Saturday, April 3, 2010

Thanks, Village People -- and the inside scoop

A fellow blogger and Pleasant Prairie resident commented on the controversy surrounding the vetting of Kenosha's new school superintendent, Michele Hancock, by observing that he hopes for the sake of the children of the school district that the critiques of Hancock's administrative performance are wrong and that she turns out to be the best superintendent the district ever had.

Amen.  Not only do I wish her well, but, as stated previously, it's too bad that the vetting occurs after she was hired.  It's a shame that our school board didn't do its homework before making the contract offer.  This is exacerbated because board members had the opportunity to publicly and privately interview Hancock and some board members even went to Rochester to check her out.

What's obvious is that they didn't do a very good job of checking.  Nor did the Kenosha News or any other media outlet.  As reported here, Hancock was an oustanding teacher and elementary school principal whose performance appears to have gone south when she became a central office administrator.  That's a critical point which needed further investigation before she was hired.

Any sports fan knows that the best managers weren't always the best players and the best players aren't always the best managers.  This is true at least for no other reason that the two roles are different.  The job of a player is to get the job done.  The job of a manager is to get the job done through others and, concurrently, the duty of a manager is to provide the resources and support necessary for the players to get their jobs done.  This isn't rocket science.  It's Management 101.

Hancock was a great teacher and an award winning principal who literally invested her own sweat and paint into cleaning up a troubled Rochester, New York grade school.  Then she turned to staff and student performance and turned that around to the point where her school won a National School Change Award.  Here's a summary of why that happened:

The first thing that Michele Hancock did when she was appointed a new principal in June 1999 was to bring together her family to paint the uninviting elementary school she inherited. Michele's new message was that expectations had to be high for the students in this urban high poverty area and, with hard work, school improvement was possible. Over the next four years, the grade 4 English Language Arts (ELA) passing scores went from 13.3% to 63.2% while the math scores rose from 30.7% to 78.8%. Science scores jumped 39 points to 70% and 83% passed the new social studies exam. Now a poster hangs outside each teacher's room announcing the instructional specialty, such as cooperative learning, that teachers can model. Michele covers classes so teachers can observe other classes and discuss those instructional specialties and best practices with their colleagues.
This is great stuff and the kind of achievement we want to see not just in Kenosha but everywhere.  The story, however, soured when the Rochester District plucked Hancock out of her school and made her the district's diversity chief.  It was during her tenure in that job that she attracted criticism for encouraging the use of Black English Vernacular (Ebonics) in school to communicate with some black students.

Shortly thereafter, with no human resources experience (other than at the building principal level), Hancock was promoted to be the district's personnel director.  Her performance in that job was controversial as well.  You've read about the allegations that she called teachers at a Rochester schoool on the carpet after they voted "no confidence" in their principal (who was then reassigned).  Even her boss, who was part of that conversation, said that Hancock told the teachers that there was a "perception" of racism in their actions. 

And then Hancock helped stage a two-day resort retreat for Rochester district administrators to the tune of $18,000 when the district's finances were over $60 million in the hole.

Further, while Hancock did a great job with her school when she was a principal, did that success infect the Rochester district?  Apparently not.  The latest high school graduation rate there was reported at 46%, down from 52% the year before.  (Kenosha's is 84.1%.)

So we have two portraits of Michele Hancock: outstanding teacher and award winning principal vs. inexperienced controversial administrator of an academically and financially troubled district.

This is precisely the contrast that our school board (and the media, for that matter) should have picked up on and further vetted.  They didn't hire Hancock to be a building principal or curriculum coordinator.  They hired her to be the superintendent -- top dog over all the other administrators, educators and support staff.  The question we're all going to be waiting to have answered is which Michele Hancock did we get -- the outstanding teacher and award winning principal or inexperienced controversial administrator?

This is by no means an insignificant question in this school district where many superintendents have had a rocky road.  Local talent Joe Bisciglia took the job on a divided vote and it wasn't that long after that the board was looking to dump him.  Then came Michael Johnson, an "outsider" with new ideas every day but academic achievement and staff relations issues clouded his tenure and he took another job.  Then local boy R. Scott Pierce came back to Kenosha but it wasn't that long afterward that he, too, had strained relations and moved on.  Throughout much of this Joe Mangi held things together reasonably well and deserves credit for doing so.

Both Hancock's background and the district's made it compelling for the school board to have made the right choice the right way.  Even the Kenosha News complained of the lack of transparency in the process. 

At the end of the day, Village People pegs it when he says that he hopes that Hancock turns out to be the best superintendent the district ever had.  Amen to that.  It's unfortunate that the school board failed to clear the debris from the road before her arrival.

And now, for the rest of the story. 

I admit that I hadn't paid much attention to the school board's selection process but, after reading that Hancock got the nod, decided to see what I could learn about her.  A simple "Google search" led to the various news articles both about her successful career as a teacher and principal and the questions about her administrative performance.  That initial search took perhaps a minute and not more than two.  In other words, I pretty much stumbled onto this information.  That's exactly what the school board -- and the news media -- should have done.  After all, we bought the board members laptop computers.  How hard would it have been for them to use them?

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