August 1, 2008

The chutzpah of Dr. Barbara Pulliam

In Yiddish there's a word -- chutzpah -- that roughly translates as unmitigated gall, brass balls, selfish insensitivity. The dictionary genteelly defines it as "utter nerve, effrontery."

Well, tonight we have another definition:
Chutzpah = Dr. Barbara Pulliam
Yes, that Barbara Pulliam: the educator chosen on April 29 by the Racine Unified School Board to be its next superintendent, expected to start work on July 1. Except that on June 10, after more than five weeks of contract negotiations, she suddenly called Unified’s attorney Gib Berthelsen, to announce that she had taken another job.

Actually, she didn't even have the class to make that call herself; her attorney called Berthelsen.

Well, that was then, this is now. A week or so ago, we'd heard that things weren't going too well for Dr. Pulliam in Greene County, Georgia, where she hastily became interim superintendent, after the school board there bought out its existing superintendent after just one year of a three-year contract, and interviewed and hired her in the same week.

Actually, we heard two things: One, that she had quickly rescinded her predecessor's controversial plan to put all the district's children in uniforms, and in gender-specific classrooms; no mixing of the sexes. Second, we'd heard -- but didn't bother to verify since we really didn't give a darn and didn't write anything at the time -- that turnover among the school board that hired her is expected to replace her best friend on the board and others who'd supported her appointment. So her job -- paying $155,000 per year -- might be in jeopardy. Karma, we thought; what goes around, comes around.

The first point above we know is true; the second is still hearsay.

But what we now know as fact -- having confirmed it with a member of Unified's School Board -- is this:
Dr. Barbara Pulliam is willing to come to Racine after all!
Don't all stand up and cheer at once.

Yes, about two weeks ago, she called Gib Berthelson to let him know that she was willing to forgive and forget and come to Racine as superintendent; let bygones be bygones as it were. We don't know what went on in Gib's mind -- we can guess -- but we're told he said to Pulliam: "I'll tell the board, but don't make any travel plans."

As far as the board is concerned, "Thanks, but no thanks." LOL.

Meanwhile, the board hasn't yet voted whether to offer the superintendent's job to Dr. James Shaw, the UW-Madison professor who was here this week meeting with teachers, administrators, parents and the public, continuing his interview for the job. But at the same time, almost everyone sees such a vote as a formality; Shaw was very impressive. He's also the board's only candidate.

At least one school board member told me the only question is salary, and Shaw will be given a pay package comparable to superintendents in peer districts, probably about $170,000 plus benefits.

There's also the expectation that Shaw will be his own man, independent in many respects from the school board. For example, he is said to have told them already that the much-vaunted Quality District Model implemented by former Supt. Tom Hicks was OK -- twenty-five years ago!


  1. Do not underestimate the fools at RUSD Dr. Pulliam might still be coming here after.

  2. Kind of refreshing that we got the last word in!

  3. Whew, the city may have really dodged a bullet this time... I hate to say it, but colt may be right. Don't EVER underestimate the foolishness that happens in RUSD.

    Many educators would agree with Shaw about the outdated practices of the Quality District Model that were being touted as our saving grace.

    Can Shaw really be this good? I'm holding my breath and crossing my fingers. What is the saying? Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut? Let's hope; but let's not give him a multimillion dollar contract until he proves something. Let's have a year trial contract with the option to renew.