Friday, October 24, 2014

My Apologies to Mrs. Crouch

Those of you who were witness to the spectacle that took place at the recent Minooka CCSD 201 board of education meeting on October 22 should step back and calmly consider what happened.  The spectacle consisted of heated verbal exchanges between board members, teachers and the superintendent regarding a proposed parent survey.  But, the spectacle also consisted of a superintendent, Mr. Gegenheimer, throwing one member of the board of education, Mrs. Kristan Crouch, "under the bus" with some members of the board of education not objecting.  In fact, at one point, Mr. Gegenheimer asserted that Mrs. Crouch was "the problem."  An assertion that Mrs. Crouch was understandably shocked to witness (as was I), and responded to by telling Mr. Gegenheimer he was being "unprofessional" (which he was).  Actually, she was being nice.  In my book, "unprofessional" is a somewhat tame adjective to describe his actions.

First a little background may be in order. As part of a decision to implement a Strategic Plan, the board of education decided to conduct an anonymous survey of parents to obtain input into how parents felt that District policies could be improved in order to improve the educational experience for their children.  The board also decided to conduct an anonymous survey of its teachers/staff in order to determine teacher/staff morale and receive input on how District policies could be improved in order to improve working conditions for them. During two open meetings specifically held to discuss the Strategic Plan, there was much discussion on how to implement these two surveys, how to obtain the highest level of feedback from both parents and teachers/staff, and the types of questions that would be asked on these surveys.

At the second such meeting on October 15, the majority of the discussion was focused on the parent survey. It was hoped that this survey could be finalized and distributed to parents at the upcoming Parent-Teacher conferences since a large majority of parents attend one or more Parent-Teacher conferences. The teachers were going to be asked to hand out the surveys at the end of the conference, and parents would fill them out and place them in a receptacle in order to maintain anonymity. There were to be no markings on the surveys that would identify classrooms or teachers. The only identifier was to be that different colors of paper were to be used at each building so that results could be looked at by building.  At no time were teachers going to be asked to discuss or spend time on the parent surveys during their conferences.

Now, back to the events of the board of education meeting on October 22. There was some talk of who drafted the parent survey.  This talk was pointless and only served the purpose of attempting to castigate Mrs. Crouch.  Someone had to do a first draft of the survey.  Unfortunately for Mrs. Crouch, she was assigned the job of writing the first draft of the parent survey (which made sense to me since she is a parent with children currently attending Minooka 201 schools).  As an aside, Mrs. Allen was assigned the task of writing the first draft of the teacher survey (which also made sense to me since she was a teacher for 27 years).  Mrs. Allen, you better hold off on that survey, lest you become the next target.

Here is where the apology comes in (or part of it at least).  I was the one who suggested that Mrs. Crouch write the first draft of the parent survey.  So, Mrs. Crouch, I apologize for suggesting that you write the first draft of the survey.  In my defense, my intention in doing so was to make sure that our newest board member had a chance to contribute.

So, let's go back to the subject of who wrote the first draft of the survey.  Who cares?  It is not relevant, unless you are trying to throw someone "under the bus."  It takes forever to draft anything by committee, so it made sense to have one person take the first crack at it and present it for comments and editing.  Once Mrs. Crouch presented it to those of us at the special meeting, including five other members of the board (Mr. Hannon was absent) and Mr. Gegenheimer and Dr. Palaniuk, it became our survey.  Every one of us at that meeting had something to say about the survey.  We spent an hour and a half editing the survey, changing the wording, deleting some questions, adding some questions.  By the end of the meeting, it was no longer a product written by one person, but a product of the attendees of that meeting.  At the end of the meeting, there was general agreement that the parent survey was ready, barring last minute comments, to be approved at the next regular meeting of the board of education.  Mrs. Crouch was charged with taking the comments and edits that we had all agreed upon, revising the survey and sending it to Mr. Gegenheimer.  Mrs. Crouch made the changes and emailed the revised survey ("our survey") to Mr. Gegenheimer on October 17.  Mr. Gegenheimer forwarded the survey by email to the rest of the board and Dr. Palaniuk without any comment other than the following: "Dear Board, Attached you will find the survey. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for revision."

Because, in my view, the proposed parent survey was a product of that meeting and every board member present as well as Mr. Gegenheimer and Dr. Palaniuk contributed and had a chance to raise objections to any particular question or the survey as a whole, it was "our survey."  And so, for me, Mr. Gegenheimer's attempt to castigate Mrs. Crouch and throw her "under the bus" was malicious and cowardly.  In addition, the failure of many of my fellow board members to defend Mrs. Crouch and chastise Mr. Gegenheimer for his actions is also at best an act of cowardice and at worst an act of malice (as if she had it coming).  Mrs. Allen, to her great credit, in response to Mr. Gegenheimer's charge that Mrs. Crouch wrote the survey, stated that "we also all talked about it and agreed upon it."

Here is where the remainder of the apology comes in.  I attempted to explain to those present that the proposed parent survey was not the work of some "lone" board member, but rather a product of collaboration of the board, Mr. Gegenheimer, and Dr. Palaniuk.  (That we failed to include the teachers in this collaboration was a collective failure not a failure of one individual).  What I failed to do, however, was to explain to the teachers present that contrary to what was presented to them both before the meeting and at the meeting, Mrs. Crouch was never "out to get them."  Truth be told, Mrs. Crouch is one of the most ardent supporters of our classroom teachers.  So, it would be a tragedy if the teachers or anyone present came away from that spectacle with the wrong impression.  Again, I apologize, this time for a sin of omission rather than one of commission.

In the end, the spectacle was a display of cowardice and, potentially, malice.  I hope we are teaching our children better than this.

[Edited to provide background information.]


  1. Thank you for standing up for Kristen Crouch. As a spectator it was hard to see her being attacked especially because she is only fighting for teachers and students. I also felt bad for because not only was she being attacked as a BOE member but I never in my life saw a man go after a woman that way. If it was me instead of Kristen and my husband was there you can bet my husband would of had words with Mr. G and I pray that is all. He was very intimidating especially for a woman. Again thank you for standing up for her, the teachers and students. (Jessica Folsom)

  2. The following was posted as a comment (which I have edited as indicated): "Talk about a coward. I love how you only approve comment for post that agree with your position. You are so far out of line with this. You, as a member of the Board of Education, have power over the superintendent. You evaluate him. By putting these words out publicly, you are, in essence, evaluating the superintendent in public. I hope he sues your [expletive]." (Anonymous)

    And my response: I post comments that discuss the substantive issues and do not consist solely of irrelevant matters or expletives. That being said, you apparently think that the public’s business (evaluation of the performance of the superintendent) should be conducted in private. I am certain that I am on solid “First Amendment ground” when I say that I have every right both as an elected official and a private citizen to discuss the public’s business in public. After all, the events that I commented on happened in public. Further, under the Illinois Open Meetings Act, discussions regarding the job performance or evaluation of a superintendent are not required to be held in closed session (“executive session”) but may be held in closed session at the option of the board of education.