McClellan: Confusion reigns at Gilbert Public Schools - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

McClellan: Confusion reigns at Gilbert Public Schools

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Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

Posted: Monday, July 14, 2014 3:30 pm

Am I confused? Of course, my wife and kids and probably most of my friends would tell you that’s my normal state of mind.

But I am really confused now, thanks to the latest Gilbert School Board meeting.

It was the debut of the new superintendent, Christina Kishimoto, and did she get an earful through the course of the night.

I wonder if, after the meeting, she thought twice about working with this crew. I wonder if she left as confused as I was watching a replay of it later.

Two subjects on the agenda created the usual chaos this board, the majority of who seem to seek it. The trio of Burk, Smith and Colvin make for a rocky time for all.

This time, it was hiring personnel.

One was actually a rehire, the second the board majority has done in the past few months. Like the earlier one, this teacher had resigned amid all kinds of controversy. And like the earlier one, Burk, Smith and Colvin voted to bring the teacher back.

Which led to my first confusion.

Gilbert Public Schools has had its budget cut severely in the last few years, more than $30 million in fact. And our board majority likes to remind voters, often, that they are fiscal conservatives watching carefully over the taxpayers’ money.

Which is one reason for my confusion. Because both of the ladies they rehired didn’t have a specific job open for them when brought back. The first one was given a job remediating kids for AIMS even as the test rapidly approached; the second, an ELL teacher, has no position to fill, unless she wants the part-time, two day a week adult education job the district advertises.

In other words, the district has had to create jobs for these rehires, which means that a school district strapped for money has to pay for two salaries, benefits and retirement contributions for two teachers for whom the district didn’t have jobs.

I believe that’s called make-work.

But my confusion deepened with what normally is a slam dunk part of the agenda, hiring new teachers recommended by the superintendent. One of the trio, Mrs. Smith, singled out a particular hire, and pulled her name for individual examination.

Here’s my confusion: During the rehire discussion, the leader of the trio, Burk, admonished the board not to comment on specific charges leveled against that teacher.

But with the teacher singled out by Smith, apparently anything goes.

So we were told that she resigned after being put on administrative leave, that the district didn’t complete an “investigation” of her because she left first. In other words, Smith and co. dragged this person through the mud.

But here’s the kicker: The district did complete an investigation and the interim superintendent wrote this: “Based on this review, I am rescinding the suspension.”

So the teacher was cleared and returned to her position, resigning later after going on medical leave.

And now? The teacher is suspended in midair, with Dr. Kishimoto telling the board she would review the “investigation.”

That didn’t finish the night’s confusion, though. Oh, no. Mrs. Smith had another bone to pick, a curriculum she just doesn’t like. It’s called Springboard, and it’s an English curriculum the district adopted a couple of years ago. It’s designed to be a more rigorous set of English classes. Like any curriculum, it’s not perfect, but Mrs. Smith, and I suspect Colvin as well, believe the curriculum is somehow politically infused with what Mrs. Smith has called “socialism.” Colvin has told radio audiences that he wants to have a “pro-family, pro-America” curriculum for Gilbert, and I guess Springboard doesn’t fit the bill.

Or maybe it does. A year ago, the district did a survey of parents, students and teachers concerning Springboard. Mrs. Smith didn’t like the results, so the district did another one.

The results were the same: 89 percent of the teachers want to continue using the curriculum, 70 percent of the students surveyed thought their writing improved because of the program, and only 16 percent of the parents wanted a different curriculum.

Pretty compelling, huh?

Not for Mrs. Smith. At an earlier meeting, she wanted to know why the survey didn’t ask this question of the students: Do you like Springboard? Which begs this question: Who cares? Do you like going to the dentist? Do eighth graders like algebra? Please.

No matter, though. Mrs. Smith wants to deep six Springboard, which confuses me. After two surveys that reflect the same positive views of the curriculum, Mrs. Smith still wants to get rid of it. And replace it with who knows?

But I know this: The teachers have had two years to acclimate themselves to this program and now Mrs. Smith wants to change it, even if students, parents and teachers like it.

Lesson learned by watching Burk, Smith and Colvin in action: You can selectively trash someone as long as you don’t like that person, and if you want to change something you can ignore the results of a survey you demanded.

In other words, confusion reigns. Situation normal.

• Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

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