TRAVERSE CITY — A familiar name and face is one of the five candidates selected as a semifinalist for the role as Traverse City Area Public Schools superintendent.
Jame McCall, who serves as the associate superintendent of student services for TCAPS, is back in the running for the district’s top administrator after being a semifinalist in the board of education’s superintendent search last May. McCall was not chosen as a finalist after her interview.
Board trustees, last year, selected only Ann Cardon for a fit-to-district interview, making her the presumptive choice.
Cardon’s tenure was shortlived, however. Disagreements with some of the board members and others on the district’s executive team led to a separation agreement — with a $180,000 payout — after just 78 days.
McCall has been at the target of criticism in the wake of Cardon’s departure, with some claiming she is partly responsible for Cardon leaving. McCall has been subject to shouts of “Better not be McCall” from the audience during trustees’ discussions about the superintendent search and remarks against her during the public comment section.
McCall said her passion for TCAPS helps her withstand the public outcry against her, adding she has done so against her fair share criticism in her 30 years of public education. McCall is looking forward to working more closely with the community — if she gets the position — and called TCAPS “a gem.”
“I love this district, and I love the people I work with,” McCall said. “We have always had our challenges, even though they’ve been different. While there may be criticisms, if a person were to stand up, there’s typically a story that goes behind that — most of the time, I know that story.”
McCall admitted there is “some hurt that hasn’t been healed” and anger in the community, but she counts it as an opportunity.
“Should we all be able to move in the same direction, we could move mountains,” she said.
Deyar Jamil, a former candidate for the TCAPS Board of Education, has been a vocal critic of the board and McCall’s possible involvement in the events leading to Cardon’s resignation. Jamil, who has never met McCall, is worried McCall has been the board’s choice before the search began.
She asked that the process is both objective and fair.
“My concern is about what these board members might be hiding from the public,” Jamil said, citing a “suspicious contract” McCall signed just before an Oct. 7 closed session where complaints were brought against Cardon by Board President Sue Kelly. “That leads me to question their motives.”
Although McCall is gaining the most attention locally, there are four other candidates.
The two out-of-state candidates are Rosalie Daca, the chief academic officer at Racine Unified School District in Wisconsin, and Mark Daniel, the superintendent for McLean County Unit District 5 in Illinois. In-state candidates, including McCall, are Dina Rocheleau, an assistant superintendent at Ferndale Public Schools, and John VanWagoner, the superintendent at Alpena Public Schools.
Rocheleau is aware of the turmoil in the district, but she is confident she can help bridge the gap between the board and the public. She said she was “the heartbeat” of a district when it went through its own troubles, giving her experience in handling difficult situations.
“I think TCAPS is looking for someone who knows how to listen with respect, has a lot of composure and really understands all about those emotional platforms that support learning,” Rocheleau said. “I feel like some of the strengths I have can support that.”
VanWagoner is just 2.5 hours to the east. He said he is excited about a transition to a larger district, but added he’d be happy to stay in Alpena if it doesn’t work out.
“We’ll learn about all the opportunities Traverse City has to offer and ways to collaborate with each other,” he said. “We’re going to go through an interview and see if I’m a fit for the board. They’ll make that decision.”
Neither Daca nor Daniel returned requests for comment.
Virtual interviews of all five candidates are scheduled for April 25.