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Former school trustees should refrain from comment

Original post made by Anne Avis, Old Palo Alto, on Oct 11, 2006

Former school board members should know better than to take sides, much less comment on, school personnel issues. No member of the public is privy to the facts, to any ongoing discussions, grievances or performance evaluations because all personnel issues are discussed, appropriately, in closed sessions.

To venture an opinion, especially a strongly worded scolding based on personal assumptions and incomplete information, is condescending at best and damaging at worst.

Our elected school board is responsible for giving our superintendent guidance so that she can effectively lead our district and, ultimately, holding her accountable for her performance. Leak or no leak, it appears that the superintendent has learned that enough principals and other managers are unhappy that active listening and adjustments are needed.

Let's encourage our school board to focus its leadership on rebuilding constructive communications and trust among its most valued employees.

[Originally published in 10/8/2006 Palo Alto Weekly.]

Link to letter written by former school trustees: Web Link

Comments (15)

Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 11, 2006 at 10:59 pm

Not only that, but Kroyman, Tuomy, Barton failed to recognize one important fact - they boo hood for Callan and Cook for being overworked by the Board -But it was by Staff and Superintendent recommendation in March/April that entire MI debacle was recommended for feasiblity study in the first place. They spent hundreds of hours this summer alone just working on the GRANT application. They had two employees travel to China for MI this summer, they've diverted top resources (Cohn Vargas, Garrison, Rollins, Masuda) to this project. And when the board asked them point blank in working session of 8/29 which of their many high priority projects are lower priority, and could be delayed or removed, they refused to bite.

Its real darn hard to feel sorry for them for being overworked - when they're all out their chasing their big R&D dream in hopes of feathering their international acclaim.

They've had two to three prime opportunities on this subject alone to take a leadership position, to focus this district back on top priority issues, and they've both failed to to do that.

Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2006 at 1:12 pm

Exactly. There is simply not sufficient PUBLIC oversight of the _results_ of actions and agendas taken by senior executives in this district.

We have seen the same kind of acquiescence on our (and other) city councils. It's a major public problem that causes lost opportunity, major inefficiency, lack of transparency, and finally, no accountability.

Barton, Toumy, and Kroymann were all very instrumental in choosing Callan; why wouldn't they defend her? Has any school board member, in recent memory, been harshly critical of Callan, or any other supervisor? It just doesn't happen.

It doesn't happen because as soon as one gets elected to the board, usually ignorant of the deep details of management, the senior executive team begins to blend in the everyday reality to new board members. Thus, board members beging to see the operation from one perspective only, that of executive management.

Most board members have FAR more contact with senior management than they do teachers and administrators. Thus, the relationships, and sympathies, often get biased in the direction of senior executives. We've seen this over and over again.

The same thing happens to new city council members.

What makes me curious is how certain board members come in, and not long after they come aboard seem to forget the things they ran on. One or two current PAUSD board members come to mind.

So far, the one moment of courage I've seen on the board has come from Gail Price - everyone else seems to be edging toward the safety of "arbitration", and hoping that will help save them from difficult decisions. Thus, the coziness of management/board relations can remain.

The latter statement may be jumping to conclusions. I would like to be shown to be wrong.
Time will tell.

Posted by waiting for the light
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 12, 2006 at 1:46 pm

I agree about Gail Price. When she stated for the record at last Tuesday's meeting that the administration issue was causing a lot of communication and concern within the community, that was the ONLY moment at the Tuesday Board meeting when this looming issue was even acknowledged. Maybe it's being addressed in closed session, but I was amazed that her comment was met with a long, awkward silence, and then the Board went on to other matters. I had great hope for the new Board, and hope they have the courage of their convictions when it comes to this issue. If the current administration can avoid accountability, I can't even begin to imagine the remifications for the many, many people who are not supporting her publicly at the moment.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2006 at 4:03 pm

You're right about Gail Price. If you look at minutes from the board meetings when Barton and Kroymann were still serving, you'll see that she is frequently the one dissenting voice. For example, if you look at the board packet of 10/11/05, and scroll down to the minutes on page 16 of the document, you'll see that Price dissented in appointing Cook as Associate Superintendent.

Web Link

Posted by Another Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Oct 12, 2006 at 4:22 pm

Gail has *always* rocked. She's been the lone voice of sanity for years. I'm not sure how she does it, but we've been lucky to have had her represent us.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2006 at 6:10 pm

Yes, Gail rocks. So why has she never been president in her two terms? And why has Mandy been president twice?

Posted by Phil
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2006 at 9:02 pm

Barton and the others are trying to make themselves not look bad retroactively. They knew that the PAUSD administration was dysfunctional but looked the other way not to rock the boat. That way they could remain power players in the Palo Alto civic sandbox.

Posted by Wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 12, 2006 at 11:12 pm


"What makes me curious is how certain board members come in, and not long after they come aboard seem to forget the things they ran on. One or two current PAUSD board members come to mind."

It looks like you have no problem throwing innuendos around. Do you happen to have specifics too, or it is just to make you feel important?

Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2006 at 1:11 am

Wolf, I'm no more important than you. Perhaps I'm just a bit more interested in this issue than you? :)

If you follow the trajectory of certain board members, and what they originally ran on, it's apparent that at least one has reversed direction (the two newer members have not had time to be examined in this way).

Wolf, what is your relationship to the district - parent, teacher, administrator, support staff, program director, senior executive?

I'm interested in your opinion about whether or not you think the recent uprising by administrators is a sign of poor leadership, and whether or not you think this district should spend hard earned tax dollars to hire mediators, arbitrators and consultants to fix a problem of poor leadership, and at the same time, end up keeping the leader.

I'm interested in your opinion.

Posted by waiting for the light
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 13, 2006 at 9:29 am

Wolf et al. -- What is up with the attacks on people who take the time to express their concerns and opinions about this matter. If you have not had the misfortune to suffer under the current system, or the frustration of talking to Board members only to have them ignore your input, that's great for you. But it doesn't mean that other people who have kept a close eye on Palo alto educational issues and/or have been directly affected by the problems that are now coming to light (a) do not have a life or (b) think they are more important than everyone else. Believe me, if my kids could have gotten a solid education in a safe environment at their school and I had seen from Ms. Callan a modicum of cooperation or respect, I'd not be speaking up today. But the disrespectful tone of a few recent e-mails really bothers me. The entire citizenry of Palo Alto does not need to hear the details of individuals' encounters with Ms. Callan; the Board already has the facts. Mucking around debating the merits of people's perspectives in specific situations would only obscure the issue at hand: in the aggregate, do all of these situations that have arisen between Ms. Callan and parents, teachers and administrators merit a good, hard look and some hard decisions by the Board? I think they do.

Posted by Wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 13, 2006 at 2:41 pm


If I read you correctly, you absolve the two new board members. I also noticed earlier that you are rather happy with Gail Price. Which leaves only two board members: Mandy Lowell and Camille Townsend. I happen to think rather highly of both, so I would appreciate clarification about what position(s) they reversed directions compared to what they ran on. Otherwise it amounts to throwing mud via innuendos.

To the unenlightened one (aka "waiting for the light"):

Criticizing innuendos does not amount to "attacks on people who take the time to express their concerns and opinions." If one expresses one's opinion in a public forum, one should be ready to support it rather than expect us to trust his (or her) words. Especially since most of us here seem rather happy to hide behind aliases.

Back to RWE:

Despite your interest, my relationship to the district is immaterial, unless I will try to convince you to trust me based on such relationship rather than based on the words I write. Which some of the writers on this forum try to do anyway, quoting their supposed experience with the district's teaching and admin staff, or board members, or their own children, but which we cannot validate as we all are hiding behind aliases and initials. Including yourself.

Please judge my words by their inherent logic--or lack thereof--or by their referral to widely available facts, rather than by their pedigree.

Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2006 at 6:48 pm

Wolf, You can't say I didn't make easy for you to guess. :)

Your deductive logic serves you well; you get an "A" - bully for you.

Indeed, you have identified - within your range of two - at least one board member who has been disappointing. That's where it's going to stand, because I'm not going to divert the main thrust of this thread away from the person who has been mostly responsible for this mess - Mary Francis Callan.

You may complain all you want, but I won't get drwan into that here; in another time, and place, perhaps, depending on what comes to the fore around the PAUSD issue.

We're especially watching Dana Tom, who campaigned on improving communications in this district. Dana, here's your chance to _show_ committment to campaign promises.

If the board member I'm referring to cares to prove her wisdom and courage, she and her compatriots will do the right thing and get this district back on track with a new leader.

Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2006 at 10:28 pm

Gail Price is the best school board member out there. She always voices her opinion and never shys away. Go Gail, and keep up the good work!!

Posted by another parent
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2006 at 10:37 pm

Gail does not have any educational vision. Her *only* point is closing the achievement gap. She has no flexibility or creativity about curriculum other than filling that gap. She's strong there, but weak on everything else.

Posted by Observer of the Board
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2006 at 11:51 am

My impression is that Gail stands for strategic planning, equitable use of public funds, and accountability for the Staff and the Board by asking the tough questions. Gail is the only one who bothers to mention the elephant on the table.

Gails hands are tied by a coalition of board members who appear to be operating on personal and/or private special interest agenda's and/or staff agendas, rather than looking out for the long term strategic best interests of the district.

Anyone who goes to any board meetings will hear most of the reasonable and 'to the point' questions coming from Gail, sometimes from Barb, sometimes from Mandy (but boy Mandy can sure go off on a tangent..) Camille is out there in la la land - usually talking about what 'she likes' or a 'friend of hers experience...', Camille is fond of saying 'we'll never please everyone' or 'I don't know much about this but' - meaning - so I go on my gut - meaning- we might as well please me and my friends because its the best I have to go on. Camille needs to start coming to the table with researched backup for what she's saying and voting - explaining why what she says and votes is in the best interest of the children and tax payers of Palo Alto. I wouldn't say Camille is disappointing per sey, because she's consistent and you know what to 'expect' (or not expect) from her.

However, on the other hand, of all board members, Dana is the most disappointing because he ~appears~ to care about logic, risk, research, sound decision making, and strategic priorities. And then his decisions are completely inconsistent with what he professes to care about, rarely backed up by the logic of his words. No sooner does he say something promising and filled with merit, that he votes the opposite way. Mandy is next in the dissapointment factor, because she smart, she talks the talk, and doesn't walk the walk. She ALWAYS speaks of concern about financial risk and accountability, and then doesn't stand firm. She favors talking in circles and asking for more staff analysis, rather than taking the strong position she claims to stand on.

Gail wants the public to know what's going on, and she wants an involved public. She'd probably be thrilled if the board room was packed. I get the impression several of the other board members are more about 'agendas' and just wishing they could do their thing without having to answer to the pesky public.

After having watched closely for almost a year now, this is a thankless and difficult job. It is completely true that they'll never make everyone happy. All the MORE reason these guys need to stand on sound strategy, on documented community priorities, and on process, and not be kicked around by special interest groups waving checks around.

Otherwise, it has the potential for being a very sick process...

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