A Conversation with Dr. Robert Zimmerman - Part 1

A parting of ways gives way to the search for a new superintendent.

After two months of negotiations, the South Bend School Board approved a buyout Monday night with Dr. Robert Zimmerman.

Back in June, the board voted to oust Zimmerman, after some members said the two sides were moving in different directions.

The contract buyout will cost the district $226,000.

Interim Superintendent Jim Kapsa is in charge right now, but the school board met Tuesday to talk over the search for a permanent replacement.

How does the man who was ousted after 18 months on the job feel?

Surprisingly, not bitter.

I sat down for a Conversation with Dr. Robert Zimmerman Tuesday morning, and he appears ready to move on.

Filling the shoes of longtime superintendent Dr. Joan Raymond wouldn't be easy, but Zimmerman thought he was up for the challenge, and said so on his first day on the job.

"I think the main concern is just continuing to focus on kids. Kids are what our business is all about," he opines.

And one day after his contract buyout, he still feels that way.

"Feeling good that it's behind us, feeling good that the school corporation could move forward. I've always said that if I was in the way and the focus was too much on me and not on kids, that I needed to get out."

Despite being voted in by a 7-0 vote, Zimmerman says he felt the heat pretty quickly.

"I think probably within the first six months there were signs that certain board members were not supportive," he admits.

He feels the problem was about relationships, and says he has no hard feelings.

"From that perspective, I think we were just beginning to move forward, and disappointed that we didn't have the full three years to do that."

But he believes he and the board got some positive things done.

"If you look at the 20 months we were here, we implemented an awful lot of initiatives, we did our study and brought the community involved in the Career and Technical Education and created a five year plan for that," he explains.

Last year saw some improvement in South Bend's graduation rate and ISTEP, but Zimmerman says the biggest issue facing South Bend Schools is not the teachers, the board, or the superintendent.

"We really have got to get our hands around how we deal with children of poverty. Generational poverty continues to be the number one difficult issue that any large urban district is dealing with. Most of the kids that struggled in our system were kids who came out of generational poverty."

He says a lack of education affects the whole community, and we can all make a difference.

"You can do your part by stepping in there and being a mentor and reading to a child and helping to make a difference in that one child's life," he says.

And he's proud of what he did in 18 short months on the job.

"I feel that I can walk away, in the short time that I was here, and not second-guess my reasons for making the decisions I did. My decisions were always around what was best for the kids."

And because of that, Dr. Zimmerman says he has no regrets.

As for what he is doing now, he says he's enjoying his family and keeping his options open.

For the second part of this conversation, visit the story titled A Conversation with Dr. Robert Zimmerman - Part 2.

Also, you can watch my entire interview with Dr. Zimmerman by clicking on the video links at the top of this page.

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