I left last night’s school board club meeting early so that I could catch up with one speaker who quoted a school administrator as saying something so outrageous that I had to make sure I got it right.

But before I get to that, some housekeeping is in order. While outside with a large crowd of furious teachers and parents from Mariners, I was asked the best way to let others know about this blog. The best way is to copy the URL at the top and paste it into an e-mail.

Back to the fireworks… During the first part of the meeting, the room was overflowing because the board was giving out more awards – something they like to do a lot. But a strange thing happened. After the handouts, the audience usually shrinks by at least half. Last night, the awards people were replaced by the Mad Mariners.

Here’s what: Teachers there are tired of being pushed around and treated as though they don’t matter. A few were there to protest, along with a substantial number of parents who showed up to offer support.

The latest scandal involves accusations that the school’s application for designation as a Gold Ribbon school “was based on untruths and inaccuracies.” That’s bad enough, but teachers at Mariners “… felt that it would be unethical for them to participate in focus groups during the Gold Ribbon visit knowing the embarrassing truth that the school’s programs do not match the assertions set forth in the application nor wish to engage in deception to cover up the truth.”

The excerpts are from a letter dated March 28 in which the Nicholas Dix, the Executive Director of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers requested “…an investigation into the allegations listed above…”

That was two months ago. I’ll give you one guess as to what has happened since.

So here’s the outrageous quote part.  One of the speakers was a teacher who had the audacity to question things,  was told by a school administrator that, “If you don’t want to be part of a culture of innovation, you are free to seek employment elsewhere. Good luck getting a transfer.”

Nice.

Allegations of bullying and retaliation have been circling for years. Teachers have put up with it in part to protect their jobs and in part because they are not wired to protest, a fact that serves only to perpetuate the hostile working environment.

But the Mad Mariners have had enough. This is not about Gold Ribbon awards or who said what, it’s about the leadership of the district taking some substantive action to eliminate an endemic pattern of insensitivity and maltreatment by some administrators.

The N-MFT letter contained 16 areas of “specific concern” related to the Gold Ribbon application. One of them made me smile. Number three reads, “The application mentions a pilot program of yoga balls instead of chairs and a pilot program of stand-up desk[s]. Yoga balls were implemented prior to [principal] Dr. Sacks’ arrival and as of today, the stand-up desk program has not been implemented. Additionally, staff had concerns about equitable opportunities to participate in the stand-up desk program.”

Yeah, all the application inaccuracies aside, the concept of stand-up desks was floated here a long time ago. But I had them in mind for some of the underperforming schools on Costa Mesa’s Westside, not a high-performing school like Mariners. Still, I’m glad to see that at least it is being implemented. Even if it’s not…

Music teachers spoke about the wrong-headed changes in music instruction. One of them played guitar and sang a parody of the changes based on a Pete Seeger song. What was amazing, disappointing, and shocking at the same time was that as the teacher sang the parody slamming the changes, the school board club members were smiling from the dais, thinking how cute and clever this was. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, no, there was not a word about looking into the effects of the changes.

The district spends a lot of time, money, and energy on trying to eliminate student bullying. Now it’s time to focus on eliminating administrator bullying.

Ignorance is not bliss, it’s costly

I was not the only person who wondered why nearly half an hour was spent discussing Peachjar, a two year-old flier distribution program available through the district’s website, But my payoff for sitting through this nonsense was the question from school board club member Charlene Metoyer, who asked how long the program had been in operation. Metoyer did not know it was over two years old, supporting my contention that the school board club members don’t know much about the items they’re voting on or the tax dollars they’re spending.

Oh, and there was another speaker who was upset with the development of the new stadium at CdM High – just a reminder of the string of blunders this administration has committed over the past three years.

Stand up and stand together

Teachers do the heavy lifting in the district. When a school underperforms, when their kid underperforms, parents don’t fault the administrators who put an academic program into place, they blame teachers.

It’s one thing for a blogger to post news and expose irregularities week after week. It’s another thing when parents get upset and appear before the board to speak and to watch their comments fall into the black hole of inaction. But when teachers stand up, well, then the toothpaste is out of the tube.

I support an end to administrative bullying and intimidation. I support an INDEPENDENT investigation into the Gold Ribbon charges and charges of teacher intimidation and retaliation. And I support teachers standing up and speaking out to end the years of hostile working environments that have demoralized them and caused some to leave the profession.

It’s long past the time when the school board club supported their words of teacher love and appreciation with a real investigation (outside agency, not picked by the administration or the school board club) into the academic working environment. Teachers, you are supported by your union, by me, and by more parents than you know, as evidenced by their healthy turnout last night. Stand up and speak up. It’s your time.

Steve Smith

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