Grading Racine Unified's three superintendent finalists began Monday, after a busy day of meetings with school stakeholders: students, teachers, principals, administrators and business leaders among them. The day concluded with a public forum at the Golden Rondelle, at which about 200 citizens got to hear brief statements from the candidates and their answers to submitted questions.
Everyone was well-behaved (although Bill Krummel, picketing outside, carried a sign charging the "pillars" of Unified with complicity to a murder), and all the candidates received polite applause, but when it was over there was a clear consensus.
Here's how I'd grade the three, based mostly on their appearance Monday night:
Dr. Craig Bangtson: F (because that's the lowest grade I'm allowed to give)One school board member put them in the same order after the presentation, with Purcell clearly the front-runner. When I teased a Unified principal that Bangtson would be her new boss, she said, "Don't even joke about it."
Dr. Barbara Moore Pulliam: B
Dr. Carlinda Purcell: A
The school board will meet individually with each of the candidates Tuesday morning for formal interviews and answers to the tough questions that have arisen about their departures from previous superintendency's, and then take a few days to review community feedback (and hopefully verify the information submitted by the candidates, something not done prior to their visit, as proven by the Bangtson resume fiasco. "I'm without words on that one," said Don Nielsen.) Tony Baumgardt, board president, said he hoped the board could make a decision by Thursday or Friday.
About Dr. Craig Bangtson, the less said, the better. His presentation was flat, his jokes were lame ("I don't want to shock you, but we don't educate anyone at the central office.") and his explanation of previously revealed resume enhancements didn't touch on the more serious infraction (allegedly writing his own reference letters for Antigo, WI). He called the other , which listed a one-year tenure as three, "a typo." "I've only known one perfect person," he said at one point, "and that person was crucified." One businessman who had lunched with Bangtson, told me his rambling presentation Monday night was far better than earlier in the day. And I won't even mention the observation that his argyle socks worn at lunch were inside-out...
Finally, Bangtson did himself in by stating, "I don't need the money. I'm independently well off." He's 58, and said he would expect to stay until he receives Social Security, four to six years, "shorter if I don't get results."
At odds with the other candidates was Bangtson's observation that "there needs to be more of a partnership between the business community and the schools." Others seemed to think that already exists.
Dr. Barbara Moore Pulliam, 60, made a better impression, and trotted out her Midwest roots -- having worked in Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota. She said she learned to ski in Wisconsin and was eager to come here because Racine "is right on the lake and I'm a fisherperson, eager to go out for crappie." Unfortunately, she said crappie, only catching herself and re-pronouncing it croppie when many in the audience laughed. That, moderator Bryan Albrecht, president of Gateway Technical College, noted, was a "teachable moment."
In response to a question about gifted students, Pulliam described opening a K-5 school for the gifted and also noted that schools "are teaching children today who ten years from now we don't know what they'll be doing. We need to teach them how to learn. They have to be smart enough to learn on their own." She also took a shot at No Child Left Behind when she said, "We are really looking for a change in leadership in Washington."
She dealt directly with a question about her leaving the superintendent's job in Clayton County, GA, pointing out that she took a district that was on probation and got its accreditation back, only to feel that new members on the school board "had a different agenda than student achievement." Since leaving, she's been teaching, and "it's been most fulfilling." There have been reports the current board would like her to come back.
Asked about raising students' test scores, she said trained teachers and proper support were crucial. Also, "We've got to make sure they are taught what they need before the test -- curriculum alignment."
As for solving the dropout problem, she said, "We know by the time they are in middle school" the set of behaviors -- behind in reading, poor performance generally, attendance issues -- that lead to dropouts. "It takes almost missionary work of reaching out."
But the best impression of the night was made by Dr. Carlinda Purcell, 58, with her energetic presentation, her knowledge of Racine school issues and her statements that "there are no better assets than the children I met today. We have a responsibility to every single student... I was really impressed by the students."
Asked about improving parent involvement, she noted, "There may be models that work somewhere else, and one of the things you have to do is fit the models to Racine." Her masters' thesis was on the effectiveness of parental involvement.
Asked how she would deal with Racine's high dropout rate, she described a "drop-in day" she created at a previous district, to bring back students who had dropped out. "We asked the kids if there was anything we could do to bring them back... sometimes it was just a change of teachers."
How long would she expect to stay here if given the job of superintendent? "I would want to stay a long time. It takes at least three years to accomplish anything... then longer to reap the benefits."
Like Pulliam, she looks forward to changes in No Child Left Behind. "It is my hope that something will be done in the next administration," she said, to ease NCLB's "stringent" provisions. Still, she noted, "I'm not a gung-ho testing person, but it is the yardstick we are measured by."
As for dropouts, she said: "I think the student who has decided to drop out has decided in the third grade. I would not wait until high school" to do intervention programs."
She also won the audience over when she said, in answer to a question about budget shortfalls, "I'm not a sports person, but a high school without a football team, a basketball team, a band is pretty sad. It's a question of pride. Tough choices have to be made."
Journal Times reporter Paul Sloth followed the candidates around all day. Here's his report.
Least surprising, funniest story of the day: Search firm happy with finalists