QCSD Administration, Some Directors, Fight Surveys

July 30, 2012

It is ironic that the entire Nick Foley affair, and new revelations of widespread QCSD academic dishonesty, came to light just as the district is contemplating comprehensive surveys to determine the feelings of teachers and families. Hopefully, news of these shenanigans will sufficiently embarrass the administration, and those board members who have fought the surveys, and thereby assure that the community's anger is finally heard.

The district is still suffering from the stigma of having the horrible 2006 survey feedback of teachers, students, and parents, buried in a closet for 16 months by a fearful administration. But never let it be said that our educators can't learn. The current crop of administrators, with a few strategically-placed directors, have a new plan of attack - delay, delay, delay. Survey results needn't be hidden if the surveys are never held.

You might remember that last December, the two holdovers from the old majority, President Bob Smith, and Vice-President Kelly Van Valkenburg, attempted to prevent the new board from surveying students, teachers, alumni, and parents regarding their QCSD experiences. They were outvoted 7-2, but not until after Smith pleased Superintendent Lisa Andrejko by attempting to table the motion, then declaring that the vote was "undefined", and that the board should not follow it.

Fortunately, his pleas were ignored. But that didn't mean he wouldn't get his way. Nothing happened at the next two meetings, though the old board members who had just been voted off the island showed up for a "pat yourselves on the back" session, and to collect gifts and accolades.

At the January 5 meeting, the Policy Committee was created, with board members Mitch Anderson, Joyce King, Fern Strunk, and Van Valkenburg as the chair. Anderson set up a committee session to write a draft policy on the hot-button issues of a more community-friendly public comment policy, and the ability of board members to make presentations without prior approval from Andrejko.

But the survey vote was not mentioned at that January meeting. Nor the next one on January 15. Finally, at the February 9 work session, the topic came before the board. Smith named the Curriculum/Education Committee, Anderson, Strunk, Gary Landes, and chairperson Anna Cattie, and charged them with the responsibility to prepare the questions. Anderson volunteered to draft, and immediately asked the board members to submit any issues they wanted included in the teacher survey. He expected that the final product would be ready in a month or so.

Meanwhile, the Policy Committee was also to meet to discuss changing public comment and board presentation policies. It looked like everything was moving smoothly, albeit slowly.

But on March 1, Anderson made a prophetic prediction. "We had our Policy Committee meeting tonight, and I was amused when we put up the pros and cons of changing the public comment policy. There was only one con: the board getting distracted by comments! I think we might actually be able to make this change, but the pace will be glacial".

The board getting distracted by comments???? During the public comment period???? Well, Chairperson Van Valkenburg is a leftover from the old board that basically shut the public out, so you can get a pretty good idea of how much she will be interested in expediting change. Delay, delay, delay.

By April 12, a pattern was emerging. Anderson reported "The survey is progressing slowly. I feel as though it is being delayed in the interest of 'perfection'. It was assigned to the Education Committee, which meets once a month, and that adds to the slowness of getting it out."

And now, more than three months later, and seven-plus months after the board voted overwhelmingly to pursue the surveys, the matter is still dead in the water. Director Paul Stepanoff, who served with the now-departed directors that deplored community input, lamented "I believe everyone on the board that voted for the surveys is starting to get a little frustrated with the lack of progress on this. The surveys ended up in the Education Committee, which was Bob Smith's decision. It is chaired by Anna Cattie, also Smith's decision".

And that looks suspiciously like another red-flag pattern. Smith's choices for the chairs of the two most influential committees, Policy and Education, are the board members most supportive of the administration and the old guard - Van Valkenburg (an old-guard leftover herself), and Cattie (the running mate of deposed former president Kathy Mosley, who Smith campaigned for). Delay, delay, delay.

Cattie was absent from the June 4 board meeting, so Smith, and most members, did not want to make a decision on surveys without getting the chairperson's input. But they did discuss their concern that there has been no movement. Strunk noted that they had voted on the issue six months before, and should not now be discussing if the surveys will be done, but how to get them done. The directors all agreed that at the next meeting they planned to set a specific date for completion.

Cattie scheduled a committee meeting for July 24, but cancelled it at the last minute with no explanation. Delay, delay, delay. It is now looking like nothing will happen until teachers are back in September, at the earliest.

Anderson explained: "We have decided to work over the summer, and consult an outside organization for assistance. I was against using any outsiders, because education surveys do not address the issues. This is very evident when looking at the surveys that are part of the comprehensive plan. So the idea is to get help writing our own questions. That has some merit, but it is one more slowdown, since we already have many good questions. Fern's comment was what was accomplished last night (June 4) should have been accomplished the first night we met."

And that was the good news. The bad news is that, apparently, Cattie has permitted the Education Committee meetings to be hijacked by the anti-survey administration.

Stepanoff explained "The board president directed the Education Committee to fulfill the motion, but Anna did not even put the surveys on the agenda for several months. And even after she was pressured to do so, they spent more time discussing should we even be doing surveys rather than how to do them."

Committee chairs have wide latitude in setting rules. But if the meetings are stacked with administration people who are allowed to vote, they can take over the decisions, and that appears to be exactly what Cattie has allowed to happen. She has turned the anti-survey minority into a committee majority, and seven months later we are still at Square One.

Then the administration jumped in again, and insisted that the surveys should be delayed until next year's strategic plan. Anna agreed, and once more the surveys were off the table, until several board members started grumbling about not having them. At that point, the committee again discussed it, but the main discussion was, again, not how to do the surveys, but should they be done, even though the board had already voted to do so. That sound you hear is wheels spinning hopelessly.

And the administration apparently even has a Plan B. Welcome once again to the Quite Commonly Secret District. They have suggested that the principals do the survey, with the raw results not available to the board. Obviously, some higher-ups are fearful that student, faculty, and alumni opinion hasn't improved since the 2006 disaster, and they will be faced with yet another public relations nightmare. And some teachers have expressed fears of speaking up against the administration, so at least part of the survey may have to be anonymous.

And that was before the Foley fiasco broke!

Anderson addressed those issues: "We made it clear that it will be done by the board, and not the principals. The surveys will be handled by buildings, and the data will go from the board to the principals and the staff, not the other way around."

But the full board must now, again, debate the direction of the surveys. The tactic by Smith, Cattie, and the administration is working. The end of the school year has passed, and they have forced the issue into at least September. Meanwhile, the changes promised by the new directors are - like the surveys - delayed, delayed, delayed.