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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.

Mike Reno August 15, 2012 at 01:39 PM
If we are to view the principal as the education leader of the building, and believe the Dessy is the best fit to move Hugger forward, then allowing the teacher to move might be the best solution. What harm would come from granting an exemption for, say, 1 year to allow a stable and managed move to a new building? Having said that, in a way it's kind of silly to have all this dust-up be the result of teacher evaluations. It's not as if any teacher ever gets a bad evaluation, or faces and consequences that are driven by their evaluation. Yes, the state made changes... but we all know that the MEA will find a way to wiggle around the law, and the administration / board will fall in line.
Laura Cassar August 15, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Whether or not I agree with the policy, how is it that the Board didn't figure this out until 3 weeks before school's start?
Joshua Raymond August 15, 2012 at 01:59 PM
That night the board hired two principals for RCS elementary schools. Perhaps a solution would have been to switch which schools the principals were assigned to. I'm in favor of the in-laws policy. I've seen too many cases where a beloved in-law became a hated ex. This may not be relevant in this case, but problematic in others. Policies should be equally applied.
T. M. August 15, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Agreed!
T. M. August 15, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Mike, please explain your comment. How do you know teachers don't face consequences of evaluations? What are you basing that information on? Being in this field, I personally have seen it happen.
Joshua Raymond August 15, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Laura, I'm guessing that someone saw her name in the BOE agenda and placed a call to administration or notified the candidate of the conflict. However, that is only a wild guess and not supported by either fact or rumor.
Mike Reno August 15, 2012 at 02:20 PM
T.M. I served on the board for five years. Out of a teaching staff of approximately 800... there was not one single dismissal of a tenured teacher. Not one. And while Rochester has many MANY outstanding teachers, they also have their share of duds. Everyone knows who they are... parents, teachers, students, administrators... yet nothing ever changes.
T. M. August 15, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Mike, thank you for backing up your response with data. I agree that some teachers have stayed in the system far too long; however, I believe you will see positive changes with the new evaluation process moving forward in all districts.
Colleen August 15, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Between the superintendency debacle and now this fiasco I'm wondering if anyone knows what they are doing!!
BFantana August 15, 2012 at 02:44 PM
This kind of situation happens all the time in business and unfortunately someone has to move to different position/role as a result but these policies exist everywhere. The HR Department, Administrators, and existing principal failed miserably here and have put two innocent individuals in an awkward, and now very public situation. No one should be denied a promotional/advancement opportunity because of this policy. Being the senior person in this circumstance, Mrs. Dessy should be given the position she is qualified for, earned, and rightfully deserves. The other teacher might have to go to another RCS school, not relocate out of state. Have seen circumstances where treatment of "BFF's" is abused much worse than with family members, who often are scrutinized more harshly by the person who has the management authority. BOE needs to step up and make the right decision that is best for the Hugger family, not hide behind policy and offer no real solution. How is the environment going to be for a "new" principal they hire knowing that they got the job only as a result of this loophole or for Mrs. Dessy who has to work for that person?
Kristin Bull (Editor) August 15, 2012 at 06:05 PM
A follow-up to this story to report: an interim principal has been named at the school. http://patch.com/A-wXty
Megan McCloud Cebulski August 15, 2012 at 07:47 PM
That certainly didn't take long, but also doesn't seem fair to the families, but more importantly, the children at Hugger.  We have already had two principal fiascos, first the man before Fragimeni, now we are being cheated out of an amazing principal because the school board is scared to change the rules!  I cannot tell you how disappointed I am with Rochester. School district during this entire process.  I totally intend to notify the news channels about this fiasco, and pray that they follow up appropriately.   I have had three children who have gone through the Hugger, Hart, Stoney Creek path.  I have one senior, and one poor boy who will be a fifth grader as Hugger, I only thank God that I am almost done at Hugger after 14 years.  I think the entire school board, including this who I know, should go home and hiss for the rest of this year, certainly, I wouldn't be proud of what you have done in this situation!!!!  Ease file this, or don't read it, just know that there is yet one more unhappy family in the Hugger school district!!!! Megan Cebulski 248-941-4984 Sent from my iPhone
Colleen August 15, 2012 at 09:52 PM
@ Megan - I'm not happy about this mistake either, but don't bite your nose to spite your face. Bad publicity for our schools means bad news for ALL of Rochester, Rochester Hills, and Oakland Twp. citizens. Are our home values not low enough these days? The whole mess is unfortunate, but there are many qualified people out there who can lead Hugger. My three kids went to Hugger too and had three different principals in 10 years. And you know what? Kids adjust! In fact, the students will be just fine. That's life! It's the adults who are stomping their feet and screaming. Parents and teachers need to calm down and be positive about the new school year so that the children can have a smooth start. And one more thing ----- it is important for the staff and parents to support and welcome the interim principal coming in. He did not cause this and is there to do the best job he can... just like Ms. Dessey. I intend no disrespect to her, but NO one is indispensable. New people come, others leave, and all will do fine.
Oakland Mom August 15, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Have you seen the school ratings for other school district in the state and even the country? We are rated so much higher than so many other districts. I am so proud to send my children to RPS. It's the teachers that really make the difference anyway, in my opinion...
Patricia August 15, 2012 at 10:21 PM
I don't know how I would feel loosing my job or being transferred from where I was working because another family member applied for a position after the fact. If you are moved to another building that does not guarantee you the same work or working with the same people. It's a tough call. I think they should uphold the policy. Certainly everyone working for the school system should have been aware of the policy already. We have a bank of talented people out there-we just need to find one.
Colleen August 16, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Of course, teachers make a difference, but "it takes a village" which includes principals, superintendents, parents, neighbors, mayors, etc........
BFantana August 16, 2012 at 12:56 PM
Colleen - Home values falling as a result of this, really? Get a grip and don't bring in irrelevent topics to water down the key issue of the failure of the varioius school departments in this process and their lack of corrective actions. I see now that an idividual has been named in the interim. Sure he will do just fine, although 14 years of teenagers will require a very different leadership and managerial approach. I don't anyone here was saying that without Mrs. Dessy that Hugger would fall apart or the kids would suffer. There were apparently several other errors/issues throughout the interview process as well that made an already stressful situation more difficult. She rightfully earned the position and should be given the opportunity to advance to the next level. This was the right fit for all. Now we have several schools having to make last minute changes with people of supervisory/management positions. Mrs, Dessy has suffered enough due to failures of others. Sure hope the individuals that failed are disciplined accordingly and truly understand the ramifications of their oversights and how they have impacted seemingly hundreds of people.
Christopher August 16, 2012 at 01:09 PM
The fact that they executed the process poorly is no excuse to break the rule. The long term success of the school and district depends on avoiding the issues associated with nepotism and the kids won't notice that one of the dozens of administrators that wander the halls has only been there a few weeks.
Christopher August 16, 2012 at 01:10 PM
I agree that the person responsible for the process that didn't communicate this rule or vet the candidates based on all the eligibility rules should be fired.
Christopher August 16, 2012 at 01:13 PM
Amen, I'll trade this policy for the end of tenure!
Colleen August 16, 2012 at 01:46 PM
@ BFantana - Those that are running to television news channels are the ones who need to get a grip. There is no good reason for wanting to air dirty laundry except to punish and embarrass our community for the poor judgement and mistakes of the administrators involved. Energy spent doing that is counter productive to the issue, NOT irrevelant. I am not "for" or "against" Ms. Dessy or the Hugger teacher involved. In fact, I think it is a darn shame that this has happened to two professionals who are held in such high regard by so many. The policy is a good one and is there for good reasons. However, the process for screening candidates is, obviously, not a good one so let's hope that a hard lesson was learned by all.
BFantana August 16, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Your are correct in that getting other media engaged is not the right thing to do. To me, not a concern that it will bring down home values or make the RCS become inferior to other districts, but because it is not going to fix the problem anyway. Sure many of the folks really involved don't want this either. I'm in agreement that the policy makes sense as well and know why it is there. To say it is a good lesson and move on is flat wrong. Relationship was pretty well known by many, including previous Principal. The people whose job is to make sure policies and procedures are followed and enforced failed. They were not the ones who even identified this issue. Wonder what they would have done if this came to light after her appointment and a few weeks into the school year? They made a mistake, and instead of fixing their error, or even admitting to it, they jerk around numerous others. Identified early in the process this could have been resolved much cleaner with less hard feelings. I have sympathy for the other teacher involved, but this happens all the time and is part of doing business. Shouldn't be an option or question. People are moved between buildings all the time for various reasons, why should this be any different?
T. M. August 16, 2012 at 02:24 PM
@ Megan, how is running to a news channel going to solve anything? That is the silliest things I've ever heard. People, get over it. There's a new administrator who is completely qualified and will do a great job with the kids. Parents are blowing this way out of proportion here. I've worked for a number of principals over the years and they move on. You know what? It's okay. Kids totally adjust. Parents need to too.
doug August 16, 2012 at 02:51 PM
The most significant comment made in this string was made by Mike Reno. Principals will change, etc....but didn't you notice the comment that in his 5 years on the Board, not ONE teacher with tenure was dismissed? That should be what is worrying parents. Do you really believe that a district of this size is so lucky, that not ONE bad instructor was in a classroom in 5 years? Think about it....
S.I. August 17, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Really?
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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