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Bolgen VargasBolgen Vargas was seen as the savior.

The district’s spirit was broken back in the spring of 2011. Outgoing Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard had created chaos and ill will. There was a massive budget deficit and threats of hundreds of layoffs and program cuts.
Vargas was brought in to heal the wounds.

Astoundingly, no one raised a stink that a suburban guidance counselor was picked behind closed doors to head the third-largest district in the state. Though Vargas got the job because of his political connections, everyone agreed he’s a “good man” and a “nice guy.” Vargas seemed to be what the district needed at that moment.
As interim superintendent, he healed the wounds and redirected focus to education.

But when he got the permanent job, there were signs of trouble. Vargas couldn’t retain key people in his cabinet. He lost the support of administrators, who complained his expectations were always changing. He began to lose the support of teachers, who saw the climate in their schools and classrooms continue to deteriorate.

A good leader has to have followers.

Vargas made a series of decisions that angered his board, starting with his immediate hire of Patricia Malgieri as his right hand. (She was pro-mayoral control under former Mayor Bob Duffy.) There were other questionable moves, including the shuffling of principals, the inexplicable downfall of Northeast/Northwest, the dismantling of the Boys Academy and the special education “consultation” model.

It turned out, Vargas, who had never served as an administrator, wasn’t a great manager. His style was more autocratic than inclusive. That angered just about everyone who worked under him. The internal strife remained below the radar until Vargas filed a lawsuit against the board after they checked his power. It was clear the end of his tenure was near.

None of this should be a surprise to those who remember Vargas from his days on the school board.

Vargas had a model for his perfect superintendent: Clifford Janey. When Vargas was on the school board, he was a huge champion of the district’s former leader. Janey believed in a very strong superintendent and hands-off board. Assemblyman David Gantt got a law passed giving Janey and his successors more power. (Vargas had that law in mind when he sued his board.)

Until the bitter end of Janey’s tenure, Vargas was a Janey apologist and supporter, despite Janey’s horrible financial management skills and lack of transparency. Vargas helped orchestrate Janey’s resignation and large contract buyout. The deal was meant to allow Janey to save face, but the opposite happened. The board announced Janey’s resignation at a packed board meeting, prompting cheers from the crowd.

Vargas’ desire for Janey-like power and his dislike of scrutiny led to his quiet downfall. His internal problems stayed mostly under the radar, thanks to a school board that kept its exasperation to itself. The public never knew how bad things were behind the scenes.

The tragedy of Bolgen Vargas came to an end Tuesday at an awkward press conference, in which no one wanted to admit what was really going on. Vargas did learn one lesson from the Janey ordeal: Get out before they push you out in a much less graceful manner.

13 Responses to Why Bolgen was a Bust

  1. Volgen Bargas would have had more credibility with me if he knew how to intelligibly express himself. He does not. I can not take anyone credibly if they do not know how to express themselves to me in clear, accentless English. He was supposed to be an educator, the person leading the people teaching our children the basics of proper grammar, spelling and syntax. When he mumbled barely-intelligible statements about nonsense that had nothing whatsoever to do with the matters at hand, I knew he–and we–were doomed. People used to be taught English in this country. Clear, excellent, unaccented English. Now supposed educators–I use the term loosely–can’t even express themselves intelligibly in a formal setting, such as a press conference, media availability or presenting their findings to their superiors. If it was the moderate language barrier alone, that is tolerable. It is how he used the English he spoke that I find even MORE objectionable. It is not acceptable and again the Rochester taxpayers will be buying off another no-nothing who was never qualified for the position and can’t even mumble in an intelligible language.

    • I would think that even though English is not his native language he would correctly spell know-nothing.
      Don’t criticize a foreigner’s accent when you don’t use the language properly.
      (remember – glass houses)

      • I was NOT using the term know-nothing, such as the Know-Nothing Party of the mid-19th century. Learn context Tom, another part of an educated person.

    • Although I agree with much of what you’re saying, I am baffled by your statement “Clear, excellent, unaccented English.” What do you mean by this? What about people from Australia or England or Massachusetts, or South Carolina, etc.? What do we do about their accent? For a self-proclaimed educated person, you sound pretty ignorant to me. Which is a shame because you made some valid points that are lost because of your other ignorant remarks.

      • Oh dear Maria, since I do not have an accent in written speech (which I am a fanatic about) perhaps you could explain how I could possibly make myself any clearer? I find any thick, heavy accent from anywhere to be most disagreeable in establishing effective two-way communication. Pennsylvanians talk about “wooder” when they actually mean “water.” I don’t drink “wooder.” I drink water. I could barely ever understand anything Volgen Bargas said. Perhaps because he was born in the Dominican Republic. Regardless of his origins, he supposedly has a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania. One would imagine him to be a man of towering character and intellect. Make absolutely no mistake, he is neither. Nor were very many of his mediocre predecessors for that matter. What he said often made absolutely no sense whatsoever to anyone who wasn’t an educational paper-pusher and despite his doctorate from an Ivy League school (albeit placed toward the bottom of the League tables), he was unable to do anything whatsoever to increase the horrendously dismal attendance and/or graduation rates, both of which should be a key requirement of the C.E.O. of a school district. He had no administrative experience at all and no clue what he was doing. He was a guidance counselor in a suburban district for 20 years and was a political hack on the city school board for a term. How did that qualify him to be the C.E.O. of a major urban school district? He had no experience in supervising personnel, in writing a budget, in setting goals. It was all winging it by the seat of his trousers.
        Look at the resume of the C.E.O. of Alcoa, one of the largest advanced manufacturers in the world with almost $24 billion in equity. Klaus Kleinfeld started as a research manager, founded his own firm and was promoted to C.O.O. in January 2001, where he innovated and improved the company, and was then promoted to President and C.E.O. in less than a year. He was named C.E.O. of another company in 2005, restructured it and made it profitable. He was made President and C.O.O. of Alcoa in August 2007, right as the recession began. Rather than sitting on his hands in crisis and suing his bosses (like Bargas), Kleinfeld innovated, strategized, pushed the stock higher and was rewarded for his work with promotion to C.E.O. in less than a year. See though? He spent almost 20 years rising through the ranks. Bargas was named Superintendent b/c the Board was out of other ideas and wanted a Hispanic in charge.

  2. October 29, 2015 at 8:11 pm rochester_veteran responds:

    Even though he’s resigned, Vargas will stay on as a “consultant” and collect the remainder of his $175,000 annual salary.

    What does the future hold for Bolgen Vargas?

  3. October 30, 2015 at 7:35 am Monkeytoe responds:

    A superintendent is never going to “fix” RCSD. The problem lies with the community. It is parents and community that matters most. A great teacher in a good school may “reach” one kid out of 100 that comes from bad circumstances, but that is the exception, not the rule.

    But, with that being said, RCSD is never going to find a good Superintendent until it stops hiring based on race/ethnicity.

    Another problem with finding a good super is that in public education, failure is promoted. Because it is so difficult to fire anyone, and because the people involved generally don’t have the stomach for it, problem employees tend to be promoted up (current supervisors give good recommendations to help get rid of them). So, they get promoted from a job they were failing at to a job they are not qualified for, and once there, the cycle repeats, until they are competing for Superintendent jobs.

    And the same supers who fail at one district get hired at another. Where did Janey go? another high level, high paying job. As all the other supers do. They just go from one district to the next. There is no real accountability in public education administration.

    the suburban schools don’t do better because they have better administrators, or even better kids. It is because of the value systems the families and communities have. Both parents involved in the kids lives. Stability. Being taught to respect authority. Being disciplined when engaging in misconduct. Being taught to appreciate and value education. And, these values don’t depend on wealth – poor people can have these same values. Until these are the predominant values in the community, RCSD isn’t going to improve.

  4. If you produce a poorly designed and constructed automobile, it won’t sell. If you build a poorly constructed house, no one will buy it. If you provide a poorly designed and implemented education program,….guess what,…..kids won’t “buy” into it. Present some relevant education, some meaningful education, some interesting education, some programs that keep them focused, butts in seats and I’ll show you a successful educational product,……a program that keeps kids coming back, that graduates kids with an opportunity for POST HIGH SCHOOL SUCCESS. It is NOT that complicated. It is those who are in charge (R. C. School Board) that continuously complicate the education process for those deserving kids. Period.

  5. The voters in the city have voted for the same party to lead the RCSD for 40yrs. Never did they vote for a “Change”. They have now the schools they voted for. And what do these “leaders” on the city school board do when they have failed to lead the RCSD to success? They go to suburban school board meetings and call those residents who oppose taking in RCSD students via the urban-suburban program…. Racists.

    And how many interviews do we have to see on local TV with the ego maniac Cala, who wants the entire population of this area to know that hes gone to Africa and would “consider” the RCSD Super job if they offered it to him? Hes played this game before and he turned it down. HE has no background in Urban districts except the brief time he spent as an interim Super in the RCSD once, mostly during the summer. Does anyone besides Cala really think he can do this job successfully?

    And the difference so far with Bolgen Vargas and his predecessors of this worst school district in NYS is that his also failed predecessors, all left Rochester with a promotion to larger school district job.

    And finally when does someone on the RCSD board or in the media, demand that the head of the union, Urbanski who too has held a major leadership position in the failed RCSD for 30yrs resign and go away for the good of the “children”? What has his value add been for the district or “the children” for 30yrs? Send in the Clowns? Don’t bother they’re here.

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