1991: R-H Hires First New Superintendent in 20 Years

  • Robert McKanna had big shoes to fill when he was chosen to lead Rush-Henrietta. The search for a new superintendent began after the medical retirement of Superintendent Raymond Delaney, who served from 1971 to 1990. As expected, all eyes were on the new boss.

    “I think he’s going to be a big contrast to Dr. Delaney,” Nancy Kleintop, president of what then was the Rush-Henrietta Educators Association, representing teachers and other staff members, told the Democrat and Chronicle in 1990. “Bob’s going to be a kind of hands-on, in-district kind of leader. Dr. Delaney was an exceptional intellectual who delegated a lot of power to the rest of the administration.”

    Despite some early successes, the honeymoon was short-lived. Three years later, McKanna found himself in the midst of a heated contract dispute with teachers. At the same time, many praised him, saying he had improved the relationship between the community and school district.

    McKanna was raised in a family of educators. His mother was a high school business teacher. In a 1991 district profile, McKanna said “his first introduction to a classroom was a crib in the back of the classroom where she taught.” If that wasn’t enough, his father was a high school principal who worked in education for more than 45 years.

    In 1964, McKanna secured a job in Missouri teaching high school math. By the 1970s, he rose through the ranks to hold numerous administrative positions around Chicago. In 1979, McKanna became superintendent of Longmeadow Public Schools in Massachusetts. He served as interim leader of that state’s North Berkshire School Union district before arriving in Rush-Henrietta.

    McKanna believed in bringing business principles to education. He was a proponent of the Total Quality Management management approach that dominated headlines in the 1980s. A Democrat and Chronicle story in 1994 described him this way: “McKanna at work is organized and orderly - using flow charts, schedules, and personal notes to balance his day and his school year. He is, observers say, a tough man with a tough job who knows how to battle the flack.”

    He also was a strong supporter of the arts. Many people know the district’s Superintendent’s Choice Award was created to recognize outstanding artwork from students at each grade level. What some may not realize is the Board of Education years ago renamed the award The Robert A. McKanna Student Art Award in recognition of his strong support for the project. Donna Watts, director of Rush-Henrietta’s music and arts programs, joined the district in 1993, shortly after McKanna arrived. “Dr. McKanna was a kind and compassionate leader who was relatable,” Watts says. “He was highly visible, personable, and extremely supportive of the arts. It is a testament to his leadership that this award keeps his name alive in R-H!”

    McKanna served as superintendent until 1999, when he departed for a similar job near Chicago. Before he left, he suggested that the Board of Education consider moving ninth graders from the Senior High School to what is now the Webster Learning Center. Under his successor, Dr. Ken Graham, that proposal became a reality and the Ninth Grade Academy was in place for years.

    One aspect of McKanna’s tenure in Rush-Henrietta is undeniable - no one could question his work ethic.

    “The man has energy like you wouldn’t believe,” Board President David Pennella told the Democrat and Chronicle in 1994. “If he could bottle it, he’d probably make a fortune.”

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