A small world after all | December 15, 2006 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 15, 2006

A small world after all

Though stationed in Afghanistan, middle-school teacher weighs in via Web on district woes

by Alexandria Rocha

The Palo Alto school district's leadership troubles have reached half-way around the world.

About two weeks ago, a Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School teacher used the power of the Internet to weigh in on the issues -- from Afghanistan.

U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Beth Stein is serving a one-year tour as an intelligence analyst for Combined Forces Command Afghanistan in Kabul. The Navy reservist will return to teaching physical education after her tour.

In the midst of her assignment, Stein has followed the Palo Alto school district's turmoil via the Web.

A few months ago, district Superintendent Mary Frances Callan and her three-member senior cabinet were accused of preferential treatment. The school board has launched an investigation into the allegations, and Callan and one member of her senior cabinet, business manager Jerry Matranga, have since announced their retirements at the end of the school year.

Stein was compelled to share her thoughts.

In her at-times harsh posting on the Palo Alto Weekly's online community forum, Town Square, Stein said she feels safer in Afghanistan than she would at the school district, "especially since I am putting my name at the bottom of this page," she wrote.

"I am glad that some of what has happened over the last few years (and now months) is being looked at from the perspective of restoring trust to an organization that can once again become a happy place to work," Stein continued. "I know the school board will do the right things. (This) is where, ultimately, my trust lies."

Stein is one of hundreds of people who have posted comments regarding the district's recent issues on the Weekly's Web site, www.PaloAltoOnline.com. But she is by far the farthest away.

In a separate e-mail to the Weekly, Stein said it will be difficult to "develop the trust" necessary to foster a free flow of ideas.

"I am interested in a healing process to begin for our teachers, classified staff, support personnel, and administrators," she said. "The only way we can do this is by respecting one another and valuing all of our assets, including our children."

After joining the Army in 1982 and being stationed in San Francisco's Presidio for four years, Stein joined the Palo Alto school district in 1986 as an elementary physical-education specialist.

She moved to JLS Middle School a while later but was called up after Sept. 11, 2001 to serve in Washington, D.C.

"Until the global war on terrorism changes, I can be called for up to five years," she said.

Stein returned to JLS and was involuntarily recalled to active duty a second time for the tour she is currently serving. Stein said she works in an operations center, where "we stand watch 24/7/365," she wrote.

At Camp Eggers in Kabul, she is part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

She said her students write from time to time.

"Reading e-mails is a nice break from my day. Saying goodbye to the kids is hard, but they are resilient and supportive of my service," she said. "By the time I get back, I will be very happy to work my usual nine hours a day and I won't mind the commute at all.

"The kids really add the fun and humor to my job, and I miss that the most over here," she added.

In June, Stein delivered backpacks full of school supplies to Afghan children of the New Approach School-Shernow Center, after a fire nearly destroyed all the children's belongings.

Staff Writer Alexandria Rocha can be e-mailed at arocha@paweekly.com.


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