white female Burlington School Superintendent contract extended as racism talks head to City Hall

Jeanne Collins, center, superintendent of the Burlington School District

Jeanne Collins, superintendent of the Burlington School District

In response to mounting criticism Collins has released an action plan, based on recommendations in the original strategic plan, and has pledged to “eliminate race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexual orientation as predictors of academic performance, discipline, and co-curricular participation.”

The steps she has described include strengthening complaint procedures, upgrading professional development, reorganizing administrative staffing to improve the handling of equity issues, improving retention of a more diverse staff, and creating an Equity Climate Team to monitor and follow up on incidents.

Somali students protest at Burlington High School in April. Photo by Greg Guma

Somali students protest at Burlington High School in April.

Her critics say that they have heard such promises before and do not believe, based on its past performance, that the current administration is up to the challenges.

In print and public statements Collins has repeatedly admitted that she missed opportunities, acted too slowly, and has been bureaucratic rather than heart-centered in her response. Beyond taking the steps outlined recently and refocusing her efforts, possibly under increased school board scrutiny, she therefore plans to spend more time actually interacting with students and teachers in the schools.

In print and public statements Collins has repeatedly admitted that she missed opportunities, acted too slowly, and has been bureaucratic rather than heart-centered in her response. Beyond taking the steps outlined recently and refocusing her efforts, possibly under increased school board scrutiny, she therefore plans to spend more time actually interacting with students and teachers in the schools.

But as Appel’s May 10 letter to the board suggests, while frank discussions and rhetorical commitment are hopeful signs, they have happened before and continue to leave some issues unacknowledged. He argued, for example, that existing resources are not being smartly deployed, specifically asking why Diversity Director Dan Balon “appears to be being kept on the sidelines.”

Confirming suspicions that some school administrators do not adhere to the superintendent’s zero tolerance standard, Appel also reported from “multiple credible sources” that Vice Principal Nick Molander tried to intimidate speakers after the May public forum. Appel said his sources reported that Molander sought out several people of color and “in a confrontational manner informed them, in so many words, that their perspectives were not valid. The perception of those who received this message from Mr. Molander was that he was attempting to intimidate them.”

Claudine Nkurinziza, far right, addresses race issues in Burlington schools with members of the House Education Committee in April. Photo by Taylor Dobbs

Claudine Nkurinziza, far right, addresses race issues in Burlington schools with members of the House Education Committee in April.

Appel informed the board bluntly that an administrator who does that “should not be in a school setting, and should have his licensure investigated.” If Molander behaves like this with adults, he added, “just imagine how overbearing and abusive he may well be one-on-one with a student of color in an unsupervised context.”

Asked about Appel’s letter Molander said he had not seen it, but “would have no comment at this point.”

Denying itself the option of an executive session to discuss personnel, evaluation and contract matters the school board did not get near this level of scrutiny in dealing with Collins’ responsibilities and contract. There were only indirect references to the difficulties of supervisory oversight and how to define and distinguish board and management responsibilities.

School board members meanwhile emphasized that equity issues were not the only matters being addressed, in general or in relation to Collins’ tenure. As Evans, one of several commissioners on the losing side of Wednesday’s contract votes, put it in a local newspaper column, the school board “is not exclusively concerned with race in its decision.” But the district does need “a visionary leader who can be proactive and take risks.”

http://vtdigger.org/2012/06/15/collins-contract-extended-as-racism-talks-head-to-city-hall-2/

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