Recently I checked the Hesperia Star website as I often do to see what's going on in the city and school district where I worked for almost twenty years. Having retired and moved to Bend, Oregon in July of this year, I still like knowing what's taking place in the school district that used to be like a home to me. When I saw that Helen Rogers had made a final statement as a member of the HUSD Board of Education, I was eager to read her words, and found myself inspired by her honesty and saddened by her experience. Helen is a good human being, someone who became a school board member out of her sense of community spirit and her desire to do what's best for students, parents and staff. I worked with Helen and was supported by her even in difficult times. It is disheartening to know that such a fine person was subjected to behaviors that were so contrary to her spirit of kindness and giving. I was also surprised to see my name in print, listed among those she called "wonderful employees the new board got rid of." In support of Helen and the colleagues she mentioned, I decided it was time to speak out about my decision to retire and why I have waited so long to do so.
First and foremost, as everyone who knows me will attest, I moved in support of my family. My wife and I have two beautiful grandchildren whom we adore. When we learned that they were moving to Oregon, we decided that being near them was more important than staying near the work that I had found so fulfilling. Leaving would have been so much more difficult, however, had the conditions in the district not deteriorated to such a great degree. The three new board members, who I am convinced truly believe they are doing the "right" things, have created an environment that is no longer student-centered. Or perhaps stated in a better way, they have created an environment that is student-centered in the way that only they believe is correct. When it comes time to making decisions, only they know what should be done. Only they can be trusted to get it right. Only their vision is the correct one for the future. In contrast to their stated desire for "site based management" what we have seen is almost total "Board based management." Unfortunately, this leaves everyone else out of the equation. I was one of those who felt left out, unimportant and ultimately, uninspired to continue this most important work.
So the truth is, I left because I wanted to be near my grandchildren and because I wanted to be away from the "tyranny of the three." Like so many employees I spoke with, I didn't feel safe to do my job as I had before. I didn't feel supported by them and they were the majority. I didn't feel that my voice was significant any longer. And despite the fact that Mark, Jovy, and George did everything in their power to continue to support me and others in the schools, their ability to do so was limited. An example of this is Mojave's Synergy Day which changed the climate of the entire school. Students who were called "at-risk" became the leaders, the healers, the ones who created a positive environment where students of all different backgrounds could come together in peace to learn and grow. This year "they" decided that classroom time is so sacred that such an incredible event should not take place just 4 times in an entire school year, but should be held only on Saturdays when many students might not be able to participate.
I have little space to argue that decision here, but let me just say that in my opinion, it is terribly misguided. Based on my twelve years as a teacher and administrator at Mojave High School, I can attest that most of the students came to the school with significant problems. They had been battered and broken by life in so many ways. Yet they are still amazing young people who are open to new possibilities. Synergy Day took them out of the classroom, introduced them to the possibility that people are more similar than different, encouraged them to give education and each other one more try, and in one day, often transformed their lives. They then became better young adults, better students, and more caring and involved people. Discipline at the school decreased, attendance increased, and test scores this year improved by almost 100 points! But "they" know better.
I have been reluctant to share my opinions publicly. Unlike Dave Long, I felt it was not my style to address the board before I left. I hoped things would improve and I certainly didn't want to make things worse for those who continued to work for the district after I departed. But as I stated earlier, Helen Rogers is an inspirational leader and I felt I could remain silent no longer. In addition, I know the three board members and I normally count loyalty among my greatest strengths. I worked directly with Robert Kirk and Lee Rogers and found them both to be caring and honorable people. However, the manner in which they run the school district is simply wrong. I do not believe they are evil, only misguided. Nonetheless, power has been bestowed upon them and it is their responsibility to use that power more wisely. My recommendation is that they become more inclusive; willing to listen to voices of disagreement, willing to learn from a variety of perspectives.
In closing, I would like to thank all of the people I had the honor of working with including students, parents and staff. As a teacher and administrator for the Hesperia Unified School District, I was honored to serve with some of the best people I have ever known. As a retired employee, I realize my impact is limited. But I do have some insight and perhaps something worth sharing. I thank the Hesperia Star for providing a place for me to speak my truth.