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
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