A few years ago Kenosha Unified School Board members got laptop computers. The current board sure needs a crash course on how to use them.
Had the school board performed due diligence it would have discovered that less than three years ago its newly hired school superintedent, Michele Hancock, was the center of controversy in Rochester, New York when she was the school district's diversity chief, over her advocacy of Black English Vernacular (Ebonics) in school -- an idea wisely flamed by many Rochester African-American community leaders, parents and students.
They would also have found out that while they were cutting a deal with Hancock she was embroiled in a battle with teachers at a Rochester school (blandly called School #41) who recently staged a "no confidence" vote in their principal, Roschon Bradley. According to WHAM-TV in Rochester:
Teachers say Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard and Chief of Human Capital Initiatives Michele Hancock held a staff meeting earlier this week and implied the teachers at School #41 are racist for banding against Bradley, who is black.
Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski said teachers who attended the meeting said Brizard and Hancock “berated them and lectured them. Teachers were shocked and hurt and disappointed that the district seemed to suggest that the problem wasn’t with the principal, it was with them.”
Urbanski said Hancock told the teachers their vote of no confidence was perceived as racist and as a bullying tactic.
Further investigation shows that these aren't the only two storms of controversy surrounding Hanock, who will be paid $195,000 -- $45,000 more than current superintedent Joseph Mangi, a career Kenosha Unified educator.
On May 21, 2008 WHAM's veteran education reporter, Rachel Barnhart, wrote that Hancock was named the new human resources chief (later morphed into "Human Capital Initiatives") for the Rochester district although Hancock "doesn't have a background in human resources."
Less than two years later Hancock -- who received $36,000 from the Rochester district toward her doctoral degree studies -- was applying for and ultimately accepted the Kenosha job although she has no experience as a superintendent or even an assistant superintendent.
Last year Hancock's name popped up again in another WHAM report, this time defending the $18,000 taxpayers shelled out for a retreat attended by 29 Rochester school executives at a swanky resort:
The cost was $18,000. The trip took place from January 29 to January 31. The district said 29 staff members went on the trip, although the district paid for 40 to attend.
According to documents obtained by 13WHAM News, the district’s Chief of Human Capital Initiatives, Michele Hancock, booked the retreat in November. The trip was approved by Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard in December.
The purpose of the trip was to “enable team-building” among the district’s Dream Schools, according to Hancock’s request for a contract with Beaver Hollow. “The retreat will include instructional leadership, learning organizations, adult growth, and professional development.”
The menu for the staff members included Jack Daniels marinated steak with tobacco onions, shrimp fritters, cheddar corn muffins, and “enticing desserts.”
The district budget deficit at the time of the retreat was about $60 million. The school board recently approved cutting more than 200 teaching positions.
The $18,000 two-day retreat was just the tip of the iceberg. Barnhart's investigative reporting last year showed that the financially strapped Rochester district spent $240,000 on catered meals since 2007 without school board approval.
So, what does this have to do about Kenosha? Plenty. Just look at what Kenosha Unified's superintendent search job posting listed as criteria for the new superintendent:
KUSD seeks a superintendent who:
• Is strongly committed to a “student first” philosophy in all decisions.
• Will inspire trust, has high levels of self-confidence and optimism, and models high standards of integrity and personal performance.
• Possesses excellent people skills and presents a positive image of the district and will commit to community visibility with high interest in a broad range of community groups, organizations, and unions.
• Willing to listen to input, but can make a decision when necessary including appropriate participation of others in planning and decision making.
• Demonstrates effective communication skills to include speaking, listening and writing.
• Has demonstrated the ability to enhance student performance, especially in identifying and closing or narrowing the gaps in student achievement.
• Can delegate authority appropriately while maintaining accountability.
• Possesses the leadership skills required to respond to the challenges presented by an ethnically and culturally diverse community.
• Work cooperatively with the board of education.
• Is able to identify and select building and central office administrators who are capable of advancing the district vision.
• Has knowledge of and successful experience in sound fiscal practices and management of district resources.
Hancock's lame defense of an $18,000 resort tab for a two-day conference for 29 administrators in a school district more than $60 million in the hole hardly qualifies as someone successful in sound fiscal pratices and management of district resources.
Although Hancock was a nationally recognized elementary school principal who successfully turned around a decaying and underachieving grade school, the Rochester district's most recent high school graduation rate was only 46%, down 6% from the previous year. By contrast, Kenosha's most recent graduation rate was 84.1%.
As for inspiring confidence and improving the district's image, advocacy of Ebonics, defending wasteful spending and berating teachers doesn't bode well and the latter brings into question her "people skills."This brings us back to the original point: where was the due diligence in the superintendent selection process? Maybe our school board members aren't computer literate despite the investment in their laptops, but then why didn't Ray and Associates, the Iowa consulting firm hired to conduct the nationwide superintendent search, pick up on these red flags?
Clearly, the ball was dropped.