At a marathon seven-hour, standing room only SCUSD board meeting on June 13, indignation continued about the resignations of some 20 school and district administrators, whom critics say were driven out by micromanaging interference and overt hostility by the board majority – Trustees Chris Stampolis, Ina Bendis, Christine Koltermann, and Michele Ryan – in an agenda of wholesale district change.
“I’m retiring early on less money because of four members of the board,” said former Briarwood Principal Anne McDermott, countering some board members’ contention that turnover is due to expected retirements and higher salaries in other districts.
The high turnout also reflected public interest in SCHS student Sami Elamad. His volley of criticism at the May 28 meeting garnered lots of media attention, as well as criticism from Ryan, who complained to the Anti-Defamation League about the young man’s remarks.
Meeting Agenda Meets Political Agenda
Before any business took place, Stampolis lit a confrontational firecracker over parliamentary procedure.
In a motion to postpone some agenda items, Trustee Andy Ratermann requested that correspondence be returned to its customary place at the meeting’s start – Board President Koltermann set it at the end. The correspondence in question included that between Ryan and the ADL, as well as a public letter by Ratermann.
“One of the principal jobs of the board is to listen to the public,” Ratermann said. “So I am loathe to move things to where they are inconvenient for the public to comment.”
Bendis disagreed. “The board meeting is a meeting…which the public is welcome to attend, and their input is valuable,” she said. “[However] our priority is decision-making on the agenda matters before us.”
Bendis then requested division of the question, which failed on a tie vote of the six trustees present. At this point, Stampolis finally arrived and Bendis asked if the agenda vote could be taken again.
“That would be revisiting the question,” Ratermann answered, “and the winning side has to make the motion…or you need a two-thirds vote.”
“Actually Mr. Ratermann’s incorrect,” shot back Stampolis. “He doesn’t know his Robert’s Rules as well as he would like the rest of us to think that he does. Clearly we need some training for all seven of us…It is always a privilege of a member of a body to request…when there has been a change to what has been presented, to allow it to be voted on, on two separate votes.”
“It’s reconsideration of the question, [but] I’m not going to argue about it,” replied Ratermann, making a motion to approve the agenda without change.
Stampolis then asked Koltermann to “make a ruling with regard to how parliamentary procedure is supposed to be implemented, so that we can do it in a professional, accurate way rather than in a way that appears to be bullying by Trustee Ratermann.”
New Staff Appointments, Mistrust of Process Remains
Three new staff were appointed Thursday. San Bernardino City School District’s Director of Equity & Targeted Student Achievement, Tanya Fisher, is the new Asst. Superintendent of Educational Services. The board also approved a $7,000 relocation stipend for Fisher.
Buchser Vice Principal Monica Stoke will become that school’s new principal, while Marcella Miranda, Associate Principal at San Jose’s Overfelt High, was appointed principal at Hughes.
Apparently Miranda wasn’t among the candidates the selection committee recommended; creating suspicions of improper board member influence. “It gives the impression you’d already chosen the principal…and interviews were just formalities,” said Hughes parent Kathy Teves.
“After the process concluded there were three top candidates,” said selection committee member Jorge Morales. “I don’t know why you are suggesting another person whose qualifications were clearly below the qualifications of the other candidates’.”
“I felt that the top three [candidates] and the person chosen were very, very close,” said Superintendent Stan Rose. However, this was his second meeting hearing parents complaining about new hiring practices, and his remarks showed both personal grace and respect for his audience.
“To the extent that I’ve contributed to mistrust and division, I’m sincerely sorry,” he said. His goal in asking board members to be present during interviews was to counter criticism that operations weren’t transparent, he explained. “My desire to create more trust seems to have created more distrust…I’m going to try to make the process as good as it can be for the people of Santa Clara – you deserve that. You’ve shown that with your passion here tonight.”
Ratermann and Trustee Jim Canova voted against the appointments, not because they took issue with the recommendations but because they objected to board member involvement in hiring, as Canova explained.
“I am very concerned about the process we’re using to select candidates,” added Ratermann. “I do not believe that in this district, with this board, [that] the board should not have any [prior] knowledge of the candidates.”
Innovate Public Schools Fails to Explain Its Answers
Innovate Public Schools (IPS) Executive Director Matt Hammer – creator of the ACE charter school network – and Superintendent in Residence Linda Murray – former San Jose Unified Superintendent – spoke Thursday night about its recent report, “Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind in Silicon Valley Schools.” IPS’ statistics show Bay Area Latino students are failing in college-readiness in general, and math in particular.
Hammer reported that Latino students achieve the highest test scores in charter and alternative schools. Noting that these are self-selected communities, Bendis asked Hammer about Latino statistics from the “best-performing neighborhood schools.”
“We didn’t sort the data that way,” replied Hammer.
“If all we see is numbers,” Bendis returned, “then [it seems like] all we have to do is change our name to ‘ACE’ and we’ll get 50 percent Latino proficient. What might help our students that we’re not doing?”
These schools “have this internal culture of learning and excellence and internal improvement,” Hammer explained, failing to provide any detail more specific than “a culture of high expectations, where every student becomes responsible for their own growth.”
“This is not news,” noted Ratermann. “It’s more than demanding excellence…I know our teachers demand excellence.” Outgoing Superintendent Bobbie Plough followed up with some specific SCUSD programs for addressing below-par student achievement, including professional development, summer and after-school classes, and specialized technology.
Assessment Coordinator Bill Conrad questioned IPS’ statistics. “You claim that Buchser …has a proficiency rate of 10 percent. When we looked at the data, for those … participating, those kids are performing at 60 percent proficiency. You reported Don Callejon at 3 percent, our data shows 24 percent proficient or advanced.”
“We’re not talking about the same thing,” replied Hammer. “We’re looking at the whole population, not who took algebra.”
“Your methodology is very circular,” responded Conrad. “It’s a non-standard technique for representing performance. You have two problems. One is participation. One is proficiency. You have to go after them differently.”
But Bendis and Stampolis dismissed Conrad’s analysis.
“I think it’s important to analyze it the way you [Hammer] analyzed it,” said Bendis. And Stampolis extended another invitation to IPS. “With the new organization here, would you be willing to come and talk about the new A-to-G* curriculum?”
* A-to-G is California’s name for the subjects in the K-12 curriculum.