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KISD board president backs internal search for superintendent

December 23, 2018

Katy ISD board president Courtney Doyle rejects the idea her fellow trustees didn’t do an adequate search to find the candidate to replace outgoing Superintendent Lance Hindt.

Rather than hire an outside firm to conduct a national search, the KISD trustees looked “in house” for someone to lead the 80,000 student school district. They had one applicant - Acting Superintendent Ken Gregorski - who was appointed the “lone finalist” for the top schools job in a narrow 4-3 vote during a sometimes acrimonious board meeting.

While Doyle joined the majority in raising their hand for Gregorski, three of the trustees, including Rebecca Fox, the longest-serving board member, voted against naming him the finalist and instead sought the more expansive search. Doyle said she didn’t consider the “no” vote from Fox and new board members Dawn Champagne and Susan Gessoff to mean they had any against Gregorski, who has been in KISD administration for the past two years.

“They wanted the search to be different,” she said. “They know that Mr. Gregorski is the man for the job and he’ll do the job.”

Fox agreed, stressing that her opposition had nothing to do with him as an educator.

“This vote is not about Mr. Gregorski. My vote will be about the process,” Fox said.

Just before the vote was called, Fox asked for a substitution amendment. It would have postponed the vote and kept Gregorski as interim superintendent until a search was conducted that included input from Katy parents and educators.

“Both Ken Gregorski and Katy ISD deserve a process by which the best possible candidates emerge. We should all want to hear from the community,” said trustee Dawn Champagne, one of the three “no” votes. “If we allow for a broader search, the most suitable candidate would emerge.”

Trustee George Scott - a vocal Gregorski backer - accused Fox and Champagne of being “allies of anarchy and chaos” after they made social media comments about their concerns about the process to find Hindt’s replacement. He accused Champagne of fomenting a “grossly incompetent assault” on how Gregorski was hired at Katy ISD in the first place.

“Their conduct has been despicable and harmful to the school district,” Scott said. “They have proven themselves to be non-credible.”

Gessoff, who spoke very little at the meeting, took exception to what appeared to be Scott’s pointed criticism of those on the other side of the issue.

“I feel that everyone’s voice should be heard. I don’t have 45 years of experience but I did stand in a Katy ISD classroom for five years and delivered instructions,” Gessoff said. “I think that makes me qualified to have a vote. To discount other people’s experience is unkind.”

In an interview following the board meeting, Doyle addressed the issue of input from the community. She said the district did a survey of the community two years ago to ask what they wanted in their superintendent. Out of almost 90,000 surveys that were sent out, KISD received about 2,900 responses. “Less than three percent of our community told us what they wanted,” she said.

She said KISD has received accolades in several areas during Hindt’s tenure as superintendent. “And Mr. Gregorski has been a part of that team,” Doyle added.

Scott said he has “personally observed” Gregorski’s skill as a school administrator over the past two years. “Katy ISD has the people in place right now who understand the complexities of the challenges.”

The audience seemed about evenly mixed between those who wanted Gregorski as superintendent and those backing the national search option. Brook Foreman, a Katy parent, said it appeared the trustees were rushing to fill Hindt’s seat and questioned Gregorski’s ties to him.

“With the scandal going on, it seems like it’s a little shady,” Foreman said. “That might not be the best thing to do.”

Hindt will be leaving the district at the end of the year. It’s an ignominious end for a Katy native who has received high marks from KISD staff as well as parents when he took on the superintendent’s job. He announced his resignation following the public uproar after a school board meeting in March when a former classmate, Katy businessman Greg Gay, said Hindt shoved his head into a urinal more than 30 years ago while they both attended junior high school. The University of Houston later confirmed they were investigating allegations of “strong similarities” between Hindt’s doctoral dissertation at the and a paper on the same topic written by a high school principal in suburban Atlanta.

The KISD trustees strongly defended Hindt, even awarding him a a payout of about $700,000 when he steps down at the end of the year. Doyle lamented having to replace him at all.

“We did not ask to be in this position. Dr. Lance Hindt would be our superintendent if the obvious reason of his family being harassed and bullied had not taken place,” she said.

James Strickland, another Katy ISD parent, said he is all for transparency and accountability from government officials but said he believes the district needs the top leadership positions filled immediately.

“At the end of the day, we still need somebody to run this district right now,” Strickland said. “If he’s already been doing it - and he’s been doing a fine job of it - there’s no reason I can see as a parent” not to give him the job.

He said a major problem affecting the school district is the bitterly divided KISD school board.

“The board just needs to come together and iron out their differences,” Strickland said. “The community is being kind of split down the middle.”

mike.glenn@chron.com

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