among members.

At a time when Michigan schools are in deep crisis, in large part due to funding slashed to help pay for an enormous 86% tax break for Michigan businesses, candidates for jobs such as the head of the EAA should be selected very carefully. This was clearly not the case in the hiring of Covington. Down in Kansas City, warning signals are being sent northward, urging Michigan to think this decision through more fully. An editorial in the Kansas City Star titled “Trust John Covington? We don’t in KC” had this to say:

Superintendent John Covington owes the Kansas City School District and the city an apology.

In an abrupt resignation Wednesday that shocked the community and his own board, the Kansas City superintendent offered no reason for breaking his contract.

But now it appears he resigned to take another job as chancellor of Michigan’s Education Achievement System in Michigan.

As a result, it’s abundantly clear that Covington has misled his board and the public about his intentions.

He certainly owed his bosses, his staff and this supportive community the courtesy of discussing his intention to seek employment elsewhere.

Covington, apparently with his Plan B in hand, showed no effort to resolve differences, demonstrating an outrageous lack of regard for this community that supported his dramatic changes and reforms.

With the school year so new and plans just launched to expand a new learning approach in 10 schools, a departure now could distract teachers and jeopardize the district’s chances at remaining accredited.

Covington’s unwillingness to resolve differences offers a poor lesson for students and shows disrespect for a community that has wholeheartedly supported him in his short tenure.

His hasty departure should alarm his next employer.

Unfortunately for Michigan and the students, it’s too late. The decision is made and Governor Snyder appears to be elated saying, “Dr. Covington’s record of achievement is just the right fit to ensure that our children get the education they so richly need and deserve.”

All we can hope for, I guess, is that Covington doesn’t get a better offer.