End Our Civic Embarrassment
The disjointed response from the leadership of our school district to the latest in a string of Grand Jury investigations should mortify every Vallejo resident. The report was issued back in May and titled: Vallejo High Schools - Are They Safe? The citizen’s panel opens with the following statement: “While the 2015-2016 Solano County Grand Jury was unable to arrive at a simple yea or nay regarding safety progress in Vallejo’s high schools, we did find numerous issues which need to be addressed.” They go on to identify eighteen separate issues, and our School Board had until Sept. 12 to come up with their item by item response.
In what appears to be a recurring pattern, discussion of the response didn’t show up on the Board agenda until Sept. 7 as a report by the Superintendent, with the text of fourteen extensive attachments delivered to School Board members the night before. A second emergency meeting would be required to have something approved by the deadline, leaving board members and the public little time to digest the information and formulate an intelligent response. It left one board representative unable to attend at all. Member Worel responded to a request for his comment as follows: “Let me say this one more time and maybe some people would understand if they have not understood it before. I just got this last night and you want me to sit here and make some type of comment on something that should have come out weeks ago. Maybe I am a conspiracy theorist but the board and the superintendent knew I was not going to be available and yet you pull this at the last minute and then want to have a special meeting.”
The effort to successfully complete the accreditation process for our high school suffered a similar fate, waiting until the last minute and then coming up with a half-baked result that fell short. Superintendent Bishop offered the following explanation of sorts for once again letting an important deadline arrive to find the administration unprepared: “One of the things we discussed was the fact that there are many claims made in this Grand Jury Report that are not in evidence. And so we needed to take the time over the summer to gather evidence to dispute many of the things that are said and so therefore the information that you received yesterday is, yes it was last minute.”
The defensive reaction and the unrelenting focus on public relations and making excuses does nothing at all to help improve the quality of our children’s education. The district just authorized spending $75,000 to investigate the Superintendent’s accusation that teachers ‘sabotaged’ the accreditation process. A witch hunt is hardly what the District needs to be spending money on now. And then they expect the public to vote to approve a school bond measure? Delusional.
Board Member Worel pushed back against the idea that a succession of Grand Juries is somehow out to get our District: “Four years ago, when we first got the Grand Jury Report, the very first one, all what was done at that meeting was how the Grand Jury got it wrong, the Grand Jury got it wrong. Now we’re on our fourth one and we’re still saying the Grand Jury got it wrong, the Grand Jury got it wrong. What makes you believe with that type of response that there’s not going to be another Grand Jury Report for the next year? People need to understand and educate themselves how the Grand Jury works. It’s regular citizens like us up here. They don’t have an agenda against Vallejo. You may think they do, but they don’t. And instead of vilifying Vallejo Times Herald, why not try to work with them? Oh my gosh, didn’t we vote to have a public relations person and that person got fired before they got hired? I don’t understand why people on the board don’t understand what is going on.”
Board President Ubalde manages to miss the point entirely: “My recollection was when the Grand Jury Report came out on paper, the headline was ‘Schools Unsafe.’ You can’t be any more positive than that, right? It shows exactly what we’ve been saying that there is a tremendous emphasis on negativity and yet this paper, the only paper unfortunately comes out with that headline, ‘Schools Unsafe- Grand Jury Report.’ So that speaks for itself.”
The Grand Jury recognized that people have been working on these issues: “While acknowledging the hard work and many successes of the District during these difficult years, the persistence of these noted above factors, along with the steadfast position of the District that its high schools are, in fact safe, led the Grand Jury to again focus on this very important and divisive matter.” The problem they are identifying is the continued denial of what very clearly are persistent problems, decades in the making. If you are unable to admit the problems exist you have no chance to fix them. Meanwhile, as the adults concentrate on hanging on to their jobs our kids suffer the effects of this dysfunction.
In the last of the eighteen listed items, the Grand Jury finds that: “the current School Board has been divided and sometimes failed to clearly define and communicate their policies to the Superintendent. Requests for future board agenda items are sometimes ignored. Recommendation 18 A: The School Board endeavor to resolve internal conflict, find common ground so they may develop clear, concise, explicit policy goals for the Superintendent with verifiable results. 18B: The Board President ensure all requested agenda items appear on the next meeting agenda.”
Board member Stewart found the suggestion that the Board has been divided and failed to clearly define and communicate policies “laughable.” In reality it’s painfully apparent to the most casual observer. Board member and November candidate Hazel Wilson offered her insights: “But I think we do need a clear process, a clear statement to the public if we can’t get you on for the ‘X’ number of days, you can expect that... you will be on that, based upon priority and number of requests.” (Not quite as clear as the recommendation.) “As far as the board being divided, I think it’s illegal for the Grand Jury to tell us that we have to vote 5-0’s, 3 -2, or 4 -1. Thank you.” Somehow I don’t think that was the point the Grand Jury was trying to get across.
This Board badly needs an infusion of new blood and expertise, along with increased community involvement. We all have a stake in building a system capable of providing a quality education for all of our students. We can start by voting for School Board candidates Cayangyang, Fox, and Kearney-Brown in November, and then continuing to support them once in office. This presents a huge challenge, and it’s far too much to expect that a five member board can possibly get on top of it on their own. The students need our help, and we all have a stake in building a school system we can be proud of.