Dr. Kriner Cash Resigns Superintendent Position After Nine Years on Job

By JULIA WELLS

Vineyard Schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash announced unexpectedly this week that he will leave his post after more than nine years to take a job in Dade County, Fla.

Mr. Cash will leave the Vineyard in two weeks; Oct. 15 will be his last day on the job.

"There is no good time for a superintendent to leave, but this is as good a time as any. I feel I've finished my chapter," Mr. Cash told the Gazette in a telephone interview yesterday from Florida, where he was visiting the new school district where he will work.

The superintendent gave his notice to the all-Island school committee at the end of a closed-door session Monday night.

"I am especially proud of our shared legacy of ensuring a high level of accomplishment and opportunity for all students," Mr. Cash wrote in a letter he handed to school committee members.

The text of the letter appears on the Page Twelve of today's Gazette.

Although he did not specify it in the letter, Mr. Cash confirmed yesterday that he will take a job as chief of accountability and systemwide performance in a Florida school district that includes 365 schools. The superintendent of the district is Rudy Crew, a well-known educator and former chancellor of the New York city public schools. Mr. Crew is an old friend and colleague, and Mr. Cash said he created the new position for him.

Mr. Cash said the job in Florida was on hold for him, but he did not want to leave before he had solved the late-summer school bus crisis and had interim principals in place in Chilmark and West Tisbury, where the principals resigned over the summer.

Both those jobs are now done, and Mr. Cash said yesterday he could not wait any longer.

Mr. Cash has presided over nearly a decade of rapid growth and change in the Vineyard school system, which includes a regional high school, five elementary schools and a public charter school. He has hired every principal now on the job with the exception of one. He said he has hired more than 800 staff members for the schools during his tenure, including people he has moved into different positions inside the district. During his watch Vineyard schools won four blue ribbon designations, two for the high school and one each for Edgartown and Tisbury.

Articulate, high-energy and smartly dressed, Mr. Cash infected the Vineyard education system with his unique style of leadership and has been generally well-liked over the years.

"He really focused everyone around the mission of ed reform and alignment of the curriculum to the standards. It was a huge thrust of his administration," said high school principal Margaret (Peg) Regan this week. "Getting through the bureaucracy and multiple districts was no small feat," she added.

Mrs. Regan said the announcement Monday night caught her by surprise.

"There was definite, genuine surprise on my part, on everyone's part," she said.

Others agreed. "I was surprised and distressed. It's symptomatic of how the Island works, that we can't all seem to pull together," said Kathy Logue, a member of the up-Island regional school committee. "He raised the bar unquestionably for the superintendent's office, through the principals he hired, and in turn, through the teaching staff, hired under his tenure," she added.

Mr. Cash was hired to step into the top post in the Vineyard schools in 1995, just as the sweeping requirements of the state Education Reform Act began to impact schools across the commonwealth. The Vineyard had just come through the largest construction boom in its educational history, and expansions had been completed in every school except Edgartown.

In the early years Mr. Cash was ubiquitous.

"Go beyond the numbers and try to discover a little about the people your dollars serve," he wrote in one of his periodic letters to the community in 1997. "If I'm making an investment I want to know about the product. The products we build are the hearts, minds and esteems of children and youth. There is a name, a face and a story for each one."

In the telephone interview with the Gazette yesterday Mr. Cash looked back at his own accomplishments, including the work to standardize the educational system for teachers, replacing what he called "an atta boy, atta girl approach" with a more formal system of goals and professional review. He created a cabinet of principals and top administrators and met with them regularly.

"We haven't regionalized the school system, but we have regionalized the way we work," Mr. Cash said.

He praised the breadth of enrichment in the Vineyard schools, calling it a hallmark. "If there is one hallmark that separates us from other school systems, it's kids having opportunities to be involved with music, drama, dance, theatre, sports programs that are like a small ivy league school, professional development opportunities for teachers - the list goes on, and there is no other school system that I have been involved with that has so much," Mr. Cash said.

He described himself as a sort of teacher in an administrator's body.

"I was an educational leader first; I never saw myself as a manager or an administrator. I am tough on ideas but gentle with people," Mr. Cash said.

Mr. Cash hit some rough road last year when news surfaced that a culinary arts teacher at the high school had stolen thousands of dollars in student funds and equipment. The Peter Koines scandal rocked the Vineyard community and Mr. Cash was the target of widespread criticism for the way he handled the incident. Soon after, a bitterly divided school committee voted not to grant him a merit increase in pay for the year.

Yesterday Mr. Cash smoothly defended the way he handled the scandal.

"I wouldn't do things any differently," he said, adding: "I feel very comfortable with it because that was so close to my essence of being tough but fair. I was the only one who had all the facts that could be known about the case, and I was trying to work it through in a confidential manner . . . unfortunately once it became public it took on a whole different tenor.

"At the end of the day, when we look back on this, the community will see that a fair decision was rendered."

Mr. Cash also shrugged off the decision by the school committee to withhold his merit raise.

"I think the school committee members got pressure from various constituencies," he said.

Mr. Cash said he thinks the Vineyard school district is in sound shape but at the crossroads of change again.

"We are the most abundantly resourced school system I have ever been associated with - but there is also now a tension in the community that says we've got to look at ways to contain costs, and I think the schools need to look at how they can use their resources more efficiently," he said.

He credited his wife, Lisa, for supporting him in the decision to change jobs.

"I hesitated because of my devotion to the Island and she said, ‘Don't hesitate.' She has been my support and encouragement all through our years," he said.

He said he is openly ambivalent.

"This is a family to me, it's a school community that I'm fond of and that I have put together with the support of many people. I am proud of the school system we have today," he said.

"It's somewhat bittersweet in that I am excited about the new opportunity but I am also saddened to leave so many good people; Lisa and I have lived on the Vineyard for 10 years and we consider it our home. This is the finest staff I have ever been associated with."