Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Little Background May Be In Order

My previous post may have raised more questions than it answered.  Perhaps some background is in order to answer some of those questions.  (I hope that this background will answer some of the questions raised by Mr. Folsom in his rather eloquent comment to my previous post).

My recent FOIA request did not turn up any emails in which the superintendent, Mr. Al Gegenheimer, directly addressed to Mrs. Kristan Crouch or any other current member of the Minooka CCSD 201 school board any concerns that he might have had with the proposed parent survey.  (By the way, I hope you have all taken the time to read the survey and have the same reaction that others have had: "What is the issue with this survey?  I don't see it.")  As I recall, Mr. Gegenheimer did not express any concerns regarding the proposed parent survey at the two special board meetings where we discussed the Strategic Plan and the Parent Survey (September 17th and October 15th) other than the following: (1) he was concerned that, by making the survey anonymous, we would not get reliable feedback (such concern was largely dismissed by those who felt, as I did, that an anonymous survey would be the only way to get honest feedback from the parents), and (2) he was concerned that we needed to have the survey ready to hand out at parent-teacher conferences since that would ensure the largest number of parent responses.

However, we now know from the emails, that Mr. Gegenheimer did share some concerns about the survey with a former member of the Minooka CCSD 201 school board, Mr. Don McKinney.  For me, the fact that Mr. Gegenheimer would not disclose his concerns regarding the proposed parent survey to the current members of the Minooka CCSD 201 school board while at the same time seeking the input of former member Don McKinney is particularly troublesome for the following reason.  Mr. McKinney resigned in March 2014 under the cloud of a facebook post in which he sought to disparage the young female volleyball players in our district by calling them by a slang term for female homosexuals.  Mr. McKinney, who is the superintendent at Nettle Creek school district in Morris, Illinois, was reprimanded by his own district and issued an apology to Nettle Creek parents for the facebook post (see here and here).  Why would Mr. Gegenheimer choose to ask this particular person for his opinion about the work of the current board?

Mr. McKinney, to my knowledge, has never apologized to Minooka parents or Minooka volleyball players.  Perhaps that was because Mr. Gegenheimer went to great lengths to ensure that Minooka parents did not speak out regarding the facebook post at our board meetings.  Mr. Gegenheimer even went so far as having Barb Erickson, one of the school district's attorneys (whose name you may recall seeing on one of the emails from the previous post), attend the public comment period at the very next school board meeting.  I wonder what exactly her role was going to be since parents and community members do not lose their right to free speech at school board meetings (in fact, it is specifically protected at such a public forum).  She left right after the public comment period.  She did not say a word, but I'm sure that she had an intimidating effect on any parent who may have thought about speaking up about Mr. McKinney's abhorrent behavior and feared that doing so would get them into legal trouble.

In his comment to my previous post, Mr. Folsom also wondered whether Mr. Gegenheimer's conduct with regard to the parent survey was typical or exceptional.  Unfortunately, based on my experience, this type of behavior is par for the course.  Mr. Gegenheimer’s unprofessional conduct has been going on for years—at least since I was elected to the Board in April 2009.  I previously chose not to blog about his conduct or blog about the conduct of some of my fellow board members who have never spoken up to stop Mr. Gegenheimer's behavior and by continuing to support him have, in effect, encouraged it.  As mentioned in a previous post, it was due to similar unprofessional behavior that I advocated to my fellow board members in April 2012 that Mr. Gegenheimer's contract should not be renewed.  Not only did the board vote 5 to 2 to renew the contract, but they gave Mr. Gegenheimer what can only be considered a "sweetheart deal" at the taxpayers' expense (see here and here).  Of the five members who voted to renew Mr. Gegenheimer's contract, only Mr. Jim Satorius, Mr. Al Skwarczynski, and Mr. Kevin Hannon are members of the current school board.

So, why have I not previously spoken out about Mr. Gegenheimer's conduct or the complicity of some board members in enabling his conduct?  In the past, I thought that I could get policies passed that would benefit the students and the teachers if I used diplomacy, tact and negotiation.  I thought that I could use reasoning to convince the other board members when something was in the best interests of the district.

Recently, it seemed that my patience was starting to bear fruit.  In February 2014, the board brought in Mr. Jeff Cohn, a representative from the Illinois Association of School Boards to conduct some board self-evaluation sessions.  After the first session in February, the board brought Mr. Cohn back again in June for another board self-evaluation session.  As a result of these meetings, the board decided to come up with a strategic plan for the district, something that has not been done as long as I have been on the board.  Special meetings were held on September 17th and October 15th to work on drafting the Strategic Plan.  I was very encouraged that the board was working together as a team to form a Strategic Plan and get parents, teachers and the community involved in having a collaborative relationship with the school board in order to try to improve the educational experience for our children.  The board was finally taking baby steps to do its job after years of abdicating its authority to Mr. Gegenheimer.

The board spent taxpayer money and expended much time and effort in bringing in Mr. Cohn, in creating the Strategic Plan, in discussing the importance of a parent and teacher survey, and in creating the parent survey.  (As an aside, the administration had already "jumped the gun" on the teacher survey by sending it out without authorization or input from the school board.  Mr. Gegenheimer didn't seem concerned about the "validity and reliability" of this survey.  In fact, this survey was apparently designed for an inner-city high school, and there are many questions on this survey that have little relevance to Minooka teachers (see, for example, questions 11, 19, and 20)).  So, Mr. Gegenheimer's apparent conscious decision to undermine and ridicule the board, pit the teachers against the board, and blame and attack a board member (Mrs. Kristan Crouch), effectively destroyed all of the board’s efforts.  Precious time and taxpayer money went completely to waste through the orchestrated and seemingly malicious efforts of Mr. Gegenheimer.

So, the question remains, why did I choose this episode to lay bare the inner workings of Minooka CCSD 201?  It is blatantly clear to me now that I can no longer remain silent about Mr. Gegenheimer's actions and conduct.  I can handle the personal attacks against myself that have been going on for years.  I have a very thick skin, and very few things short of actual combat rattle me.  I, however, will not countenance such blatant disrespect and sabotage against the school district and the school board, much less such personal attacks against one of my fellow board members.  My conscience and my ethical duty to the students, teachers, parents, taxpayers and my fellow board members of District 201 simply do not allow it.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for answering my previous questions about the facts regarding the (lack of) interaction between Mr. Gegenheimer and the board.
    The teacher survey Mr. Gegenheimer chose for the district is also interesting. By comparison, other than higher granularity in response choices (i.e. in most cases five strengths of opinion, rather than two), I fail to perceive the material differences in the format, style, and tone of those questions as compared with those in the parent survey drafted by Ms. Crouch and finalized by Mr. Gegenheimer and the board. After reading his teacher survey, I find his concern with anonymity, frankly, hypocritical. That survey is clearly structured in such a way that anonymity is guaranteed for any teacher so inclined. Any questions within it that could be used to identify an individual are specified as optional.
    The only “laughable” aspect to this entire situation is Mr. Gegenheimer’s inept, awkward, and ultimately obvious attempt to alienate the board and the teachers. I sincerely hope that the teachers come to understand that this selfish and petty man does not keep their interests in mind. He, apparently, keeps only his own.
    Should the board continue to remain complicit in Mr. Gegenheimer’s deceitful behavior, the district, as a whole, will bear the brunt of the damage. The only clear indications for hope, at the moment, are those board members that refuse to kowtow to his demands and the fact that he will be retiring in a few years. The amount of damage he may be able to incur until the latter will depend largely upon the prevalence of the former.