Friday, February 24, 2012

Troubles mount for Richmond Heights schools

Yesterday I began a summary of my reporting on the colossally troubled Richmond Heights School District. I thought this would be beneficial as a review for those who have been following district events since last January’s revolt by the all-black boys basketball team against their coach, Jason Popp, for his unprofessional and we must say, racist, behavior towards the team. I thought such a summary was especially important because I believe a combination of factors is assembling that is likely to  force sweeping changes upon the District.

I promised Part II of the summary today. And then I received a document purporting to be from a major player in the district that lays out problems more extensive than even I might have imagined. So rather than proceed with Part II as planned, I offer Real Deal readers this status update and assessment.

1.    As expected the Richmond Heights Board of Education voted last night not to renew the contract of Superintendent Linda T. Hardwick. Dr. Hardwick was hired on an interim basis in November 2009 and given a contract the following month that expires July 31, 2012. Under Ohio law, had the board not passed a nonrenewal, Hardwick’s contract would have been extended automatically.

2.    This was actually the second time the Board had voted not to renew Hardwick’s contract. The first vote was last summer during a period of more or less open warfare between the board, then under a Josh Kaye-led majority, and Hardwick. That vote was premature and therefore likely unlawful. But it passed by a 3-2 majority as a slap in the face to Hardwick and a signal to the teachers union, headed by Hardwick nemesis Jason Popp.

3.    This year’s nonrenewal vote likely signals the end of the Hardwick administration. She has been on paid administrative leave since November while “under investigation” for various infractions, including alleged misappropriation of district property, insubordination, and sundry other offenses. There had been some speculation that with a new board majority and fresh leadership, Hardwick might be reinstated. That is not going to happen. In fact, on the agenda for this Monday’s special meeting, the second in four days, is a resolution to spend about $7,000 to hire a search firm to find and vet the next superintendent.

4.    Also on Monday’s agenda is a resolution to fire Timothy Pingle, the high school principal. He was just hired in August and lasted all of four months before running afoul of interim superintendent Robert Moore, who had been acting superintendent for only about a month. Moore accused Pingle of unprofessional conduct in December, at which time Pingle joined Hardwick on paid administrative leave.

5.    So, at present the Richmond Heights Local Schools have an interim superintendent, an interim secondary principal, and an interim elementary school principal. In many underperforming districts, experts cite the transient student families as a major factor in poor student performance.

6.    In October the District fired clerk-typist Margaret “Peggy” Parker for alleged dishonesty, insubordination, and neglect of duty. Like several other former district employees, Parker appears to have been the latest  employee targeted by the Board as a way to force Hardwick out.

7.    There are presently at least nine, and likely more, investigations pending against the school district, including at least three filed by Hardwick. These charges have been filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. Some of these charges have been filed by parents on behalf of their children. There is also an indication that charges have been filed with the Ohio Department of Education.

8.    The lead actors in most of the pending complaints are board member Josh Kaye and teachers union head Jason Popp. Each seems prepared to maintain a defiant stance against all comers.

9.    Earlier this month attorneys for the school board proposed  separate settlements to Hardwick and Parker. Both offers were rejected.

10. Things are likely to get worse before they get better. At a time when planning should be underway for next year, every key position is without a settled incumbent, the accreditation push is on hold, adverse decisions by various investigative are likely to begin raining down with potentially comprehensive effects, teachers are apprehensive, the district is financially strapped, and may have to compete with the city over who gets to be a revenue measure on the ballot first.

Black History Month: Setting the Record Straight

I have just completed setting down some thoughts on African American Heritage Month for taping later this morning over at Civic Commons, a precious local gem for serious thinkers who don’t take themselves too seriously. The commentary will be aired next Tuesday at 12:30PM and also available via podcast, iTunes, and perhaps sundry other channels as well. We hope you will listen and let the folk over at Civic Commons  know what you think. We may print it here after it goes on air but it’s written for the ear rather than the eye, which in fact may be a higher standard. 

As a special present we offer a guest perspective today on Black History Month, penned by our friend Stephen G. Hall. We met Dr. Hall about a year and a half ago at a luncheon at Case Western Reserve University, where he is a Visiting Assistant Professor of African American History. He is also the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America.[1] 

We are pleased to offer Dr. Hall the Real Deal platform to set the story straight on Black History Month. [Find more about Professor Hall here.]
• • •

Black History Month : Setting the Story Straight
By Stephen G. Hall

There are many misconceptions regarding the origins of Black History Month. Most of these misperceptions revolve around two issues. First, the erroneous belief that the observance was initiated outside of the African American community. Second, this idea is an outgrowth of the first issue, that the celebration was deliberately planned in the shortest month of he year, February. Introducing a few simple facts into the conversation will go a long way in clarifying both the origins and timing of the observance.

Contrary to popular belief, Black History Month was not initiated by majoritarian communities as a means of marginalizing African Americans or placed in February because it was the shortest month of the year. Not surprisingly these perceptions continue to persist despite the existence of diverse resources about the origins of this celebration.  Black History month began as Negro History Week in 1926.  Carter G. Woodson, the second African American to receive a Ph.D. in History from Harvard University and the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), established the observance as a means of informing Americans of the many achievements of African Americans.
Woodson believed the history and historical study of the past, what he termed “scientific history,” would contribute to challenge persistent and pervasive stereotypes regarding African American capacity and capabilities.
One of the most aggressive promoters of African American history as a legitimate scholarly specialty, Woodson also established the Journal of Negro History (JNH) in 1916, a scholarly journal focusing on the African American past and later, in the 1930’s, he inaugurated the Negro History Bulletin (NHB). This journal encouraged the study of black history in primary and secondary schools. In conjunction with Mary McLeod Bethune, President of the ASNLH from 1936-1951, Woodson worked to promote the celebration at the local, state and national levels. He is also credited with providing financial support and practical training of  associate investigators who became the first generation of African American historians between 1915 and 1950. Scholars, many of whom would distinguish themselves in various areas of African and American history, such as Lorenzo Greene, James Hugo Johnston, Alrutheus Ambush Taylor. Rayford Logan and Charles Wesley, benefited from their association with Woodson and the ASNLH. In this sense, Woodson, and these investigators, created what we know today as African American history.
Woodson’s sense of African American history, his involvement in its professionalization and its importance to African Americans was also reflected in the choice of February as the month for the observance. February was a logical choice for  Black History celebrations  because it featured the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, widely viewed as the Great Emancipator, and Frederick Douglass, the most prominent African American in the nineteenth century. These men were viewed as influential historical figures in the African American experience up to 1926. Both men were also Republicans, and this party enjoyed African American political support for the latter third of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. Negro History Week became Black History Month in 1980. Today, the ASNLH continues to thrive as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and it produces a Black History Kit. This year’s theme is African Americans and the Civil War.
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[1] [In John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, October  2009)]

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Richmond Hts. School Board takes step to end Hardwick era Part I

Richmond Hts. School Board takes step to end Hardwick era
Part I

The Richmond Heights Board of Education is expected to vote tonight not to renew the contract of superintendent Linda T. Hardwick when it expires July 31. The vote will take place in executive session at a 7PM special meeting called for this purpose.

Dr. Hardwick has been on paid administrative leave since November after a tumultuous two year in which a majority of the board seemed bent on thwarting her efforts to improve the quality of education in the small and shrinking school district.

In a city that is roughly fifty percent white, only about half of the school age population of approximately 1900 students attend the city’s public schools. Most white parents and a sizable number of black ones choose from an array of charter, parochial, other public, or private schools, or undertake to educate their children at home.

Leadership issues are key to the district’s woes, which also include a worn out physical plant, outdated textbooks, tightening financial straights, an anxious and disengaged faculty, and what has increasingly come to be seen as a hostile environment for the captive African American students and those administrators who are seen as sympathetic to the students.

Most of these problems have been a decade or more in the making. Voters rejected seven school levies in succession, a short but bitter teachers strike in 2007 resolved no key issues, and the district continued to unravel under the comings and goings of a host of new union leaders [five in five years], superintendents [four in seven years], and a school board that often seemed in need of musical chairs with training wheels.

The problems of the Richmond Schools are not isolated to the district’s single campus, which is effectively hidden away — it almost seems by design — behind a brand new municipal complex. The sparkling new city hall that shows its rear to the schools boasts a part-time mayor whose twenty year tenure is as tired as his city’s schools, though he pretends the school district’s sickness is unrelated to his city’s maladies. A lifetime company lawyer in his day job, Mayor Daniel Ursu seems wholly unsuited for the challenges of what are likely his final years in office. Colleagues describe him as secretive and conflict-averse, a fact this reporter observed first-hand in the mayor’s repeated refusals to be interviewed, even scurrying away on one occasion into the safety of City Hall and hastily locking the door behind him.

[It has been reported to us that the mayor, as he seeks to shape his legacy, is now in the midst of a fevered attempt to shred thirteen years of public records pertaining to his administration. His efforts, while apparently legal, do raise questions as to his rationale, since he reportedly has never bothered to dispose of a single record during his tenure.]

But while the mayor personifies Alice-in-Wonderland municipal leadership, it is Jason Popp,  a long time physical education teacher and current head of the teacher’s union, who brought instant notoriety upon the school district and hence the city when he was accused last January of perpetrating regular emotional abuse of the boys varsity basketball team. His alleged repeated belittling of his players’, their families, heritage, intellect, and morals — allegations which he has never denied and all but admitted — led to a revolt by the players and their parents, who presented school authorities with a choice: either replace the coach immediately or the team would boycott the remainder of their then undefeated season.  

After meeting with all parties over the next few days — players, parents, the coach, other administrators, and a few school board members — Superintendent Hardwick essentially put Popp on paid administrative leave from coaching in early February 2011. In so doing, she unknowingly put her own career as a first-time superintendent on the accelerated track leading to tonight’s expected action.

I previously reported on much of this last year in posts between May and November. As it appears that matters have gotten increasingly grave and are now coming to a head, I wanted to provide a summary that would prepare readers for what I believe is on the horizon. Part II will appear tomorrow.

Nonprofit Thursday: Schomburg director in town this Saturday

“Slavery By Another Name” panel adds Schomburg director
This Saturday’s panel discussion on the PBS documentary “Slavery By Another Name”, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name by Douglas Blackmon, now includes Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the renown Schomburg Center in Harlem. Previously announced panelists include: Susan Hall, community relations director for the Western Reserve Historical Society;  county councilman Julian Rogers; civil rights attorney Dennis Niermann; motivational speaker Basheer Jones; radio/tv personality Sandra Bishop; and filmmaker Marquette Williams.

A portion of the riveting documentary, broadcast last week in its entirety, will be shown before the panel discussion. The program begins at 6PM this Saturday, Feb. 25 at New Bridge, 3634 Euclid Ave., Cleveland OH 44115. Call 216.867.9775 for info.

Muhammad was appointed director of the Schomburg Center in November 2010. He is the author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America. Learn more about him here and here.

League Park Update
If you are interested in learning more about the recently announced plans for the restoration and reconstruction of League Park and the redevelopment plans for the surrounding neighborhood, you are invited to attend the community meeting on next Wednesday, Feb. 29 at 6PM at Faith Temple Church of God, 7035 Lexington Ave, Cleveland OH 44106. The meeting is sponsored by the League Park Heritage Committee and the City of Cleveland.

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Cleveland State Black Studies Dept. hosts Ghana film festival

The School of Communication and the Howard A. Mims African American Cultural Center will be presenting an UMOJA Round Table event, “African Films Versus Reality: A Student Film Showcase”, on Feb. 29.
The event is free and will feature two former Imaging Africa (Com 428) students’ films from 4PM to 5:30PM in the Main Classroom Building, Room 135/137.
Mai-Kim Dang, a Cleveland State film graduate, and MiLisa Coleman, a digital media major, will be present to discuss their films and their experiences in Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Ethiopia.
Light refreshments will be served, and the event is open to the public. 
Dang and Coleman visited the African continent as a result of two different travel abroad programs.
Dang visited Ethiopia through a Fulbright research grant while Coleman visited Ghana and Burkina Faso through the Morehouse Pan African Global Experience (MPAGE) study aboard program. The ability to get first hand accounts of Africa should be useful in addressing many of the misperceptions Americans have about Africa.
Imaging Africa is a class taught by instructor Eric Siler and is designed to enable students to understand images, stereotypes, and myths associated with the historical development of film with African content.
Instructor Siler encourages CSU students to participate in the screenings and see what former students have done with information learned in his class.
For more information, please contact Prester Pickett, coordinator of the Howard A. Mims African American Cultural Center at (216) 687-3656 or visit