I just read of another attempt by a Trustee to place the blame for the Estancia odors on the inspector(s) who signed off on the project. In this case it was Trustee Vicki Snell responding to writer/activist/producer Sandy Asper.

Snell wrote of the board’s “…commitment to investigate how the original work was signed off on by inspectors.” The work was signed off eight years ago.

This attempt at finger-point and blame-placing is both hypocritical and unproductive.

Hypocritical because they have not made similar attempts to hold anyone accountable for other problems, for example, the debacle that is Swun Math. Where is the commitment to investigating how this program got initiated? Who will be held accountable for the millions spent to fix it and, worse, the years of anguish and frustration of students, teachers, and parents? Anguish and frustration which, by the way was ignored by the district as they tried to sweep the mess under the rug.

The answer is that there will be no investigation and no one will be held accountable.

In the wake of the Estancia odors, we have one teacher out on Workers’ Comp, another who is suffering from asthma and headaches, and most likely a few more who are sick but have not yet connected the dots from their maladies to the odors.

This buck-passing is not the example to set for students. We cannot expect children in America to grow and be responsible leaders if we do not teach them when they are young to take responsibility for their mistakes.

In this case, the responsibility is with the trustees. They knew about the stink and either chose to do nothing, or relied on people who failed to fix it. It doesn’t matter – at the end of the day, the buck stops at the dais.

My work includes a lot of customer service training. These days, the lessons are taught almost exclusively to health care facilities across the country. One of the principles I preach is that when a patient brings a mistake to their attention, the first two words out of their mouth(s) should be, “I’m sorry…” Could be “I’m sorry this happened to you” “I’m sorry you are upset,” but it must start with “I’m sorry.”

The challenge is that doctors don’t like to say “I’m sorry,” even if they use it in a way that doesn’t admit guilt because they believe it invites lawsuits. Then I show them studies that the opposite is true; that saying “I’m sorry” actually reduces complaints and lawsuits. That’s how powerful those two little words are.

“I’m sorry” has the same effect whether the business is auto repair, plumbing, a restaurant, or a grocery store. Or a school district.

Saying “I’m sorry” fulfills the first overwhelming desire of the person who is complaining. What they want first and most is someone to accept responsibility for whatever happened. In almost all cases, that is enough.

“I’m sorry” would have gone a long way with Estancia teacher Steve Crenshaw at last Tuesday’s board meeting. Crenshaw got up and spoke about his health problems relating to the odors and when he was done, no one on the board said anything. Not a word.

I have not spoken to Crenshaw but I’d bet a fair amount that what he was looking for that night was for someone in the district – anyone – to acknowledge his pain and frustration. Any one of them could have said, “I’m sorry about your health problems,” or “I’m sorry that it has taken so long to fix the problem.” Anything. Throw him a bone.

But the board can’t do that because they take advice from attorneys and others who only know one way of operating. An attorney is unlikely to recommend saying “I’m sorry” because he or she went to law school and works in a legal environment and they are taught to make sure clients don’t say, “I’m sorry,” even if evidence shows that doing so is beneficial.

Someone in the district needs to step up immediately and own this by telling Steve Crenshaw they are sorry, in one form or another. Either they do this immediately or they forever refrain from any comment about how much they appreciate teachers in the district.

Several weeks ago, Trustees Snell and Fluor went on mini-rants about the lack of respect they receive. The thing about respect is that you have to earn it.

Where is the respect for Steve Crenshaw? It’s nowhere because they simply do not care about him or his health. If they did, they would have said something to him. All they really care about it what they have cared about for decades: Never admit a mistake, never apologize, and sweep everything under the rug as quickly as possible.

Is the board’s behavior the example we want to set for our children? Is the lack of remorse or accountability what each trustee would want if he or she had been the affected teacher at Estancia?

Of course not. But once again, preserving the status quo trumps everything else.

Even if it means the health of our teachers.

Steve Smith

N-MUSD Taxpayer