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VOL. 127 | NO. 53 | Friday, March 16, 2012

Resignation Signals Change for Reform

By Bill Dries

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Irving Hamer made at least two, possibly three comments about a co-worker’s breasts last month at a private party.

And the deputy superintendent of the Memphis City Schools system appeared to be intoxicated, according to his boss, Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash. Hamer’s apology made matters worse.

And the outside report on the incident recommended Hamer seek help through an employee assistance program.

The result of the incident is the exit of Cash’s top supervisor in charge of carrying out the schools reform agenda Cash has made the centerpiece of his nearly four-year tenure in Memphis.

Hamer was arguably Cash’s most trusted lieutenant, having worked together in the upper ranks of the Miami-Dade County school system in Florida before Cash was tapped for the superintendent’s job in Memphis.

Cash frequently has said he expects controversy because of the reform measures he is advocating. And in nearly four years, he hasn’t hesitated to explain those reforms and the ideas behind them in detail to just about any audience that will listen.

When he did, Hamer would frequently follow up with the details of how Cash’s specific ideas for the classroom and teacher evaluations as well as accountability would work on a system-wide basis.

And it was Hamer who attracted his own brand of controversy as point man in issuing the new marching orders to teachers.

Hamer’s departure, with his resignation effective April 30, is the latest indication that the reforms Cash has advocated have to coexist with other changes including schools consolidation that are certain to alter at least the timetable of Cash’s carefully crafted agenda.

A report to the school system from Glankler Brown PLLC attorney Andre B. Mathis says Cash based his judgment about Hamer’s intoxication on Hamer falling to the floor once during the party at Cash’s house. Hamer also attempted to play music while Cash was speaking and gave a speech that was “nearly incoherent.”

Most of the others at the party who were interviewed by Mathis in the outside probe commissioned by the school system agreed that he appeared to be intoxicated.

The remarks he made about a coworker whom he had little contact with at work and none personally, however, were clearly heard by everyone in the room. And Cash immediately scolded Hamer by his own account and the account of the woman Hamer insulted.

“I appreciate you speaking up immediately telling Dr. Hamer that you would put him out of your house if he didn’t straighten up,” the woman wrote Cash in a Feb. 21 letter in which she made a formal complaint about Hamer’s conduct.

The letter and other documents are included in the March 7 report from Mathis.

Hamer’s resignation apparently became a done deal when he offended the woman even more with an e-mailed apology that she felt insinuated that there was some kind of personal relationship. Cash had ordered Hamer to apologize to her in person as well as everyone else at the party, which included most if not all of the top tier of supervisors in the school system.

“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,” Hamer wrote in his email, which was copied to other supervisors at the party.

She attached a copy to the formal complaint.

Hamer also said in the email that he could not blame his behavior on the two “small” drinks he had that evening.

He also refused to cooperate in the investigation by Mathis, who was unable to schedule an interview with Hamer before and after Hamer hired an attorney.

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