School board rejects choice for new LHS baseball coach

School board rejects choice for new LHS baseball coach

'We're doing damage control' says School Committee member

LINCOLN – Following what some School Committee members described as a “mess” of a situation with the Lincoln High School baseball program, the board shot down a recommendation for a new coach in a split vote at its meeting Monday night.

John Picozzi of the school board, who said the athletic department at LHS has been in “dire need of change,” questioned the screening committee formed by LHS Principal Kevin McNamara, and the recommended appointee to replace Andrew Hallam, former coach and English teacher at the school, who was arrested and charged with embezzling from baseball team fundraisers.

“It’s not good, we have to face it. There’s a level of mistrust. So if we question something, it’s OK,” he said at the meeting, explaining he took issue with the process.

Picozzi said he had concerns about how the committee – consisting of McNamara; Kim Laliberte, assistant principal; new Athletic Director Greg O’Connor; and a parent of a student on the baseball team – was formed. He said he questioned why that particular parent was selected to be on the committee, despite the fact they had not come forward about issues within the baseball program previously.

Picozzi later identified that parent as Gordon Zanioli, after Supt. Georgia Fortunato would not provide the parent’s name to The Breeze.

After a 4-3 vote, the screening committee’s recommended appointee, identified by a source as Mark Cooke, was rejected.

Now, going forward, the School Committee will interview candidates after the superintendent interviews the top prospects.

John LaFleur, Mary Anne Roll and Julie Zito voted in favor of the appointment, and Chairwoman Kristine Donabedian, Vice Chairman Joe Goho, Picozzi and Staci Rapko-Bruckner voted against hiring the candidate.

After a request from some School Committee members, Fortunato said she would also interview the top candidates, and then school board members would have the chance to meet the prospects and interview them. She noted that come October, the school board already has plans to review the hiring process.

School Committee member Roll cautioned fellow board members, and said she believed by interviewing the baseball coach candidates, she felt it was setting a precedent for interviewing athletic coaches for Lincoln schools.

She said there were concerns not just about the baseball program for the past several years, and the athletic program, but also concerns of undermining the new athletic director and his authority.

“We’ve made an investment in that position (athletic director), and it seems to me that we ought to be willing to give the athletic director the opportunity to manage his program, including the personnel.”

Goho said he disagreed with some of Roll’s statements.

“To say that we are questioning or undermining the athletic director is a gross mischaracterization of what we are doing. We are doing our job, as members of the community, to ask questions. We are not a rubber stamp, nor should we be, considering, especially, the current state of the baseball program,” he said.

“We need to make sure that we tell the community that we’re getting the right person to fix this mess, and I think asking questions is part of that process,” he said.

Goho said perhaps O’Connor, the athletic director, did not support the appointment, and said he hadn’t seen O’Connor’s rating sheet for the candidate.

“This is not about him (O’Connor), this is about a crisis in our community, our Division I baseball program, and the state that it’s in,” Goho said.

Fortunato told board members that six people applied for the head coach position, and five candidates were interviewed. Typically, she pointed out, these interviews are conducted by the principal and athletic director, but she said she felt it was important to have a parent and assistant principal on the committee as well to hear their feedback.

Fortunato said she stood behind the committee McNamara formed, and said each person on the screening board was someone she highly respected.

Picozzi and Goho said they had concerns that the candidate’s references were not checked by Fortunato. Picozzi said when researching the candidate, he discovered the individual had “bounced around” coaching different teams, including Dean College, Bishop Feehan High School and Johnson & Wales University.

He asked Fortunato, who did not interview the candidate, “You don’t see any issues with that? Your antennas didn’t go up, there’s no concern with that?”

“I understand what you’re saying,” she told Picozzi, “but I also have faith in Greg, Kevin and Kim as well as the parent that they would do the right thing.”

Donabedian said School Committee members were trying to be more cautious and thorough with the baseball coach hire, “maybe in an unprecedented manner, because the course of events were unprecedented as well.”

Rapko-Bruckner said, “We’re doing damage control ... with this team and this program right now,” adding that she felt it was a good idea to have the School Committee meet the candidate.

“We don’t have to rush through this decision if there are members on the committee that aren’t comfortable with the recommendation or would like more information,” Donabedian said.


So let me get this straight. The school committee interviews a bunch of candidates to become the new full-time AD at probably about $70k a year. The first hiring decision he makes gets overruled by that same committee that hired him to run the athletic department. Either we're wasting $70k a year since Mr. Picozzi seems to want a say in hiring everyone or the committee has second thoughts about the new AD and want to make his life so miserable he quits.

Watch the school committee meeting on line. Mr Picozzi has his own agenda and managed to get 3 others to agree. He obviously had a horse in the race that didn't get selected. I bet you he will on the next go around. It politics at its best. The new AD is already getting second guessed. This is a joke. The kids have to suffer because some politician didn't get his way. No wonder why Lincoln can't get top prospects for coaching. I see why we lose good athletes to private schools. Btw, didn't anyone tell Mr Picozzi it's not professional to chew gum in these type of forums. What a joke!

@Lincoln Resident I think you should re-read the article. The candidate's references were not checked. It's actually Goho who is quoted as saying: “To say that we are questioning or undermining the athletic director is a gross mischaracterization of what we are doing. We are doing our job, as members of the community, to ask questions. We are not a rubber stamp, nor should we be, considering, especially, the current state of the baseball program,” he said.

“We need to make sure that we tell the community that we’re getting the right person to fix this mess, and I think asking questions is part of that process,” he said.

If you're familiar with the chaos that was last season you'll agree that in hindsight, if more questions were asked during that time the whole situation could have been avoided, sparing everyone lot of anquish. The climate of "business as usual" in Lincoln has got to stop. I say thankfully there are watchdogs like Goho and Picozzi finally willing to step up and ask some valid questions.

Lincoln HS wasted an opportunity to get a great coach in Mark Cooke, and shame on the hiring committee, AD and Superintendent, for making a circus out of hiring of a baseball coach. The decision to hire Mark was the right one, because he is an outstanding baseball coach, and even better human being. I have known Mark for almost 10 years had have coached with him for 8 years. It's a shame his nomination was rescinded for bogus reasons such as unchecked references and "bouncing around". It sounds like a bunch of amateurs with their own various agendas are trying to hire "their own" guy. You did a great job hiring the last coach- how did that turn out for you? What a shame!

Let's see if I got this straight. The high school baseball program is surrounded by scandal and the coach was arrested. The community is angry. The school committee is asked to approve a new coach. The school committee asks the person making the recommendation basic questions about the candidate, like did you interview him and did you check his references. They are told no to both questions. Some members of the school committee aren't comfortable with that so they don't vote for the candidate. And they are criticized???? Mmmmmm....who really has an agenda here?

You proved my contention that the school board needed to do a thorough review of this coaching hire. So again, my question is why do we have a full-time AD if the members of the school committee are going to micro manage every hiring choice that he recommends. Three months ago we were being told that his hiring was going to fix all the problems. And actually, the school committee hires a superintendent to manage the school department and the hiring, so the job of checks and balances is with the Super. If they don't like the choices she makes, they need to get rid of her, again, not line iteming every hiring decision she makes. And if you think this is a one shot problem, you've got your head in the sand, because if this committee finds out it can get who it wants hired as a coach, there's no telling what favors they'll start dishing out. Hope the new AD has caller ID.

vote for a person for any job knowing no references were checked???
Where does that happen??

The School Committee could have approved the recommendation subject to positive reference checks. I have to agree with Maryann Roll on this one. There have been problems ongoing with coaches in baseball and basketball. We hire a full time Athletic Director. This was always a part time job. Hopefully the School Committee members stay out of the selection process. Otherwise it becomes political

There was more information that led to the decision of “nay”. Due to Confidential reasons, we can’t disclose. I call it Good Politics, the Town hasn’t seen this Formidable Four before and it’s a good thing, 4-3.

Also, keep in mind this was an unprecedented situation.

Exactly what we do not want in this Town. We have seen enough of it in the last century. Bad politics, the Formidable Four, and a 4 to 3 split. If four members of the School Committee are having discussions out side of a meeting, you may be in violation of the Open Meetings Act.
Whenever you see a faction on any Elected Body or appointed Board you are not getting good Government and it will not result in positive accomplishments. There are seven elected members on the School Committee. I would never expect or want 7 to 0 votes, but I also don't like to continue seeing 4 to 3 votes. I don't know every member of the School Committee, but I do know most of the members. All of you are good intelligent people serving the Town. It is good we have some new members and some experienced members. There is a good demographic balance, and every member contributes from their own life experiences.
So I hope we can get off of the coaching issue and see 7 Independent thinkers, respectful of each other, voting based on their own decisions. If the 4 to 3 split continues we the taxpayers, and the mission of the School Department are the losers.

The Formidable Four was putting some fun into it. I am fully confident that majority of Taxpayers trust us to do the right thing. We can't please everyone but as long as we continue to put the good politics in it, I see no reason for everyone to get all tensed up. For many years, the Committee was controlled the opposite way and I don't recall many coming out to challenge them.

In more enlightening news, the Committee voted the Concession Stand down 5-2. Is anyone talking about that?

Additionally, let's start the conversation that the new High School most likely will not get approved for all the mistakes, miscommunications, misleading information, incompetent SMMA, and many more inadequacies by professionals that get paid the big bucks. Why isn't anyone coming out showing their dissatisfaction with that?

John Picozzi, if you had taken the opportunity to sit down with Coach Cooke yourself, you would have realized that a No vote was completely unnecessary. Coach is one of the most respected baseball people not only in Rhode Island but in the Northeast. From my own experience, Coach Cooke welcomed me into his baseball world off the words of others and treated me like a long time collleague from the first day he met me. Didn’t need to do that at all, but that’s the type of man Coach is. For you and your “Formidable Four” to vote this man down and continue to drag his name through the mud with the comments like “there was more information that led to the decision of nay” or “due to confidential reasons we can’t disclose” is pathetic. Are you kidding me? Why have a full time AD? Why not trust the committee of 4 that an athletic director with more experience and understanding of the sports world than you do? Coach was a great candidate who impressed this committee of 4, including an unbiased parent (I don’t understand the comment about the selection of the parent had never complained before). You want to have a parent on the committee that doesn’t complain and may have an unbiased opinion. If you were so concerned about Coach Cooke as a candidate, why didn’t you postpone the vote and interview him yourself? Were you hurt that a candidate of your choice didn’t get the top nod? Certainly sounds that way. Why don’t you take that professionalism you are spewing on here and make a wrong situation right by holding a forum with your 6 other committee members and talk to Coach yourself, that’s if he even wants to bother with you people anymore.
To address your bouncing around comments......he went from high school to college coach (one would say that’s a promotion), then the first college the head coach resigned (so the support staff typically doesn’t stick together), goes to a second college and realizes he misses being a high school head coach. Not bouncing around. Wanted to get back to his roots. Shame on him for wanting that and shame on you for continuing to make Lincoln look pathetic.

Mr. Flynn you make some great points. Was the Open Meetings Act violated? We need a committee that will work together, personal agendas need to be put aside for the sake of our community. The politics as usual is getting old. Some of the School Committee ran and said change was needed. Voters agreed (I agreed and voted) now I have my doubts of what there actual intentions are!!
By the way the Formidable Four comment does not look good if you are an outsider. Basically telling the community we have a group of four and will win any vote we want.

Do any of the authors of these comments actually know what went on last baseball season? It was an abomination. I see the recent actions of the school committee as making certain they choose the best possible candidate to restore the dignity of our kids. Anyone lucky enough to know the new school committee members are well aware they only want to do what's right for the athletes. We've gotten away from the real issues by attacking the messengers and that never solves anything. Ever wonder why people don't step up to run for office; this is why. So let's stop the nonsense of cutting down those who serve our community. Start from the beginning and get back to the proper vetting of the best possible individual to lead our kids. Because that's what's important.

Sounds like Karma and some others world prefer the old way of the school committee doing business by simply nodding heads in agreement and wearing blinders. That's where the real agenda is here in all of this. That's the same way of doing business that contributed to another black eye for athletics and the school department. The reality is that most people are thankful for elected officials who are paying attention and asking questions and are more involved.

I have no issues with people being upset with me. However, it was a 4-3 vote and the other 3 that voted no are very intelligent people who have independent minds and are independent thinkers. They don’t need me in their ears to base decisions. I’m doing exactly what I said I was going to when I was campaigning. I’m having the difficult conversations, making the difficult decisions, and not caving under pressure. This is what I wanted, this is what I said I was going to do, and that’s what I’m doing. I didn’t get in this to make friends and certainly didn’t get into the game to be in a clique. My Formidable comment looks great and I will stand by it, although it was an attempt to lighten up the mood which I did for most. Some people just want to cause drama and make it appear like they know what they are talking about to the outsiders.

4 highly qualified people, who love Lincoln, have a passion do right by children, and who can make prudent decisions. All of our votes haven’t been 4-3 and people would know that if they followed our meetings from January. Some people just want to cease the moment. If anyone has their doubts about who they voted for in November, in regard to us who echoed change, is completely not on our side and has a hidden agenda. The “change guys” have done so much good in a short period of time that the comments against our good intentions are from a tandem on the other side.

And for the person who knows Cooke personally, I responded to his email and advised him that it was nothing personal. His appointment was voted down, he didn’t get the job, he wasn’t the right fit for the job, I didn’t believe he would resonate well with our kids and program. I did not lead this crusade but made my thoughts and feelings known which I am entitled to as a School Committee Member. If I wasn’t, there would be no appointments. Furthermore, all of your comments are subjective and biased causing an emotional response. With all the drama and public outcry that has caused within the last week, I am now more than confident the correct decision was made for our children and community as a whole. By certain people’s actions and behavior, it would have been a Circus if the vote went the other way.

Furthermore, this is nothing more than an attempt to grab some Public support against me; spewing hate and misinformation and doing it all under fake usernames. John Flynn was the only one who came forward to weigh in as John Flynn.

A community member brought these comments to my attention late this week, along with other supporters. I have to say throughout this entire experience the one thing that is missing in all of this going back and forth, what's best for the student athletes?

I was honored when Mr. McNamera called and told me I was the "one who could change this program for the community and make things right for the student athletes and their families." We both agreed, that the Lincoln community needs better for their baseball program and more importantly for their school, which was the one of the 2 reasons why I wanted to leave my current position with Johnson & Wales University. The other reason is my family life and allowing me to be home more and less travel commitments than college coaching.

Leaving Bishop Feehan 4 years ago for college coaching was always the path of being a good and successful HS coach, but the volunteer position at Dean College did not condone a good family life when the amount of hours away from them doesn't justify the lack of a paid position. Which over the last 2 years has led me to Johnson & Wales University, a quality school closer to home with a top assistant's position that pays me accordingly.

Like I said previously I would like thank Mr. McNamera and the interview committee for supporting me and more importantly believing my strategic plan for bringing a quality HS baseball program for the next 5-20 years. I truly believe when speaking with them, they have the best intentions for their student athletes and their school when discussing the same goals and I wish them the best of luck finding their candidate.

Turning the page on this chapter in my life, I am supported by the AD and Head Coach at Johnson & Wales in returning to the baseball program with open arms, which I am grateful and thankful. I hope the school committee and school's administration can find the best candidate for this school and both sides will come together to put the student athletes at the forefront of this discussion, after all at the end of the day, this is for them and their families!