Recently, Maureen McFadden, news anchor of WNDU television, conducted a forty-five minute interview with former South Bend School Corporation Superintendent Dr. Robert Zimmerman.
Ms. McFadden did a very nice job of drawing Dr. Zimmerman out. In early part of the interview, Dr. Zimmerman was quite reserved and diplomatic in his responses to questions about how he and the SBSC Board got along. Later on, he was much more animated when asked about his accomplishments and the challenges we still face.
If you look at the 20 months we were here, we implemented an awful lot of initiatives, we did our study and brought the community involved in the Career and Technical Education and created a five year plan for that," he explains.
Last year saw some improvement in South Bend's graduation rate and ISTEP, but Zimmerman says the biggest issue facing South Bend Schools is not the teachers, the board, or the superintendent.
When Ms. McFadden asked this question, we got a pretty clear view of opportunity lost for our children.
McFadden: "Now that you've distanced yourself, what do you think is needed for South Bend schools to
Zimmerman: "I continue to think that it's got to be an initiative of the entire community. We really have got to get our hands around how we deal with children of poverty. Generational poverty continues to be the number one difficult issue that any large urban district is dealing with. Most of the kids that struggled in our system were kids who came out of generational poverty."
He says a lack of education affects the whole community, and we can all make a difference."You can do your part by stepping in there and being a mentor and reading to a child and helping to make a difference in that one child's life," he says.
And he's proud of what he did in 18 short months on the job.
"I feel that I can walk away, in the short time that I was here, and not second-guess my reasons for making the decisions I did. My decisions were always around what was best for the kids."
Dr. Zimmerman described in great detail the challenges of engaging students from multi-generation poverty households, and what it takes to turn them around. The link above with take you to the site where you can watch the entire interview. It's well worth your time.
As I watched the interview, I saw someone who probably knows as much about the impact of generational poverty on childrens' futures as anyone I've come across. His recounting of conversations with students in this trap was revealing and amplified that his awareness comes not just from study - but from practical experience as well.
It was also helpful to me as a School Board candidate, that an expert identified the single biggest challenge to our success, as what I've always felt it was. That, and the fact he was positive that steady progress was attainable, energizes me as I try to make my case to my fellow citizens.