A different perspective on soccer coach issue

As a trustee on the Helena School Board, I’d like to offer a different perspective on the Capital High coaching issue which has dominated the headlines in the IR over the past week. The position the Board recently found itself in regarding the varsity girl’s soccer coach was unfortunate. The information reviewed by the Board was in the form of an investigative report initiated by Superintendent Kent Kultgen. The result of this investigation, less than 10 percent of which was offered for public consumption, found no laws broken or policies violated. That should not be interpreted, however, as a report that uncovered no cause for concern.

On the contrary there were many troubling findings. For example, in addition to several instances of what investigator, Beth O’Halloren, considered “poor judgment” by coaching staff and included behavior that could “certainly leave a child feeling intimidated” she also concluded the following:

While there is insufficient evidence that Brisko engaged in misconduct or policy violations, the evidence gathered during the course of this investigation reveals that Brisko was unable to develop an effective relationship with many players [two-thirds] as the varsity coach. … Brisko’s blunt and direct style was not conducive to encouraging young women to approach her directly; therefore Brisko was unable to effectively communicate with players or their families in a manner that benefited the team.

The players perceived Brisko’s effort at team unity suspiciously and regarded her as an adverse party. This along with [redacted] resulted in a dysfunctional coach/player dynamic.

Moreover, when the investigator discussed parent and player concerns, Coach Brisko had “no regret over anything that happened as far as what she had done.”

The duties of a trustee include approving all coaching contracts. In my opinion, if a coach is unable to develop a positive relationship with the majority of players over the course of an entire season, cannot communicate effectively with parents or players and has an inability to review her own behavior and make needed change then a problem exists.

It’s important to note that Coach Brisko was not fired, because she was no longer employed by the District after her contract ended on Oct. 31, 2015. Coaching contracts in the Helena School District are season-to-season commitments with no expectation for renewal. The District can choose to enter into a new contract with a coach from the previous season or open the search to include other applicants. The only decision that was made on April 27 was to allow other interested parties to apply. Coach Brisko is not exempt from applying, and I have no doubt she will.

In regard to fears that this decision sets a dangerous precedent that will leave our district short of coaches, it may be reassuring to know there are twice as many applicants this year for the position than last year.

Clearly, this situation has revealed gaps in our District’s coaching policies and procedures. I think it’s fair to say mistakes were made by most of those involved including parents, coaches, school staff and the Board. I recognize the importance of addressing these limitations immediately, and I am hopeful that coaching staff will be invited to participate as necessary partners to assist the District in this endeavor so that we never again find ourselves in this situation.

Sadly, this dispute over a seasonal coach has proved a considerable distraction from far more critical issues facing our schools. Soon we will choose an interim superintendent. I am hopeful that this will provide an opportunity for renewal and a fresh commitment to District wide improvements in many areas for all of our 8,000 students.

sarahSarah Sullivan is a trustee on the Helena Public Schools Board of Education. 

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