School Board Report Card -- Part 1

By: Erin Logan Email
By: Erin Logan Email

The South Bend Community School Corporation has been the subject of plenty of controversy this year -- most notably just weeks ago, when the school board fired Dr. Robert Zimmerman about halfway through his contract.

So who are these people on the board? What is their background, and why do they want to devote their time to changing the dynamics of education?

The answer they all gave was similar. The position isn't very glamorous, and it can be grueling, but they believe in the power of education and the effect it has on a child's future.

Six out of the seven board members sat down with me one on one and explained why they should get an "A" on their report card.

"You are not going to please 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time," admitted Marcia Hummel.

After 14 years on the board, she knows this best.

Hummel is here because she was asked to join the board back in 1994 after she witnessed the community divided by a teachers strike. She's still here because she has seen the progress that an effective board can make.

Right now, though, there's some question.

"I am very concerned about the growing micromanagement of the board," Hummel told me.

She believes they should only be here if their main goal is to make sure each and every student learns how to succeed.

"Even with all the obstacles that education faces today, it is the one sure tool that can actually reduce poverty and build a community up," she remarked.

On Hummel's report card:

  • Has served 14 years on the board
  • Was president for four years
  • Graduated from Riley High School
  • Attended IUSB for almost three years
  • Spent 16 years in this school corporation as a business peer professional in classrooms

When I asked Ralph Pieniazkiewicz if he had ever imagined he would serve on the school board, he replied, "Never. That never ever even crossed my mind."

After 30-plus years of teaching and coaching at Riley, it wasn't until his retirement party 10 years ago that Pieniazkiewicz decided to run for the board.

His reason still stands -- improving student discipline and drive are goals that don't get fixed in the short term. He wants to see a community career center focused on trades.

"I think we would save a lot of kids, keep them in school, and I think our graduation rates would just skyrocket," he says.

On Pieniazkiewicz' report card:

  • Has served 10 years on the board
  • Two terms as vice president
  • Graduated from Washington High School
  • Has a bachelor's and a master's degree in physical education and industrial arts, both from Murray State University
  • His two children graduated from Riley High School

"It's certainly been an eventful year, I’ll say that," admits Sheila Bergeron.

It’s her first year as president, and Bergeron says she's prepared for anything -- especially after the board elected 5-2 to oust Superintendent Dr. Robert Zimmerman.

"It doesn't work very well if it works apart, and people are going in different directions," she says.

She's confident that will change, now that an interim superintendent is in place. She says her experience studying education for years will be put to good use.

"I'm a real people person and I can compromise. I’m not so stubborn that I can't look at someone else's views and see the merit in those," Bergeron says about herself.

On President Bergeron's report card:

  • Has served 10 years on the board
  • Student taught in the local schools
  • Has a bachelor’s degree in political science and education from Indiana University, and a master's degree in social work from IUPUI
  • Her three daughters graduated from Adams High School

When asked about her time with the school board, Dawn Jones reveals, "I've learned a lot."

As a longtime board member and a mother of eight, Dawn Jones says the older she became, the more she realized the value of education.

She decided to go to college after she started working for former Indiana Congressman Tim Roemer.

"I just want to make sure that as many kids obtain opportunities as they can and move forward in their academic career," Jones explains.

Once on the board, she was inspired to keep learning. She went back to school. She's even taught school in her own home for a few years to her children.

"I really understood the importance of one on one and parent involvement," she says.

On Jones' report card:

  • Has served eight years on the board
  • Currently holds the position of secretary, and recently was president
  • Has an undergraduate degree in general studies and a master's in public administration, both from IUSB
  • Her children graduated from South Bend schools

"I do feel I am the voice of the people right now," says Bill Sniadecki.

It's that voice he says he wished was part of the board when his daughter went through the system.

His brief time spent in the seat doesn't shy him away from making sure many hear his opinions.

He says he fights for what he believes in, like keeping Dr. Zimmerman in place -- even though he and Dawn Jones were knocked down on this vote.

He says it has motivated him to get back up again and share his message.

"I ran as the common person," he explains. "I went the trades route. I was a mechanic, I was an electrician."

"We probably got more kids that do not want to go to college, but they are gonna have to have more than high school level training to get jobs now," says Sniadecki.

Like Pieniazkiewicz, he would like to see some type of trade school in the corporation.

On the Sniadecki report card:

  • Has served three and a half years on the board
  • Graduated from Washington High School, as did his daughter
  • Served in the military
  • Has worked as an engineering aid and traffic tech electrician for the city of South Bend

"I feel like you’re on a three-legged race with seven people," says Ann Rosen, when describing what it is like being a member of the school board.

Vice President Rosen says that since day one on the board her focus has been to aid in well-thought decision making.

She says her skills are sharpened every day from working at Family Connection, a small not for profit agency that improves early childhood education programs.

On Vice President Rosen's report card:

  • Has served three and a half years on the board
  • Has an undergraduate degree in biology from Oberlin College, and a master's degree in early childhood from Manhattanville College
  • Her two children graduated from Clay High School

"In education, I would say, across the country, we have never done a really good job in evaluation," Rosen says. "So we have educational fads that kind of come and go. Nobody ever really says, ‘Did this work? How did this impact kids, are they really learning better?’"

It's these important decisions that the board will continue to make -- decisions that directly affect South Bend students.

Now, the big question is what exactly went wrong with Dr. Zimmerman? Was removing him the answer to their problems?

We'll let you decide in part two of our School Board Report Card series.

And which board members are up for re-election in the fall? Did they say if we'll see their names on the ballot?

Snaidecki, Rosen, and Jones are all up for re-election. Jones was the only one who said she definitely wants to stay put.

Kim Barnbrook is also up for re-election. We called her several times and emailed her asking her to sit down with us, but she never responded.

Coming up in part two on Wednesday night, there has been a lot of discussion about the firing of Dr. Robert Zimmerman. NewsCenter16 asks, why did it happen? Finally we have an answer on why the board fired the superintendent.

Then in part three Thursday night at 11, NewsCenter16 studies the school board to see if it really is dysfunctional and if other school boards operate much better. Erin Logan continues her series on the School Board Report Card by talking to an expert on school boards and how they should operate.

Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
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