Former deputy superintendent for Memphis City Schools assists
By Othor Cain
Dr. Cedric Gray is slated to begin work July 1 as superintendent of the Jackson Public Schools District. While this date is less than two weeks away, he has gathered preliminary information about the district that he will use to begin his tenure.
“I felt that it was important that I was equipped with some comprehensive information that would normally take a new superintendent six months to gather…we don’t have that kind of time,” Gray told The Mississippi Link via telephone. “We have a very short window of time to get the community engaged and get moving.”
Gray enlisted the help of a former colleague and friend in the person of Dr. Irving Hamer. Hamer is the former deputy superintendent of the Memphis City Schools district whose tenure abruptly ended earlier this year. “I would say this was a mutual agreement in terms of him [Hamer] coming to Jackson and doing what we call data mining,” Gray said. “We approached each other almost at the same time.”
Hamer’s resume reads like a who’s who list among educators across the country.
He served as the senior consultant on The Turnaround Challenge, a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to determine what state education departments were doing about chronically low-performing schools. In addition to the research on current practice, the project developed recommendations and a partnership framework for state and local school districts. The project resulted in a publication and a national dissemination initiative to stimulate state and local action. A critical sub-text of The Turnaround Challenge answers the question “Why America’s best opportunity to dramatically improve student achievement lies in the nation’s worst-performing schools.”
Additionally, Hamer has served as a visiting clinical professor at Florida International University Center for Urban Education and Innovation, a deputy superintendent for School Improvement with the Miami Dade County Public Schools System. He was a senior research associate at Yale University. He received his master’s and doctorate degrees from Harvard University.
However, it was during Hamer’s tenure as deputy superintendent for Academic Operations, Technology, and Innovation for the Memphis City Schools District where he encountered problems. Hamer resigned from the district effective April 30, in the wake of an investigative report by Andre Mathis, an attorney with the firm Glanker Brown, who found Hamer violated the city schools’ sexual harassment policy with coarse remarks about a secretary that worked in the district.
According to the report, Hamer made two comments about the size of the woman’s breasts in front of Superintendent Kriner Cash and other colleagues gathered at Cash’s house for what some described as a social gathering, and others said it was an effort to engage in team building activities. It was after Hamer’s email apology to the secretary, that she filed a sexual harassment complaint against him.
In the email, Hamer said his behavior could not be blamed on alcohol and “the only explanation for my behavior was my failure to recognize where we were, what we were doing, who was in attendance and being too familiar with you and our colleagues.”
The secretary told Cash in her complaint that she was “totally appalled” by the statement, saying Hamer was in “no way” familiar with her. She interpreted the remarks as his way of making others believe Hamer had reason to talk to her in a degrading way.
“Dr. Hamer’s ‘apology’ was written in a very misleading way and I feel it attacks me personally and represents my character in a negative way,” she said in the complaint.
Gray told The Mississippi Link that he was familiar with Hamer’s situation. “It is unfortunate that he is facing this situation. We became acquainted and struck a familiar cord when he served in his capacity as deputy superintendent in Memphis and I was a principal,” Gray said. “He is one of the foremost authorities on developing a systematic approach to improving schools, collecting data to move school districts forward academically and holistically.”
Gray charged Hamer with collecting information from officials within the district to get an assessment of where JPS is. “I had him [to] focus on three areas, because I knew he could dig deep into the situation,” Gray said. “These areas are where we can be the most effective from a financial standpoint and improve quickly in the arena of academics.”
The three areas of focus for Gray during this data mining opportunity were:
Areas of strength
Low hanging fruit and
Gray described the three areas as such. 1) Areas of strength…where the district is already doing well. “We will take advantage of these areas and work to showcase our strengths more,” Gray said. 2) Low hanging fruit…“These are areas where we can develop quick wins, things we can do now and garner a great return,” he said. 3) Fault lines…“These areas need immediate attention, our areas of weaknesses, where we need to be creative and make necessary changes,” Gray said.
Gray acknowledged that Hamer’s work is done. “He spent a week in the district; he probably talked to about 10-15 people at my request, gathered the information, compiled it and submitted it to me for my review,” he said. “I’m going through it now with a fine tooth comb and plan to use it.”
Hamer will not be hired by JPS and has expressed that he has no interest in being in Jackson. “Not only will he not be hired, his work in terms of collecting this information was done at no charge to me and no charge to the district,” Gray said.
Gray added that he has had initial conversations with JPS board members about the need to bring his own team of people in. “We are having those discussions about building our team; we think it is important to have folk around us that we are familiar with and in fact folk that can complete my thoughts and sentences,” he said. “We don’t have any time to waste, we must be about the business of making this district number one.”
Monica Gilmore Love, who serves as president of the board of trustees for JPS, is excited about what Gray will bring to the district. “I’m looking forward to Dr. Gray’s leadership. I was excited to cast my vote for him, because he brings energy, passion and commitment to this district. He’s very well-rounded and well spoken,” she said. “I look forward to what the new school year will bring.”