BREAKING: D209 Board Hires New Superintendent As Some Residents Point To Language Barrier


Dr. Jesse Rodriguez || Photo: Star Tribune

Wednesday, February 24, 2016 || By Michael Romain

The Proviso Township High School District 209 Board of Education, at a Feb. 23 special board meeting, voted unanimously to hire Dr. Jesse Rodriguez to replace outgoing superintendent Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, according multiple sources.

Rodriguez was one of two finalists for the position. The other finalist was Dr. Eric Gallien, a deputy superintendent with the Racine Unified School District in the greater Milwaukee area.

Both Gallien and Rodriguez, a regional superintendent for Milwaukee Public Schools, toured Proviso schools and met with various community stakeholders on separate occasions earlier this month.

“Both [candidates] seem to be transformational,” Kelly told the Forest Park Review at the time both men were being considered for the job. “They are both saying they would be visible in the community and are up for the challenge.”

“This is a major decision for the Proviso community,” Kelly said of the board’s selection. “We need [the community] to be there and to share their voice. This is why I want the community to come out. I feel it’s very important [for the public] to hear from candidates and speak to them.”

But some residents have chafed at the news.

Soon after learning of Rodriguez’s hiring, Barbara Cole, the founder of area nonprofit Maywood Youth Mentoring and an outspoken youth advocate, sent out a statement, by way of email and social media, advising the board against hiring Rodriguez because of what she considers to be his heavy accent.

The statement was shared in various Facebook groups and included in multiple email chains. Before praising the board for exhibiting “good governance” by opening up the hiring process to community input and complimenting both finalists on their credentials, Cole said that Rodriguez’s accent presented a prohibitive barrier to his hiring.

“However, it is compelling that Dr. Jesse J. Rodriguez’s language accent is so heavy and dense that it places a number of factors at risk and therefore his hiring as the Superintendent would, in our judgement, not be a prudent choice for the 209 school district,” Cole wrote.

In a recent phone interview, Cole said she was at a public meeting during which Rodriguez presented to the community and couldn’t understand much of what he said, adding that he mispronounced “Proviso,” among other proper nouns.

“The majority of the people there, who I talked to, acknowledged that there was a heavy accent that might interfere with communication,” Cole said in the interview.

“Even the people who I sent the email to felt that it was a valid consideration,” she said. “Our concerns should be a priority in terms of him hitting the ground running.”

Cole insisted that the criticisms she and other community members have made about Rodriguez’s accent have nothing to do with his ethnicity.

District officials, including several board members, could not be contacted immediately for comment. VFP



15 thoughts on “BREAKING: D209 Board Hires New Superintendent As Some Residents Point To Language Barrier”

  1. I was in attendance and I understood the entire presentation. The Proviso “name” noun yes it was mispronounce but that is a regionalism. In our small focus group that did not happen as he became aware or someone advised him. Again, not a big deal as the message, vision, models, and energy was unbelievable. This gentleman meant business and it was evident.

    He was dinamic, passionate, charismatic, people friendly, and inspiring. An excellent choice. Great job Proviso Board.

    1. Let’s be fair folks. Welcome to District 209 Sir. Excellent job presenting. Also, thanks for being open minded and inclusive with all students. Great job

    2. I appreciate your observation . I support collaborative board work and hope the 209 board continues in that direction. The Board’s only employee is the Superintendent. The Superintendent is the District’s educational leader A fully vetted process was used, just like the one used for Dr Collin-Hart.

      Bob Cox retired PTHS 209 BOE Member 2007-2011.

  2. I am very disappointed with the board’s decision. Not necessarily because of his accent, but because he wasn’t the best qualified or the best fit for D209…no one is knocking diversity as a matter of fact we embrace it and we needed a leader who could mend the racial divide and bring unity to a dwindling district and community. Honestly, he didn’t display the ability to do such. Moreover, he had all sorts of grammatical errors in his presentation packet, which was disbursed to the community. Yes, people make errors, but more than 12 in one document is a little much, which may speak to the concerns of many constituents, as expressed here, regarding the accent and the language barrier. This candidate only taught 4 years and has not served as a Superintendent, nor was he second in command. PLEASE NOTE: I am not suggesting that the other candidate was the best candidate either, but he was better. Overall, I think the board could have done a better job during the selection process, especially since neither candidate had previous experience as a Superintendent. Furthermore, In my opinion this Candidate was prepped by a board member prior to his arrival…needless to say, the decision was made and all I can do is pray the best for our children…and the board “leadership!”

      1. Eric,
        Thank you for reviewing my draft. Pointing out errors in a blog, doesn’t change my position on this matter. Please state something of substance if we’re going to have a healthy dialogue regarding this matter where you’re trying to get me to change my opinion. Needless to say, I’m intelligent enough to agree to disagree. You have your opinion and I have mine.

    1. We had a genuine opportunity to spend time and talk to him and the time spent was magical. I agree with Cox and trust the process. The gentleman was vetted and has a proven track record of collaboration, results and systems thinking as stated in the meeting. I had an opportunity to research him further and we are in great hands. Our challenge will be how to keep him as he is talented. Is promising that he spent all his career in Wisconsin so that shows stability. In addition, The school visit showed levels of expertise and positive interaction (with all employees including janitors and secretaries) needed to unify and strengthen our work. Early indicators show promise and great work by the board. He must now join us and demonstrate what he is capable of doing with this community. Let’s have a growth mindset and expect the best because we need the best in order to fulfill our vision. It’s time to work hard for our kids. Welcome Dr. Rodriguez.

  3. As A Latina who has encountered this stance over time in the US, not just in our community but the greater culture of our country of exclusive and not inclusive stance on people from other cultures or of different national origin, I would like to ask all people in this conversation to rethink what we are saying, and what we are teaching the generations below us about integrity and diversity. No person should be excluded by the way they sound, but by the content of what they say. I ask you to look at All the people that contribute to our community, who we all are. We are diverse, we are all different and there within lies our beauty. What is the vision for our District? A unified Accent? Or a Unified community? This negative energy is destructive, not constructive. You lead by example, and all community leaders and the paper have the obligation to lead with an understanding of the greater good for our future. We are in a constructive phase in our District. I believe we are all trying to build a better tomorrow for the children and they need to see us rise above an accent. I ask that all of us look with in to see the brilliance of a person, look and discuss who they are. If our example is divisive, that is what the kids will do. These negative and close minded comments do not bring kids closer together, Do they? Kids, they never do what we tell them to do, they replicate what we do. This is evident at the schools. What I would like the conversation to be about is the new possibilities of unity and how we can address all the cultural needs of the school. The leadership within our district is in its majority African American all professionals that have preparation and talent. They are judged by their accomplishments and not their accent, heritage, national origin or race. I believe with Dr. Rodriguez ‘s abilities he will bring out the best in all of our leadership, and re-energize everyone to work with a vision of children first. He looks to lead by design, a common vision, to get involved in the community to be an integral part of the transformation everyone seeks. He will bring out the best in all our leadership for the best results for our students. I don’t hear anyone talking about his energy, his warmth, how well prepared he is, and most importantly how he chose us, Proviso, because of the challenges we have, and the vision of transformation we upheld with in qualifiers for the position. Dr. Rodriguez will help us build together. Change can hurt, I agree but Accent, well that has nothing to do with ability. Judge him on his abilities, knowledge and track record. I welcome Dr. Rodriguez and am very happy to see this hard working Latino, come to our District and meet all the incredible people we have in our community. I hope that our discussions will dramatically change in content, so we are discussing substance by the time he arrives and we welcome him together.

    “Since you are not experienced in things of the world, all things that are a bit difficult seem impossible to you. Trust time; it usually provides a sweet way out of many bitter challenges.”
    -Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

  4. Great choice, Proviso School Board! Dr. Rodriguez is a passionate, dynamic, goal oriented, and student centered leader. He has been a mentor to many principals and other district administrators in Milwaukee.
    I am saddened to read discriminatory comments about Dr. Rodriguez based on an accent. We should remember what Dr. King taught us about judging people and the content of character. I recommend that people attempting to create this “accent” diversion over grammatical errors should review their website to notice that the name “Proviso” is misspelled in their vision statement.


      Embarrassing. I am in favor of Dr. Rodriguez. He treated us in a friendly, direct, and professional manner. Great job Board and Rodriguez please know we support you. Don’t allow this little comments discourage you. We are ready for you.!! Excellent work performed and the comments above don’t represent the majority of us. Look forward to working with you.

  5. I have known Dr. Rodriguez professionally and personally for many years. In fact, we were also colleagues throughout earning our doctorates. It takes dedication, intelligence, time management, and incredible grit to earn a Ph.D., especially for a person who did not learn English until he was in college.

    Jesse is a true testament to the American dream. He immigrated to this country with hopes and dreams, worked hard, persevered through many challenges, and is now dedicated to enabling the hopes and dreams of kids and families who are experiencing many of the same seemingly insurmountable roadblocks and walls darkening the brightness of their futures. I have witnessed, time and time again, Dr. Rodriguez’s success in uniting people, adults, around kids. I have seen his remarkably improved (often “off-the-charts”) results from standardized test scores, to college readiness, to scholarships earned, to bringing community services, such as dentists and doctors, into the schools. Jesse is one of the most student-focused and systems-minded professionals with whom I have ever worked. It is disheartening that one would suggest that such a person cannot be seen beyond his “thick accent”.

    If you have your doubts, look at his track record. He works with schools packed with kids of all races, ethnicities, and income levels, schools that are better places because of his leadership, his passion, and his dedication to ALL students. He empowers staff, administrators, community members, and parents of all backgrounds in order to affect change. Jesse pours every ounce of energy, every waking minute of every day, into his passion- the best education for all kids. There is no doubt in my mind, or in MANY of our minds in Southeastern Wisconsin, that Dr. Rodriguez will bring nothing short of excellence to the Proviso Township High School District.

    It is time for the true leaders of this community, like Claudia Medina, to stand up, speak out, and snuff out division and divisiveness. It is time for all of us to lead- our children are watching and listening, whether we have an accent or not.

    I can only hope that this community can overcome such negativity, welcome such passion, and embrace Dr. Rodriguez’s call to join him in ensuring the brightest futures for all of the students of the Proviso Township High School District through a vision based upon the values of a unified community learning and growing together. You deserve the best, and he is deserving of yours.

  6. The article shows a clear misrepresentation of what occurred during the community meeting. Its title: “language barrier”—extremely unfair title for the story and unethical use of language/reporting. A language barrier is a figurative phrase used primarily to indicate the difficulties faced when people who have no language in common attempt to communicate with each other. We communicated effectively in English and I noticed Spanish communication as well with other people present. The remarks made were unnecessary and inaccurate. Ganghi taught us to always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well. Enough said: Welcome Dr. R; you will be amazing and we needed you “YESTERDAY”. We are “Nothing but the Best” and your leadership and guidance is needed at PTSH 209. Again, “everything will be well”.

  7. I totally support every word in Dr. Anthony E. Brazouski’s statement. As a colleague who truly knows Dr. Jesse Rodriguez, my heart fell like a drop! I was totally out done to say the least. I thought possibly Donald Trump had made such deplorable statements that referenced Dr. Rodriquez “thick accent”. By selecting Dr. JR to be the CEO of your team is by far the best decision that you have ever made. You will have no regrets! You just have to be on his team and give him all the support needed to help your district advance.

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