While suiting up to officiate a late Friday night men’s ice hockey game I got an e-mail from Coatesville reporter Kristina Scala after a call from newsroom staffer Jim Callahan. I wondered what could possibly be happening at 10 p.m. on a Friday night?
The news was that the Coatesville Area School District had made a surprise announcement naming Cathy Taschner as the new superintendent. Apparently the decision to hire Taschner was made late Thursday night.
That, of course, follows an invitation-only meeting Wednesday where Taschner and William Harner, former Pennsylvania Secretary of Education and acting superintendent for Quakertown Community School District, were introduced to the school board and constituents of the school district.
In my opinion neither candidate seemed to knock it out of the park.
Harner, former acting Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, acting superintendent at Quakertown Community School District and former Cumberland Valley School District superintendent, allegedly sent inappropriate texts to a male administrative staff member from Cumberland Valley.
The actions of Taschner, meanwhile, were questioned when, as assistant superintendent at Susquehanna Township School District, her investigation into allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct between a student and administrator there ended in a grand jury investigation.
And I have quite a few questions as it relates to this whole scene. First, and one which I will address later, is why the introduction of these two candidates was so secretive and held behind locked doors. Second, what sort of search was conducted for candidates for this position? Was it a nationwide search? If so, and this is nothing personal, were these two the best we could find? Third, who makes a decision at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night and finally, announcing it late on a Friday night?
OK, so let’s begin with the whole closed door thing. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association apparently saw nothing wrong with the process of the secret introduction.
PSBA’s involvement in the superintendent search had attracted more than two dozen applicants and from no more than four states. The search followed the abrupt departure of former Superintendent Richard Como and former high school Director of Athletics and Activities Jim Donato due to a now-infamous texting scandal.
But those who ran this search were apparently comfortable with last week’s activities.
“If the board is looking on moving forward and getting more input from the community this is how we recommend doing it,” said Wayne LeClair, senior consultant for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA).
And members of the school board agreed.
According to LeClair, the recommendation to hold an invitation only meeting was determined to be one of the best practices for CASD to get community input. He said past experience receiving input from those that are invited “has proven this to be the best way to do that.”
School board member Deborah Thompson — Region I representative of Coatesville and Valley — agreed with the meeting format. She said she selected eight individuals “of integrity that I know have a heart in the community.”
“It’s an opportunity to hear another view and read each and every (question) to make a decision around fair process,” she said. “It won’t be overwhelming.”
She said she wanted to make sure her selection would reflect the best interest of the community members without overwhelming the two candidates with questions from a community that is going through a healing process.
Stu Deets, school board member representing Region II, said he was also in favor of hosting the community meeting in this fashion.
He said his selection of community members followed Thomspon’s method. He said he selected constituents that he felt were avidly involved in the community.
“I think it’s a good format,” he said. “Two finalists coming in and they are going to be meeting with administrators, teachers, students and the community. Then they will have dinner with different board members. I thought this was a pretty good way to wind down the selection process and get some feedback from people besides the board members.”
Can you spell transparency? It’s not a popular word in the Coatesville Area School District. But they sure were happy with their decision.
“We congratulate Dr. Taschner and welcome her to our Coatesville Area School District family,” school board members said in a prepared statement Friday night. “We are certain that she will have our community’s full support as we strive towards restoring our Coatesville Pride.”
So what exactly is “Coatesville Pride”? Is it being gleeful in not including everyone in a process that affects a lot of people – including all of the children in the Coatesville Area School District? Why would you exclude members of the media? In light of all of the negative press the district has received was the thinking that excluding the press would be OK? Since anyone with children in the district would have had a vested interest in hearing the two candidates, would it have made better sense to allow the press inside? Heck, we could have livestreamed the interviews giving more school district residents access. That would have been the better decision.
It also doesn’t seem that the district got a boatload of applicants. Twenty-four applicants for a position like this hardly seems like a giant pool of people for a position that pays nearly $225,000 per year. I would imagine that if the position was advertised across the country that names by the dozen would have come across someone’s desk.
And finally, when the decision was made, what would lead the board to make it at 11 p.m. on a weeknight announcing it late on a Friday night? Did they think the NCAA March Madness would bury the news?
We have said this over and over again but watching Coatesville – whether it’s the city or the school district – is like watching Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day. They all seem to wake up every day and make the same silly, ill-informed decisions time after time.
I just wonder when it all will ever end.
— Andy Hachadorian