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Monrovia School Link ~ Number 8 ~ June 13, 2000

Last issue I was pretty nice. I went on at some length about how impressed I was with the new Santa Fe principal. Sorry, it's not going to be nice this time. Not because I need to even things out, but because I think some negative things need to be said. If you want positive stuff, there are a few items at the bottom (including a tidbit about the new Clifton principal.)
~ Brad Haugaard

LAPDOGS ~ Try saying "aye" (prounounced "I"). Can you do it? Great, you have all the skills you need to be on the Monrovia Board of Education.

I realize that is harsh, so let me try to justify it.

I've been attending the school board meetings quite regularly since February, and not once in my recollection has any member of the board instructed (or requested, for that matter) the district staff to develop a report on any issue. The reports that I hear all appear to be at the instigation of the staff.

Also, during that time I've never seen any staff proposal be voted down by the board. It has always been "aye." (Okay, maybe something was voted down during one of the few board meetings I missed, but not while I've been in attendance.)

I'll go a step further. Not once in my recollection has there ever been so much as a single descenting vote. Never.

My wife and I can barely go a week without some kind of disagreement (friendly, I hope - right, Sweetie? ... Sweetie? - but disagreements nevertheless), so I find it extremely difficult to believe that running an entire school district is so easy and obvious that there would never be any difference of opinion among its leaders.

Which, I think, leads to my concern: The board does not lead; it is led.

For example, at tonight's meeting the board heard a report by Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Richard Hill recommending that the district adopt the Open Court 2000 textbook series. Hill's report was pretty much an advertisement for Open Court. There was no comparison in either the oral or written report of the relative merits of the various textbooks that the staff considered. In fact, there was no mention of any other textbook company at all.

I thought it interesting that in his report Hill said that training for the new textbooks would begin in two weeks. Note that he didn't say the training would begin in two weeks if the board approved the textbook. He assumed the board would approve the books. And, of course, he assumed correctly.

As a highly unqualified amateur, I would rank which textbooks a district will use as one of the more important decisions a school board can make. If that is correct, you might think in this situation a board member would have said, "I'm sorry, but I need a bit more information to make an informed decision. Let's get a detailed report for next meeting." But nobody said anything of the sort, although one board member wanted to know where the company Open Court got its name.

(I should point out, by the way, that I've no opinion about Open Court. My only point is that the board was not given enough information to make an informed decision, and it didn't ask for it.)

Here's another example from tonight's meeting. On the consent agenda (a list of items that are all lumped together to be voted on in one motion) was a "Declaration of Need for Fully Qualified Educators," a document the district must complete in order to hire teachers without credentials on an emergency basis.

I wouldn't for a moment challenge that this was necessary, but if I'm counting correctly, the district estimates it will need to hire 79 teachers without credentials. On first glance that seems to me to be quite a few.

Again, I'd have thought a board member might ask, "Is this a large number for a district our size?" "Are other districts having difficulties finding teachers?" "Is this a one-time problem or do we expect this situation to get worse?" "What are we going to do to improve our recruiting?" "Can we have a report next time on recruiting?" But nobody said anything.

Now it is a distinct possibility that I'm just ignorant and that there's no problem at all and that the board is well aware of this and has everything well under control. But it just doesn't seem that is the case. What it seems like is that the board is going further than just listening respectfully to the advice of the staff (as it should). Instead, it seems to have fully handed over its leadership role to the district staff.

There. I'm done with that. I'll try not to treat you to too many tirades.

CLIFTON PRINCIPAL ~ The board introduced Byron Greer as the new principal for Clifton Middle School. Greer started with the district as a sub, and spent 16 years at Monrovia High and a bunch more as assistant principal at Clifton. I've seen Greer at previous board meetings and he strikes me as very friendly and kind of a cut-up, which seems about the right personality for a middle school. What is unclear to me however, is how he became principal. I don't recall the board ever voting on his appointment, although I'd have thought that approving principals would be the sort of thing boards might do. I suspect he was appointed by the Superintendent, although I don't know. Paul Pagano, by the way, is taking Greer's place as assistant principal at Clifton.

MORE APPOINTEES ~ The board also welcomed Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Debby Collins and Santa Fe Middle School Assistant Principal Mitch Wood.

RAH! ~ I've complained in the past that speakers were not being introduced so I didn't know who they were. Unless my mind wandered for a second or two (and how could it possibly do that?) everybody who spoke was introduced. Rah!

ALTERNATIVE ~ There was a presentation about the possible creation of "a new alternative school" for the district. It was a bit difficult to follow, but it appears the new school (or is it schools?) will consolidate all the district's current alternative programs under one umbrella. These programs, which include classes for pregnant teens, adult education, the continuation program, home schooling and so forth, would either be at Canyon Oaks High School (the proposed new name for what I take to be the current Canyon High School) or Mountain Park School, the proposed name for the alternative elementary school. The school (schools?) would feature independent study but would would adopt a variety of other approaches. But the approaches will be "holistic," so you can breathe easier.

SPOTLIGHT ~ I nervously examined the Spring issue of "Schools Spotlight," the District's newsletter. (I've gotta keep my eyes on my competitors. I don't want to loose market share.), but after a few seconds I was convinced I've got nothing to worry about. It's heavy on congratulating people (thereby indirectly congratulating the district itself) but kinda low on information.

NEXT BOARD MEETING ~ The next meeting is on Wednesday, June 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the administration office at 325 E. Huntington Drive. Ouch! I'm going to be out of town that day. Anybody want to attend and send me a report about the meeting? As long as it won't get me thrown in jail I'll forward it to everyone on the list. How can you beat an offer like that?

Copyright (c) 2000, Brad Haugaard