School Board Report Card -- Part 2

By: Erin Logan Email
By: Erin Logan Email

In a unanimous vote, he was chosen to lead the South Bend School Corporation and before he knew it, he was shown the door.

Dr. Robert Zimmerman was superintendent for less than two years before he was ousted.

Since then, the school board has gotten a lot of attention. They say for the most part, it has been negative attention.

In part two of our series, "School Board Report Card," longtime board members explain what went wrong.

With multiple people making decisions on how to best set children up for success, one body must be the commander.

South Bend School Board President Sheila Bergeron says, “The superintendent is certainly the leader of the corporation.”

Bergeron says in her first year as President, she has felt she and other board members had to take charge, but not by choice.

She says, “If we don't know what's going on it makes it very difficult and very frustrating.”

As Dr. Robert Zimmerman himself told us, it was highlighted in his evaluation that some of the board members simply did not agree with his communication style.

Bergeron and long-time board members Marcia Hummel and Ralph Pieniazkiewicz say when communication breaks down a disaster is inevitable.

Hummel says, “When the superintendent fails to manage, the board steps into a micromanagement role.”

Pieniazkiewicz says, “We just hit a snag, that's all I can tell you. From 2000 to 2006, I think we made some tremendous strides.”

Each of these three members has been on the board a minimum of ten years. They say, unfortunately, the focus has drifted a bit from the children because their leader was out of touch.

Hummel says, “It's just been these last couple of years.”

So what was it that attracted them to Zimmerman in the first place?

After working with other leaders, they say he had the one key component the others were missing. He believed in spending more time in the schools than at his desk. They say once hired, he did deliver in that area, but he lacked the bottom line: an open line of communication they respected from the previous superintendent Dr. Joan Raymond.

Bill Sniadecki, a strong Zimmerman supporter says Zimmerman had it, but the board failed to see it. He feels Zimmerman was doomed to failure from day one because of Dr. Raymond's popularity among this group and even across the nation.

Members do not seem to argue this point.

Hummel says, “The superintendent has to be a strong individual leader and can pull the board together and reason with the board on decisions or at least explain them so the board understands.”

Hummel, Bergeron, and Pieniazkiewicz admit there was a point in time before Zimmerman was even hired, that the board as a whole failed.

Bergeron says, “We just did a limited Indiana search and I kind of wish we had done a national search. There was disagreement about that on the board. People didn't want to do that because it cost too much money.”

Looking back, Bergeron says it would have been time and money well spent.

She says, “The board has gotten a lot of criticism lately.”

One criticism, they took to heart is a letter written to the local paper by former board member, Dr. Richard Sheehan, which is titled, “Leadership and the Lack Thereof.”

Sheehan talks about several parties being to blame for the board's reputation, the board itself to an extent and the community being misinformed by the paper.

Bergeron says, “We can not discuss someone's evaluation or weaknesses or concerns we have because they are an employee.”

Sheehan's letter claims unfortunately, a board member released that information.

The board says instead of finger pointing, it is time to move forward.

Zimmerman is gone, Interim Superintendent Jim Kapsa is in place and they plan to do an extensive search this time around.

Pieniazkiewicz says, “The better the community can accept us and back us, it's going to be that much better for the kids.”

Hummel says, “We need to have the best and most qualified superintendent.”

Bergeron says they board is still in healing mode, but she has already seen improvements since Kapsa has been in place.

In part three of our “School Board Report Card” series, we will hear from Richard Sheehan about his letter and what he believes makes up a successful school board.

A local education professor who's studied education for over 40 years also shares her thoughts.

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