A Conversation with Dr. Robert Zimmerman - Part 2

South Bend students went back to class this year without Superintendent Dr. Robert Zimmerman.

As we told you Monday night, the board agreed to buy out the rest of his contract for $226,000.

Board members say they felt the two were going in opposite directions.

So what does the former South Bend Schools superintendent think?

I sat down Tuesday morning for A Conversation with Dr. Robert Zimmerman.

He explained to me that he has been involved in education all his life, coming to South Bend after 26 years with the Indianapolis Public Schools.

When he started the job in 2006, he hoped to retire here -- not last just 18 months.

But he told me there was some bad blood from the start.

"There were some board members that were very, very supportive and very encouraging and what I think were very professional. There were other board members who, I think, almost from day one were very judgmental and very much looking for issues.”

I asked Dr. Zimmerman if he had hard feelings about how he had been dismissed, and he answered, "Not hard feelings… disappointment. Disappointment in myself in that I wasn't able to manipulate and build relationships and so forth."

In his performance evaluation, some board members complained that Zimmerman didn't give them enough information and didn't return phone calls.

"I am very hands-on. I tend to be out and about a lot, talking with kids, talking with parents, talking with the community, and I think, in many respects, the board very much preferred someone that was in the office."

And he took heat when he decided that Hillary Clinton could not hold a rally at Washington High School. He says that decision was made, in part, because the Clinton plan did not include the whole school.

"It was not having a rally at school with the kids, it was having a rally at school without the kids, and I pressed that we were not going to do it without kids, and they did indicate that they would allow those seniors who were 18 years of age," he explains.

Zimmerman says South Bend has good teachers, and the biggest issue facing urban schools is generational poverty.

"A black child -- a black young man, for instance -- that does not graduate from high school has a greater than 52-percent chance of ending up incarcerated. That means, out of four kids, two of them are going to go to jail."

"What I wanted to do as a superintendent was to marshal the efforts of the community," he explains. "It's really important that programs like Upward Bound and like the Y Program, and so forth, begin to make connections with these kids and begin to make connections with individuals that do have control of their life, so that the kids can begin to understand."

He hopes the board will continue that mission, and says he is proud of some of the accomplishments they made together.

"We're well on our way to reestablishing our strength in vocational career technical education. We've expanded our magnet opportunities both at the middle school and the elementary levels."

So what's next for Zimmerman?

"This summer I've really been enjoying some time with my kids and my wife and so forth. Career-wise, I'm not sure. I’ve had several opportunities came up that we're kind of exploring and seeing what we want to do."

As far as advice for the future superintendent, he had this to offer: "Keep the kids in mind, and I think that's absolutely critical whoever comes in. You've got to remember why you're here, and you're here to serve kids."

For the first part of this conversation, visit the story titled A Conversation with Dr. Robert Zimmerman - Part 1.

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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