A servant's mindset

New Elwood Community Schools Superintendent Casey Smitherman talks and reads to Elwood Intermediate summer school students on Monday. Elwood is "on the cusp of so many cool things,” she said. “It’s an exciting time to be here, I think. There’s so much room to grow with our kids.”

The Elwood school board, trying to determine what to do about embattled Superintendent Casey Smitherman, has scheduled an executive session followed by a public meeting Friday evening.

The board's primary objective should be to make a decision that best serves students and the community.

On Jan. 9, Smitherman went to the home of a 15-year-old student who had not shown up for school. She took him out to eat and to get a haircut. He was showing signs of strep throat, so she took him to two medical clinics to seek diagnosis and treatment.

Smitherman is in trouble because she made at least four serious errors in judgment Jan. 9:

• Error 1: She didn't get permission from the boy's guardian or parents to take him from the house, cart him around town and seek medical care for him.

• Error 2: The superintendent was alone with the teen in a car, a major no-no for school staff and administrators.

• Error 3: She committed fraud by claiming that the boy was her son so that she could use her health insurance to defray the $233 bill for the clinic's care and antibiotics.

• Error 4: She didn't report her suspicion that the boy was suffering from neglect. School staff and others who come into contact with youth through their jobs are required by state law to report such suspicion.

Smitherman turned herself in to Elwood police Jan. 17, after the boy began telling others about the doctor's visit.

Criminal charges against her have been dismissed, provided she doesn't get arrested during the next 12 months.

The superintendent has said she has no romantic relationship with the teen and that she simply has sympathy for students who need help.

She said she had previously provided clothing and had cleaned the house where the boy lives. In other cases, she provided a bed for a student and toiletries for another, Smitherman said.

After news of her arrest broke, social media response was mostly supportive. Naturally, people applauded her for helping a sick kid.

But she did it the wrong way. She could have used Elwood schools' telehealth system to seek medical attention for the boy.

Smitherman compounded that mistake by committing fraud instead of paying for the boy's care out of her own pocket.

The job of a superintendent is to oversee the entire district, ensuring that tax dollars are used wisely and students are served in the best possible manner.

While a superintendent might recognize that a specific student needs assistance, her role is to call upon existing resources to provide that help, not make it a personal mission.

Before the Jan. 9 incident, Smitherman had already upset some school staff and other stakeholders by reassigning a popular high school principal and disciplining teachers.

The school board stood by her through those controversies. The decision to be made now should be based on Smitherman's actions Jan. 9. (And any related information the board learns.)

Smitherman, 48, is in her first year as a superintendent, and you might expect her to make some mistakes of inexperience. But the litany of her judgment lapses Jan. 9 goes beyond inexperience, suggesting a wanton disregard for the rules and a profound misunderstanding of her job responsibilities.

Now the board must decide whether she is the right person to provide the leadership Elwood schools need and students deserve.

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