FAIRVIEW ― The superintendent of the Fairview School District is under scrutiny after 14 years on the job.
Erik Kincade, who has led the 1,876-student district since 2009, was the subject of a closed-door meeting that the nine-member Fairview School Board convened for about two hours and 30 minutes on Monday night.
The board met in an executive session "for the purpose of a personnel matter involving the superintendent," according to a legal advertisement in Sunday's Erie Times-News and on GoErie.com. The meeting was at Fairview High School and lasted from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
School Board President Jim Lyons said he had no comment after the meeting, and the other school directors immediately walked to their cars in the parking lot after the meeting without commenting.
The school district's solicitor, George Joseph, also attended the meeting and said afterward that he could not comment. Joseph said he did not expect the School Board to hold another executive session on the personnel matter.
Joseph was asked if he expected the board to vote on the matter at a public meeting.
"I am not prepared to comment on that," he said.
Times-News objected to making session closed
Executive sessions are closed to the public under Pennsylvania Sunshine Act as long as the stated topics of discussion pertain to certain issues, such as legal and personnel matters. School directors and other public officials cannot vote during executive sessions, meaning that the Fairview School Board must vote at a public meeting on any action concerning Kincade. The board's next regularly scheduled monthly meeting is on Oct. 23, though the board could call a special voting meeting before then.
The Erie Times-News objected to the executive session on Monday night. A reporter told the board members that the newspaper believed the meeting should be open because the discussion concerned the school district's top official.
Joseph noted the objection. The board kept the meeting closed and the reporter left the conference room. Joseph confirmed to the Times-News that Kincade had not asked that the meeting be open, as the Sunshine Act would have allowed him to do because he was the subject of discussion.
Joseph said Kincade attended about the first 10 minutes of the meeting "at the board's invitation" and left. Kincade could not be reached for comment as he left the building. He did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
After the Times-News reporter left the conference room, the board president, Lyons, and its vice president, Eric Hayes, asked the reporter to leave the high school due to district policy concerning security. The reporter unsuccessfully argued that he should be allowed to remain in the public building as long as the School Board was also in the building.
The other Fairview school directors are Kelly Bryant, Catherine Fox, Pam Liccardi, David Mahoney, Mark McManus, Fran New and Lori Sobin.
Kincade working under a five-year contract extension
Kincade, 50, makes $178,967 as superintendent of the Fairview School District, according to state data. The Fairview School District is one of the most affluent public school districts in the region and one of 13 public school districts in Erie County. After the Fairview School Board first appointed Kincade in June 2009, the board extended his contract every five years, most recently in July 2019. That deal extended Kincade's contract from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2025.
Kincade, a Fairview resident, has been at the Fairview School District since July 2006. He was the district's director of curriculum development, instruction and assessment for three years before the School Board appointed him to succeed Superintendent Larry Kessler, who retired in 2009 at 56. Kincade's first five-year term as superintendent started on Sept. 24, 2009.
Kincade started his career in education as an English teacher at Bradford Area High School. He was the middle and high school principal for the Oswayo Valley School District in Potter County before he took the curriculum job at the Fairview School District. Kincade earned a doctorate in organizational learning and leadership from Gannon University in 2013.
Fairview School District grows on Kincade's watch
KIncade's tenure has been one of expansion at the Fairview School District, whose enrollment has grown by hundreds of students over the past decade and a half. Its enrollment was 1,619 when Kincade started as superintendent in 2009 and hit 1,810 in 2019, when he last had his contract renewed, according to state enrollment data. The district has added more than 60 students since then.
The higher enrollment led the Fairview School District to undergo a building boom. In August, the district completed a $45.1 million renovation project to its 50-year-old high school, which got 42 additional classrooms in the 90,000-square-foot expansion.
A year earlier, the district completed a $4.7 million, 10,000-square-foot addition to Fairview Elementary School. That expansion created nine new classrooms. The district also has a middle school.
The Fairview School District has also performed well academically with Kincade as superintendent. Its high school students, for example, performed well above the state averages on standardized test scores in language arts, math and science in 2021-22, according to the most recent state testing data. The test results showed Fairview High School students met statewide goals in all the testing categories.
Kincade argued for pandemic safeguards
Kincade also navigated the school district through the pandemic. With some parents pushing for a return to in-person classes, Kincade advocated for remote learning, hybrid learning and a return to in-person learning once the COVID-19 outbreak subsided.
The decisions were often criticized.
By early 2021, as Fairview High School students returned to school part-time, parents had posted yard signs reading "Remote learning is Failing Fairview" and lobbied on social media for schools to fully reopen. Other parents posted signs proclaiming the district's 2020-21 theme of "Stronger Together" and on social media urged neighbors not to be "a jerk," or worse, and to support the school administration.
Kincade in December 2020 urged civility during the pandemic as school officials evaluated health data and decided when and whether to return to in-person learning.
"Please know that we do this job because we love children," Kincade wrote in an opinion piece published in the Erie Times-News and GoErie.com on Dec. 20, 2020. "I do not know a single teacher, principal or superintendent who cannot wait to have all of the students back at full capacity — where they belong. Hopefully that time will come sooner than later.
"Everyone has an opinion on what's best for schools, and as taxpayers and district residents, you deserve that opinion. And, while it is perfectly OK to disagree with your school's decision; it is not OK to be disagreeable."
Book bans another issue for Kincade
In December 2022, Kincade got caught up in another nationwide issue — book bans related to gender issues.
The Fairview School District at the time was the only Erie-area school district on the PEN America list of Pennsylvania school districts that have banned books.
PEN America, a writers' group that advocates for free expression, said the district removed "Gender Queer: A Memoir" from the Fairview High School library but made it available to students through school counselors and the school nurse. The graphic memoir by Maia Kobabe is the book most banned from schools, according to PEN America, which found that the book has been banned or restricted in 41 school districts nationwide.
The book was removed from the Fairview High School library not because of its content but because of graphic images, Kincade said in a social media response to a community member.
"I believe that our community feels that access to a wide variety of literature is important," Kincade told the Erie Times-News about the removal of the book. "As such, tour libraries (stock) books with recommendations from The American Library Association and the Junior Library Guild. It is important that we provide our young readers with books on a variety of topics, from fiction to nonfiction, classics to modern pieces, and even books that some may view as controversial."
Kincade focused on leadership in a children's book
Kincade is an author himself.
In 2018 he wrote and published a children's book, "Earn Your Stripes," about leadership. An artist illustrated it.
The book featured 10 tigers — the Fairview School District's mascot is a tiger, and the district's slogan at the time was "earn your stripes." The 10 tigers in the book include the female Sam, the leader, and Edgar, who is lazy, selfish and mean. Some of the eight other tigers follow Sam's example in the story. Others follow Edgar's.
"The story reflects people who are influenced by the person at the top, who rise to the top, but it also reflects people who can be influenced by that person at the bottom and do the absolute minimum to get by," Kincade told the Erie Times-News in an interview about the book in November 2018. "Sam, as the leader, her goal is to get as many tigers to the top as she can. She encourages them, and leads by example."
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Fairview schools superintendent under review for 'personnel matter'