When school boards choose superintendents there’s typically consensus among members. Lengthy sifting of resumes, multiple interviews, collaboration, and a shared vision of educational needs usually results in unanimous votes. There may be disputes behind closed doors, but in most cases public votes are the culmination of a long process of analysis and compromise.
Then there’s Trenton, a long-struggling Abbott district with the lowest graduation rate in the state. Monday night around midnight the Trenton Board of Education, having narrowed its pool to three candidates, voted 5-3 to hire Francisco Duran, an assistant superintendent from Philadelphia.
Okay. Sometimes democracy is messy. And the V.P. of the Board, Sasa Olessi Montano, explained the decision, if not the lack of consensus:
The overriding reason Mr. Duran stood out was that the majority of us felt that he demonstrates a perfect balance between the leadership skills and an in-depth knowledge of curriculum and classroom needs that is crucial for an urban district such as ours. We have a district with many moving parts. We are asking almost the impossible of someone to be an expert in so many areas. However, we feel that Mr. Duran’s experience and vision, as well as training and education is well matched to what we need here in Trenton.
Reasonable, right? Not according to Trenton Mayor Tony Mack, who appoints board members. According to the Trentonian, shortly after the board meeting two new members, Marisol Ovalles and Denise Millington, who had voted for Duran, were informed by a former board member, Joyce Kersey, that Mack was firing them because they failed to follow his instructions to vote for Dale Caldwell. Said Kersey,
“The mayor asked me as a member of the committee if I could call (Millington and Ovalles) to let them know that he was going to rescind their appointments. I said I would and I did,” Kersey said. “Mayor Mack is the appointing authority of all members on the board. If he has made this decision then he has made this decision. I acted on behalf of the mayor, that’s it. The person you need to talk to is the mayor.”
Asked about the issue, Mack said: “I can’t comment on that. … I don’t want to discuss your questions.” Millington said she met recently with Mack, who expressed his support for Dale Caldwell, one of three finalists for the superintendent’s position.
“He didn’t tell me that I should vote for Caldwell but…… I’m not anybody’s puppet. I accepted this position because I wanted to help children and the City of Trenton. I didn’t sign on to do anybody else’s bidding,” she said.
Of course, if Ovalles and Millington had voted for Caldwell, the vote would have been 5-3 in Caldwell’s favor.
According to L.A. Parker at the Trentonian, Mack wanted an African-American superintendent. Caldwell is African-American and Duran is Hispanic. Parker concludes,
Only emergency room physicians wash their hands with such efficiency. Millington and Ovalles ended up as collateral damage for a Mack administration that frequently values minority hires over qualified applicants.
An opinion here doubts that one man can change the course of a Trenton educational system mired in mediocrity.
While the political education of Mayor Tony F. Mack grinds toward his junior year, the Trenton leader appears no smarter in maneuvering through political channels.