Mann finds new principal in Missouri

Named as interim; Barber 'nays' process

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By ELENA LEVENSON

District 97 last week named a Missouri assistant principal to head Mann Elementary School in the fall as an interim.

The board voted 5-1 at a special meeting on June 29 to approve Nimisha Kumar to the one-year deal, which can be extended upon approval of the school community.

Mann parents were miffed by the end-of-school-year resignation of former principal Carol Young, who will head Whittier Elementary in the fall, but sounded upbeat on the search process that netted Kumar.

"I think it's fair to say that people thought the process was positive," said Linda Schembari, Mann PTO co-president.

"This was an established process...it was inclusive, and there was a variety [of candidates] to pick from," said Schembari, who participated in the community feedback portion of the hiring process. "I think we all felt better about the process going out than we had coming in. When we left the meeting, we just turned to each other and said, 'That was a positive experience.'"

From 50 applicants, six were seriously considered, district spokeswoman Gail Crantz said. Those six were invited to a community forum at which teachers, parents, and representatives of other school "leadership groups," such as the PTO, School Leadership Team, SEA (Supported Education Association) and APPLE (African American Parents for Purposeful Leadership in Education), could ask questions. The input was forwarded to Supt. Connie Collins, who recommended Kumar for the board's approval.

Collins took over July 1 for John Fagan, who retired.

But not everyone felt good about the process. Board member Peter Barber cast the sole vote against Kumar's confirmation.

"My vote was frankly less against the candidate and more against the process," Barber said. "I look at what we [board members] were asked to do as confirming a recommendation the superintendent had made. I personally feel that part of a board member's responsibility is to feel comfortable that we'll put [in] the right principal, and I would've liked to get to know [Kumar] to feel like I'm making an informed choice."

While board members generally have time to interview candidates for a full-time principalship, this hiring process was abbreviated as the district's main concern was finding an interim principal in time for next year, Crantz said.

If Kumar is retained, the board may never get to interview her.

"Frankly, I see no reason why we couldn't [interview Kumar] in this case. It's just been the board's past practice" to take the superintendent's recommendation for interim positions, Barber said.

Schembari believes that the Mann community's reaction to Kumar is contingent on how she will work with parents, teachers and administrators.

"I think everybody will go out of their way to embrace this new person and make it a positive thing but, the given at Mann School is that people want a collaborative effort," Schembari said, "and if you can build that collaboration, then it'll work."

Kumar, previously an assistant principal at Rockwood Valley Middle School in Wildwood, Mo., describes her leadership style as "very collaborative."

"Having a relationship between, not just administrators, also teachers and community, just adds so much to a kid's education," she said.

Kumar, who was born in India and lived there until the age of 9, also considers diversity to be important.

"I think being raised in a different culture, you realize what you need to do to bring diversity into the classroom," she said. "I have my own children that I raise to have appreciation for different cultures and all walks of life."

"I'm going to be working with ...Carol Young several days this week, and I'll set up a time in August when parents will have an opportunity to meet me," Kumar said. "Anyone is welcome to stop by in the summer.

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