York Catholic trustees have been given a second chance to hire a director of education that community members approve of, parents and teachers say following the exit of Robert Hofstatter after just one turbulent month on the job.
After the announcement of his appointment in February, the trustees were criticized for choosing a director who had more than 20 years of experience in the banking world but just three years of teaching as the head of computer science and engineering robotics at a private school.
Community members also questioned why a racialized candidate with more experience in education was not chosen to lead the diverse board.
Kearie Daniel, a parent of two children, said the board has been given an opportunity to “dismantle the anti-Black racism in their classrooms that they claim has been a priority, and they claim they want to do.”
As a founding member of Parents of Black Children, an advocacy group fighting racism at school boards in York Region and across the province, she said she has worked with the board and trustees for three years to help them examine policies.
While the board has listened to stories about the pain caused by anti-Black racism, “they have had a problem in addressing it,” she said.
“This is their chance to hire someone who is able to do that.”
In an email to a constituent obtained by the Star, York Catholic trustee Elizabeth Crowe said the selection of the director of education is done in private by secret ballot.
“This is to protect the confidentiality of all the candidates and the process. There is no record of the vote,” Crowe said, adding she couldn’t comment on the race, sex or qualifications of candidates who apply to the position because they are protected by confidentiality.
“In the end the board can only select from the pool of candidates that apply for the position.”
In a tweet posted Thursday, Daniel wrote, “There have been four directors in as many years at this board. This is a crisis of leadership.”
After Patricia Preston retired in late 2017, Diane Murgaski filled the role until Ab Falconi took over in April 2018. He served until Aug. 31, 2020 and his salary was $235,200, according the 2019 Sunshine List.
Following his departure, Mary Battista stepped in as interim director in September 2020. She announced her retirement in February, then Hofstatter was appointed.
Education insiders say they cannot remember a director of education of an Ontario school board leaving the position after just one month.
The Star attempted to contact Hofstatter to speak about his short tenure at the board, but he did not wish to comment.
Hofstatter was the first to benefit from a change to the Education Act, which removed the requirement that directors of education be supervisory officers that are qualified as teachers. The move was intended to broaden the pool of candidates and boost diversity.
In his last week as director, he sent an email to parents of all 54,600 students incorrectly suggesting the province would issue a “four-week shutdown of schools across Ontario starting Tuesday, April 6” as part of a broader lockdown. He then issued another letter the next day saying the board “apologizes for any confusion with regards to potential school closures.”
Education Minister Stephen Lecce told the Star in an interview Friday that “students in York Region deserve stability and I think the school board will need to work expeditiously to deliver a strong, competent leader who can deliver quality public education for those students.”
He said the hiring decision was “made by the school board, by the trustees, and obviously they are going to have to now move quickly to identify a suitable candidate with the right experience to lead this board forward.”
Tony Pontes, executive director of the Council of Ontario Directors or Education and a former long-serving director of the Peel public board, echoed Lecce’s statements.
He said the board “needs stability as soon as possible,” but appointing an experienced, interim director would be best because “I wouldn’t think that it’s wise for them to rush — you can’t find a good director in a couple of weeks.”
Pontes said he is not aware of the circumstances surrounding Hofstatter’s departure. However, said directors should have experience as a principal and superintendent.
“I believe, like all directors in the province, that those are the necessary qualifications for success,” he said. “It might be a sign that the modified qualifications aren’t in line with success — it may be too soon to draw that conclusion, but it does reinforce the concern that was expressed to the minister about the qualifications change for directors.”
During Hofstatter’s first week as director, he attended a virtual workshop on equity led by Vidya Shah and her colleague Mike Saver in which he made comments so upsetting that the two cancelled all upcoming trainings.