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West Jefferson Hills: superintendent's fate to be determined

| Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010

Thomas Jefferson High School Principal Timothy Haselhoff was surprised when a list of hires the West Jefferson Hills school board was about to approve on Aug. 18 did not include a long-term substitute he thought would get a full-time English/reading position.

Haselhoff was so certain that Denise Breisinger would get the job that he already had placed her name on a mentor list for the 2009-10 school year. He said Superintendent Terry Kinavey had told a hiring committee earlier that Breisinger would get the job.

"I would say, until the board hires, it's an assumption," Haselhoff said.

Haselhoff took the stand Monday during the fifth day of a termination hearing for Kinavey, who is suspended without pay. At issue is whether Kinavey violated district hiring procedures by removing Breisinger's name from a finalized hiring sheet presented to the school board Aug. 18.

Breisinger later got a job teaching English at the high school.

Board members will determine whether Kinavey should be fired.

The board accuses Kinavey of violating the Pennsylvania Public School Code in four areas: incompetency, intemperance, neglect of duty and immorality. The next hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Feb. 17 in the Thomas Jefferson High School cafeteria, 310 Old Clairton Road, Jefferson Hills.

Haselhoff's testimony followed nearly 16 hours of statements provided by Suzan Petersen, assistant to the superintendent, and Hamsini Rajgopal, director of human resources, during the last three weeks.

Having been principal since 2008, Haselhoff, who was involved in the first and second round of interviews for the English/reading position, knew Breisinger's work because she had substituted at the high school.

Although Kinavey questioned the "rigor" of Breisinger's lesson plan during her second-round interview, Haselhoff testified that he felt she "would do well in that position." Six candidates applied for the job. Two were interviewed in the second round. Of those two, Haselhoff said, he would have been happy to hire either.

Five administrators conducted the second-round interviews. That group could not reach a consensus.

If the decision had been left to Haselhoff, he said he probably would have recommended Breisinger.

"The only advantage that I had was watching Mrs. Breisinger perform at the high school, so I probably would have gone with Mrs. Breisinger," Haselhoff said. "Based on my experience working with her, I knew that she would be able to perform the job satisfactorily."

Previous witnesses testified that Kinavey had her doubts concerning Breisinger.

As a result, Kinavey removed Breisinger's name from the hiring sheet for the English/reading position, officials have said.

Petersen testified last week of the pressure district officials were under to hire Breisinger. Knowing this, Petersen said she urged Kinavey to consider every possible outcome before making a decision.

"She acknowledged my concerns, but was committed to her views," Petersen said, saying Kinavey's stance was that Breisinger "was not a strong candidate." Petersen said she encouraged Kinavey to discuss the matter with the board.

Petersen said Kinavey told her that she talked to then-board President Marianne Neel and that there was "no issue."

Petersen also said she approached Kinavey at a football game and brought up concerns that Kinavey "was going to be fired."

"She didn't care because she did what's right for the kids. I said, 'I hope you mean that,' " Petersen said.

Under pressure, Petersen said she was accused of wrongdoing by members of the community and the school board. During an executive session, she was questioned if she had "caused a fight" or been "discourteous" to Breisinger during the interview process.

"My answer to that was that I had not done that," Petersen said.

Kinavey's attorney, Ernest DeHaas, questioned Petersen about any interaction she might have had with members of the board between Aug. 18 and Breisinger's hire in September.

The only board member she had contact with regarding the issue, she said, was Vice President Shauna D'Alessandro.

Breisinger was the only candidate interviewed for the high school English teaching position.

Under questioning by DeHaas, Petersen said that Neel and D'Alessandro, with direction from Solicitor Ira Weiss, had instructed district administrators to bypass policy and not conduct first-round interviews for that job.

District policy dictates that two rounds of interviews must take place with at least two candidates interviewing in the second round.

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