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A School Principal Can't Supervise a Family Member, Rochester Board Says

Hugger Elementary community asks school leaders to reconsider the policy and allow the "best person" for the job.

Should a school principal be allowed to supervise an immediate family member?

And should "immediate family member" include in-laws? 

Those were the questions asked this week by members of one Rochester elementary school community — and, in turn, answered by Board of Education members, who opted to uphold the school district's longstanding policy that says one "in-law" should not supervise another.

Principal hire

It's three weeks before the first day of school, and is without a principal. The vacancy happened earlier this summer, when Principal Debi Fragomeni was named Pre-K through 7th Grade Curriculum Director for the district.

Fragomeni's replacement was : from a pool of 200 candidates, Kelly Dessy was picked by school leaders, including Fragomeni, as the top choice for the job. 

But that night, Elizabeth Davis, executive director of human resources for the district, revealed that there was a problem with the hire: Dessy, it was learned, had a "familial relationship" with a teacher in the school building.

According to the school district's policy, "At no time may any employee directly supervise or evaluate a member of his/her immediate family."

The policy defines "immediate family" as "grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, grandchild, son, daughter, or in-laws."

'A difficult situation that has no blame'

Dessy is a learning consultant at Hugger and well-known to the school community. 

On Monday night, teacher Gail Davidson addressed the board of education and pleaded with them to amend or make exception to the policy.

"I'm here today because I know we have a difficult situation in front of us," said Davidson. "I know that difficult situation has no blame."

Dessy was not aware of the policy when she interviewed for the position, Davidson said. 

"No one was hiding anything," she said.

"The first fact is that Kelly Dessy went through a lengthy interview process and she was determined to be the best person for the position at Hugger. 

"If nothing has changed in her credentials or evaluations, her character, or her leadership abilities, then she is still the best person for Hugger's principal."

Davidson, who said she was representing 28 staff members at Hugger, asked the board to change the policy and remove "in-laws" from the definition. In 12 of 16 surrounding school districts, Davidson said, in-laws can supervise one another. 

'Best practice' policy

Since the July 30 meeting, board of education members received 46 emails about the principal situation at Hugger.

Board President Jennifer Berwick thanked Davidson and others for their opinions but said the district policy would be upheld.

"[The decision] has been made in compliance with board policy 3120 which states that an employee may not evaluate or supervise a family member," Berwick said. "This policy, which was originally adopted in 1970 and revised as recently as 2007, represents best practice in both public and private sector and is in place for the protection of the employee and supervisor.

"The board appreciates the administration's actions in compliance with the policy and does not believe there is sufficient justification for changing it or making an exception."

Superintendent Fred Clarke said the administration is working on a plan to fill the position by the start of the school year, Berwick said.

"Hugger staff and parents will be notified as soon as the plans are finalized," she said.

Looking ahead

After the meeting, Davidson called the decision a "travesty." With only three weeks until school starts, she said she worried about getting someone new acclimated to the building.

"The children need a familiar face," she said.

S.I. August 17, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Call it what you like...favoritism..."Good Ol' Boy network" (except we are dealing with females). A wink, a handshake and an unfulfilled promise at an opportunity to fill a position, of which Ms. Dessy is NOT even qualified. Tisk tisk to her mentor and former principal. To all of you people out there that are whining, crying, rabble rousing, trying to get the community & parents all wound up about a candidate that did not get the job because the board upheld it's decision regarding hiring policy...I say amen to the board. Reading post from BFantana stating "Dessy should be given the position she is qualified for, earned and rightfully deserves" and that "No one should be denied a promition or advancement based on this policy". Qualified for? Earned? Rightfully deserves? In what regard is she considered the "senior person"? The real asset to Hugger Elementary is keeping the "other teacher" who IS qualified in her current position at Hugger. There were approximately 200 candidates that applied for the principal position at Hugger Elementary. Ms. Dessy should never have been considered seeing that she does NOT meet qualifications. When it comes down to it, the decision as to whether or not Ms. Dessy should be hired due to a family member working in the same building is irrelevant. Rochester Community Schools prides itself on hiring "highly qualified" individuals. Why would the district lower its standards in this case?
Oakland Mom August 18, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Colleen...uh, yeah... I do understand who is involved. Most Principals are not too willing to meet Parents and Children, just by experience. I know who is involved in my child's education and realize it DOES take everyone involved. I just don't believe that the Children will care who their Principal is...just who is in their life everyday. Their Teachers, Parent volunteers, and everyone else who makes an effort to be there everyday in their lives. That is what I was trying to explain from a child's perspective. I do understand how important the "CEO" of the school is.
BFantana August 18, 2012 at 04:51 AM
Senior means she holds a higher level position within the school and she has been with the district and at Hugger longer. Exactly what qualifications does Ms. Dessy NOT have for this position since you state that the family relationship issue is irrelevant? Seems like maybe the whistle blower has come forward with the personal axe to grind. 200 candidates and the "good ol' boy" network is the only way she made it to the final selection. Are you really that ignorant? The interviewing committee and BOE overlooked all of her apparent shortcomings and lack of qualifications and recommended her for the position. Now you want to say good job to the very same people? The comment about not letting the policy stop someone from advancement is not that I don't think the policy is right and should be enforced, but that reassignment of the family member was the appropriate solution. The real issue is the up front identification of the family relationship that no one in any HR or Administrative capacity discovered. This whole thing could have been worked out to mutual satisfaction in appropriate privacy instead of being played out in front of all. Your BOE and RCS Leadership you pat on the back in one sentence and then accuse of allowing the "good ol' boy" network to push unqualified candidates into a leadership position is where your should be focusing your discontent.
Whatever August 18, 2012 at 07:53 AM
Innocent? Was Mrs. Dessy unaware that her in-law was a teacher at the school? Every company I've ever heard of prohibits this.
BFantana August 18, 2012 at 04:06 PM
YES, INNOCENT. Do you honestly think that if she knew this was a violation of policy she would have taken it to this level, hoping it would sneak by or not be an issue? You conspiracy theorist are incredible. All the HR policies, hiring requirements, background checks, certification validation, education, drug testing, etc. are the responsibility of the HR department NOT the employee. While maybe not a direct report or responsible for completing teacher evaluations the LC does provide supervision, guidance, feedback, etc to the teachers so should this be a problem as well? When the Principal is out of the school the LC assumes their responsibilities. They have co-existed at the school for several years without issue so I'm sure they didn't even think about it. It is just as likely that someone gives preferential treatment to a good friend than to a relative through marriage, not blood. Pretty sure my comments have stated that I agree with the policy and understand the intent but it certainly does not eliminate the potential favoritism. DF as the school administrator certainly has some blame here too and should have raised a flag early on.

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