YOUR SIDE: The Readers Take Over

Unhappy with choice of art teacher for Salem students

To the editor:

The Salem School District middle schools, Buckeye and Southeast, recently had an art teacher position open. Candidates applied, the middle school principals interviewed. In the second round of screening for the position, candidates were asked to demonstrate a typical classroom art lesson. Two candidates emerged, one male and one female, and were referred to the superintendent, Joe Shivers, for final approval.

The middle school principals, who understand the needs of their students and best educational practices, preferred the male applicant. In addition to being their choice as a highly qualified teacher, this male candidate was born in Salem, owns a home in Salem, daughter attends Salem Schools, and his wife works as a nurse at the hospital. This is a son of the city.

Superintendent Shivers claims to be a “Champion of all things Salem” but upon looking more closely — that may be an insincere claim.

When the male applicant showed up at the superintendent’s office for the final interview, Salem Curriculum Director Jamie Kemats was also present. And, during the interview, the superintendent announced that she would make the final decision as to who gets hired.

Curriculum Director Kemats hired the female applicant for the middle school art position. Why didn’t the superintendent support his principals and hire their preference, the male Salemite? Isn’t it the superintendent’s job to hire staff? Is it in the Salem curriculum director’s job description to make hiring decisions? If so, why?

Educational research for years has consistently recommended that more male teachers (who serve also as good, strong role-models) are needed in the middle schools across the country. Salem is no exception. This is especially true for the young boys who live with a single mother, and spend most of their day with predominately female teachers. Salem missed an opportunity to enrich the lives of half of their middle school students (the boys) by not hiring the qualified and the principal’s choice–the male teacher.

Too bad Superintendent Joe Shivers and Curriculum Director Jamie Kemats don’t read educational research. They would if they were highly qualified and worth their salt!

KATHRYN GOERIG-EASTLAKE,

Naples, Fla.

(Former Salem resident)

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And a response from the Salem Schools Superintendent

To the editor:

I am writing in response to the letter from Kathryn Goerig-Eastlake regarding the recent hiring of an art teacher in the Salem Schools. Ms. Goerig-Eastlake disagrees with my choice, and I will try to answer her concerns point by point.  

 First, in the interest of accuracy, the new hire will teach at both Southeast Elementary School (grades 5-6) and Reilly Elementary School (grades 3-4), and not at Buckeye Elementary School (grades K-2).

 As to the two involved principals, they thought that either candidate would be successful, and they left the final choice to me.  

 I do not recall ever claiming that I am a “Champion of all things Salem.” I am, however, proud of my home town and my alma mater, and I hope that my feelings are evident in what I do and say. Furthermore, all things being equal among applicants, I invariably recommend the Salem High School graduate for hire. To wit: before this summer, among the 16 most recent hires, eight are graduates of Salem High School. In addition, the last three district administrators are all graduates of SHS. In my experience, having a staff with a mix of Salem graduates and graduates of other high schools is desirable.  

 On the day of the art teacher interviews, when each of the candidates came into my office, I did say that Mrs. Kemats would make the final choice. That was a joke and, apparently, not a very good one. I explained next to each candidate in turn, however, that Mrs. Kemats and I would discuss the interviews then speak with the principals before I made a final decision. I did not explain our protocol clearly enough — and for that I apologize. I do not apologize, however, for the integrity of our process. I am confident that the person I recommend to the Salem Board of Education for hiring is the best choice.

 No one has yet perfected the art of human assessment, and I do not pretend to be perfect. In my attempts to get the best candidate for a given position, I require that my administrators put applicants through a rigorous, five-step hiring process before sending the names of the top candidates to me for confirmation. I included Mrs. Kemats in the final art interviews because she is a skilled, experienced professional who exemplifies good will and clear, careful judgment.  

I choose not to respond to the writer’s unfounded derogation of Mrs. Kemats and me viz. our knowledge of educational research.  

 Let me close with this: I do not know Ms. Goerig-Eastlake, but I am guessing that she is a friend or relative of the male candidate, and I understand her disappointment. Sometimes those close to the candidates feel worse about unsuccessful applications than the candidates themselves. After leaving graduate school, it took me 12 years to get to back to Salem: I was turned down the first time I applied to be the middle school principal in Salem, the first time I applied to be high school principal, and the first time I applied to be superintendent here. In each case, those closest to me felt far worse than I felt. In each case, I eventually succeeded.

 I thank Ms. Goerig-Eastlake for her letter. The Salem School District administrative team recently read and discussed Thanks for the Feedback by Stone and Heen, and I appreciate her feedback.  

JOSEPH A. SHIVERS,

Superintendent,

Salem City Schools

 

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