Are the events, described below, happening in your suburban school district with your Superintendent and your school board?
Or, are the Winnetka Public Schools Superintendent and her Board an aberration?
The … actions and attitude of the eleven-year, highly paid [almost $300,000 per year] Winnetka Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Rebecca van der Bogert
, who oversees a District of some 2000 students [District 36]
, have drawn some sharp criticism in the community….
In the statement that Dr. van der Bogert sent me, she said, “…Why didn’t I share this information with everyone…
I believe I had sufficient facts that assured me there was no negligence on Kevin’s part …”
*******************************************Did Supt. van der Bogert ask the family’s lawyer
why Catherine Fish’s friends ran out of Kevin’s room looking for more teachers if, as van der Bogert apparently has decided, the students had two teachers right there—present at all times? I asked the lawyer for the family, Francis Patrick Murphy [of Corboy and Demetrio] this evening,
after he had concluded the first day of his trial in the lawsuit his client filed against the Glenview School District and Kevin Dorken [the next Greeley School principal]… “Did Becky, the [schools] superintendent from Winnetka ever contact you to discuss this?” Murphy responded, “Not at all.”
***************************************************The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday [May 25 Tribune article]
that Winnetka Public Schools [“WPS”] Superintendent, Dr. Rebecca van der Bogert
, failed to disclose information that seems highly relevant, if not dispositive, to a school board and the parents and residents of a community in the North Shore’s [District 36] hiring of a new principal for one of its schools. The remarkable thing about this is not just the failure to disclose by the Superintendent, which is itself shocking, but also that the Winnetka School Board doesn’t seem to care about the Superintendent’s failure to disclose
. Can you imagine a private corporate Board reacting in the same way?
On the other hand, the Pioneer Press
reported today that, “[Winnetka] residents expressed anger at Tuesday's School Board meeting
after learning Dorken [Winnetka Greeley School’s new principal to be] is a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit set to go to trial today (Thursday).” [See, here, Winnetka Talk, May 26, 2005
]. The Talk noted, “more than 50 residents complain[ed] they were kept in the dark about a lawsuit that names the former Glenview School District teacher [Dorken]
as a defendant."
After calling all board members, I was only able to speak to two. One WPS board member, Pete Cruikshank
[also a former village of Winnetka Board President], declined to discuss the issue or anything about the Board’s or his actions and thoughts, referring me to the Superintendent and President of the School Board. The Superintendent confirmed that she had not disclosed the information to the Board
prior to the Board’s vote to hire Dorken as the next Greeley school principal and then declined to answer any questions, instead faxing me a statement by her that she said was read by her at Tuesday’s school board meeting. The Winnetka School Board President, Anne Kelly
, taking a page from her superintendent, said to me [on May 25] she had only one thing to say to and then read a statement, saying, “As a Board, we were unanimous in acting on Dr. van der Bogert’s recommendation to hire Kevin Dorken last December and after lengthy consideration we remain unanimous in our support of the Superintendent’s hiring process of Kevin Dorken as the next principal for the Greeley school.”
When I started to ask Ms. Kelly, “when did you first learn--” Kelly cut me off and said, “That is the only statement I am prepared to make and I really appreciate your calling to get our perspective, but that’s all I am going to say at this time. Beyond that, we will speak to the Greeley community directly.” I responded by saying, “this is a part of the public record. When did you vote—“Again, School Board President Kelly cut me off with
, “I really appreciate your call, Goodbye.”
None of the other six WPS school board members returned my calls. School Board member Bob Linn seemed not to mind, at all, the Superintendent’s failure to disclose to his colleagues and him relevant information to the Board's hire of the next Greeley School principal
. He told a Tribune Reporter [See the above linked Tribune article of May 25, 2005], “I trust her
[van der Bogert] and I trust her judgment.”
However, the above described actions and attitude of the eleven-year, highly paid [almost $300,000 per year] Winnetka Public Schools Superintendent
, Dr. Rebecca van der Bogert, who oversees a District of some 2000 students
, have drawn some sharp criticism in the community, as referenced, above. That criticism has come from parents with kids at Greeley School, one of the District’s three K-4 grade schools
. See yesterday’s Chicago Tribune article [linked to above], which refers to “75 people jamming a school board meeting
,” on Tuesday night.
One of the parents at the Winnetka School Board meeting spoke of a giant lapse of judgment
[by Winnetka Schools Superintendent van der Bogert] and another of trust being violated
[by Superintendent van der Bogert], reported the Tribune. Having attended almost 200 Winnetka school board meetings, I can report that attendance of Winnetka School Board meetings usually is in the five to ten residents, or so, range. This was a hot issue
in the not easily aroused North Shore village of Winnetka. The WPS consists of about 2000 students in five schools
[three grade schools that are K-4, one transition school that is 5-6 and another middle school that is 7-8. The School District feeds into New Trier High School [Winnetka and Northfield], along with five other school districts.
Now, what could possibly cause Winnetka’s sedate, if not sedated, residents to rise up
in arms at a school board meeting. Well, let’s take a look at the underlying allegations involving “the incident and tragic loss of life,” as Dr. van der Bogert belatedly referred to the matter
at Tuesday night’s school board meeting. The incident involved Kevin Dorken, the Glenview teacher
and administrative intern hired last December by the WPS to be the new WPS Greeley school principal.
The allegations apparently relate closely to the subject of this week’s trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County, all of which Dr. van der Bogert decided were “confidential,”
and apparently so confidential that no one involved in the hiring process of Kevin Dorken as the new Greeley Principal, nor any parents or residents of Winnetka, nor any WPS Board Member should know what the Winnetka Community is now reading about in Chicago newspapers.
Apparently the WPS board and its superintendent think trials are generally not open to the public
and the media or the WPS District’s parents and residents do not read newspapers. They are wrong on both scores.
On Friday of last week, the Chicago Tribune reported [May 20 article, See here]
that the Glenview elementary school district was scheduled to go to trial this week in connection with the death of one of its 6th grade students
, nearly six years ago. The Tribune reported that the family of the 6th grader, Catherine “Casey” Fish, who suffocated while playing “Chubby Bunny
,” at the Glenview school’s Care Fair to benefit charities, alleges that the student was left unsupervised with her class, shortly after a teacher introduced the pupils to the Chubby Bunny game.
The Tribune reports that the family’s lawsuit alleges that while Glenview teacher Kevin Dorken left the room for a few minutes to talk to a janitor, the family’s daughter began choking. The Tribune quoted the lawyer for the family as saying that, “She [Catherine Fish] went into distress, there’s no teacher in the room
and she tries to get to a water fountain.” "She's turning blue; she's falling down."
The lawsuit further alleges that the student’s friends ran into the hallway to get help from teachers
and from the school nurse, who contacted paramedics and that the student died three hours later in Glenbrook Hospital.
"What we have always contended is it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize the danger of a game [Chubby Bunny]
in which you're stuffing your face with a food product [marshmallows] while you're saying `Chubby bunny,'" the family’s lawyer Murphy said.
It turns out that the WPS voted to hire in December, 2004, Kevin Dorken
, referenced above as a Glenview teacher in 1999 involved in the Chubby Bunny "loss of life incident,"
to be the Principal of one of its three K-4 grade schools, Greeley, starting apparently in Fall, 2005.
Yesterday’s Chicago Tribune article [linked above as the May 25 article] reported that WPS’ Superintendent, Dr. van der Bogert, had not previously informed the Winnetka School Board of Dorken’s involvement in either the Chubby Bunny “incident,” nor apparently of his involvement in or relationship to the Glenview school district and his lawsuit
that is being tried this week. The WPS school board, made up of seven elected members, must approve, by Board vote, the hiring of school staff, including school principals.
Further, it appears that Superintendent van der Bogert informed neither the parents at Greeley school of Dorken’s involvement
in either the Chubby Bunny incident or of his involvement in or relationship to the lawsuit that is being tried this week, nor the parents and others who sat on the Greeley Principal Search Team
[See today’s Tribune article]. In short, Dr. van der Bogert appears to have kept this all to herself.
I say “appears” because when I called Dr. van der Bogert yesterday, she confirmed that she had not disclosed the above referenced information about Kevin Dorken to the WPS Board, but declined to answer any other questions
, which I tried to ask her, such as whether she thought her failure to disclose to her Board the above discussed issues relating to Dorken might be analogous to a corporate CEO in the private sector withholding relevant information from a corporate board
, prior to a Board vote on a key issue or hiring of a key new officer. Dr. van der Bogert said she would fax to me a statement she read to the audience at Tuesday night’s Winnetka School Board meeting-- but she declined to answer any questions. She did, in fact, fax me her statement.
In the statement that Dr. van der Bogert sent me, she said, “…Why didn’t I share this information with everyone…I believe I had sufficient facts that assured me there was no negligence on Kevin’s part and therefore, I had no concerns about his judgment as Greeley’s principal.
Once I have concluded that a candidate is appropriate, the information that is gathered in private conversations is considered confidential.”Dr. van der Bogert’s
statement, which she indicated was delivered at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, also said, “The student [the now deceased, then sixth grader Catherine “Casey” Fish] was not a child in Kevin’s homeroom, but had chosen to take part in an activity that was being run by a team of three teachers including Kevin. Two of those teachers were present at all times.”
So, it would appear that Dr. van der Bogert held her own trial as to Kevin Dorken’s culpability
, or lack thereof. Dr. van der Bogert’s statement reads, without citation for support, “The Glenview Public Schools investigated the incident thoroughly and found no negligence on Kevin’s part…due to the community’s confidence in Kevin, the administration has been preparing him to be Principal in Glenview.” But did Dr. van der Bogert talk to the family of Catherine Fish? To anyone involved in the “incident,” who had a conflicting view?
To the lawyer for the family who said, “She [the deceased Catherine Fish] went into distress, there’s no teacher in the room and she tries to get to a water fountain.” "She's turning blue; she's falling down." Did Supt. van der Bogert ask the family’s lawyer
the basis for their allegations that “the student’s friends ran into the hallway to get help from teachers and from the school nurse, who contacted paramedics and that the student died three hours later in Glenbrook Hospital.” Did Dr. van der Bogert ask the family’s lawyer why Catherine Fish’s friends ran out of the room looking for more teachers if, as van der Bogert apparently has decided, the students had two teachers right there—present at all times?
I asked the lawyer for the family, Francis Patrick Murphy [of Corboy and Demetrio]
this evening, after he had concluded the first day of his trial in the lawsuit his client filed against the Glenview School District and Kevin Dorken [the next Greeley School principal]-- a trial that he anticipates will go another week, or so-- “Did Becky, the [schools] superintendent from Winnetka, ever contact you to discuss this?” Murphy responded, “Not at all.” Did van der Bogert talk to the janitor
who the family’s lawsuit contends Dorken [van der Bogert’s new principal] was talking to [or looking for] outside the room when Catherine Fish began choking?
In short, did Supt. van der Bogert talk to all sides,
including witnesses for the family, and decide Kevin Dorken’s story was the truth and the family’s story false? If not, was her decision making process appropriate
? Even if she did all of that, was that the appropriate path to take?
And, what will it mean if a true trial, this week, concludes that the defendant the Glenview School District was negligent? If Kevin Dorken [the next Greeley Principal] was negligent?
Would Dr. van der Bogert then seek to terminate the District’s contract with Kevin Dorken? Is a provision for such a contingency included in the Dorken contract? If not, should it have been? And, if there were no such provision and van der Bogert did seek to terminate the contract, as discussed above, would Dorken have a good cause of action against District 36 for wrongful termination?
And, would the Winnetka School Board continue to back its superintendent’s decision making process. Did the Winnetka School Board consider any of these factors when it approved the Dorken contract? How could it, its Superintendent did not disclose
the underlying facts that would give rise to such considerations.
Alternatively, if the trial verdict this week finds the Glenview School District not negligent, and finds defendant Kevin Dorken not negligent--will that validate Dr. van der Bogert’s secret trial and secret verdict
. Will it validate her decision to withhold relevant information from the Board
, who hired her, and the Community, who pays her almost $300,000 yearly salary? Will community members who feel their trust has been “violated,” find that it has now been restored? Think about it
, the superintendent’s information, which was gathered about a potential principal, is confidential, according to the Winnetka Public Schools superintendent, and not to be shared with her Board, even though the Board is charged with the responsibility of making a decision, by vote, on hiring the Principal.
Indeed, the Board is allowed, by state law, to meet in Executive Session
to discuss such confidential matters, if indeed all of the above is truly “confidential.”
And, of course, Dr. van der Bogert apparently chose not to share or discuss any of this [even that which was publicly available information] with the Search Team
, charged by the District with helping to search for and assess candidates for the Greeley Principal position, as commented upon in yesterday’s Tribune article [linked to above] by one of the search team members, who also doesn’t seem to care about Superintendent van der Bogert’s failure to disclose.
Think about the analogue to a public corporation and its CEO and Board of Directors. If a CEO for such a company had withheld relevant information from her Board about the hiring of one of the Company’s top five officers
, wouldn’t you expect the Board to be up in arms when it found out about such a failure to disclose. And, what if the Board responded by saying to the public “why should we care.
We are just the Board-- if our CEO recommends something, why would we need all relevant facts before we vote on a decision to hire one of our top officers. Better that she not trouble us with too many conflicting facts.”
If the above had happened, wouldn’t the Board and its CEO be sued in a shareholder suit faster than you can say, “Public Affairs.”
Indeed, perhaps even represented by one of the “trial lawyers,” living in Winnetka. As such a lawyer, or his firm, now represents the family of Catherine Fish. It’s a small world.
Well, a lot of questions-- but not many answers. And, you know why? Because the Winnetka Public School Superintendent, Dr. Rebecca van der Bogert, is not answering questions. At least not the hard ones.
And, her Board, they aren’t answering any questions either. At least, not the tough ones. Perhaps more importantly, for their own fiduciary duties to the people of Winnetka, are the Winnetka School Board Members asking any tough questions of their Superintendent?
Did they do that Tuesday night? Or did they decide it was too late for that?
Welcome to the Winnetka Public Schools, whose motto is, “Lifelong Learners.” Perhaps it should be “mums the word.”
*******************************************As a matter of full disclosure, Jeff Berkowitz was a member of the Winnetka School Board when Dr. Rebecca van der Bogert was hired
by the District in 1994 and he has been active in commenting on WPS issues, and attending School Board meetings, including the period before and after his four year tenure on the School Board.
***************************************** Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at JBCG@aol.com