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Troubled schools: Parents seek answers on principal turnover, other concerns

As school starts, parents seek answers on principal turnover

School in Pleasanton starts Monday, and parents are busy buying back-to-school supplies and backpacks. But the district itself is still dealing with a bit of baggage from the previous school year that has yet to be packed away and forgotten.

The turnover of principals in the past few years and a series of nasty allegations by and against teachers and administrators has parents concerned about the effects on students and programs, and has left many questioning what could be causing the change in leadership positions.

The number of principals leaving the district - coupled with the former Walnut Grove principal's claim against the school district, large financial settlements paid to two employees, complaints made by teachers against another principal and the backlash from parents, and a general sense of distrust inside and outside the walls of the schools - is making Pleasanton schools less desirable than they used to be, according to Pleasanton parent Chris Jacob.      

Jacob told the school board at its Feb. 22 meeting, "As a parent and a taxpayer I say the integrity of the Pleasanton Unified School District is damaged far beyond repair and it's time some of you step down."

"When you see lots of staff switching positions or leaving the district, it makes me think they aren't happy," said another Pleasanton parent who asked to remain anonymous. "The district is putting up a facade of 'We're a happy place, everyone's happy,' when that's not the case. They don't want to be transparent and there's a lack of communication."

Like this parent, many in the middle of the turmoil, and even those watching from the sidelines, won't talk on the record.

"We either have kids going to schools in the district or we work in the district," said one. "We're scared of the repercussions our children or job may face."

The Pleasanton Unified School District has experienced major changes in site administrative staffing in the past three years -- 44 to be exact, according to information supplied to the Weekly by Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi.

"Without knowing the type of turnover that other like school districts have, we cannot say if ours is high or not," Board president Jamie Hintze said. "We know the reasons why our administrators have come and gone and it does not seem unreasonable."

Since October, when Jon Vranesh, a well-liked elementary school principal, was abruptly put on administrative leave, most school board meetings have been standing-room-only, packed with teachers, parents and community members. Public comments addressed to the board have been filled with emotion and allegations.

Then in April, the teachers union vice-president, Janice Clark, disclosed at a school board meeting that there had been multiple employee grievances filed against Terry Conde, principal of Hart Middle School. Clark also cited results of a union-conducted survey, documentation of complaints and grievances and letters from staff about Conde that were presented privately to Ahmadi and the school board last school year.

The nature of these complaints, which Clark said included unfair labor practices, are not known.

Between June 1, 2013 and June 1, 2014, out of Pleasanton's 16 schools, six principals and three vice principals left their positions for one reason or another. Three principals resigned (Stephanie Ceminsky, Donlon; John Dwyer, Foothill High School;  Ben Fobert, Mohr) and two retired (Jim Hansen, Amador Valley High School; and John Whitney, Pleasanton Middle School).

One principal was removed from his post but is still a district employee (Jon Vranesh, Walnut Grove). Three vice principals have left; two retired (Rick Sira, AVHS; and Lori Vella, AVHS) and one resigned (Richard Gorton, Foothill).  

By comparison, during the same timeframe, San Ramon Valley Unified School District, which has 38 schools, has had three principals leave their schools, with two being promoted to district positions. Five assistant principals have left their positions, two to vacant principal positions in the district.

Livermore Unified School District, which is a comparable size to Pleasanton with 17 schools, has had three principals and two vice principals leave their posts in the same timeframe. One vice principal was promoted to principal, so he is still in the district.

Since June 1, two other Pleasanton principals have moved on. Mindy Bolar, the Lydiksen Elementary School principal, was promoted to the Pleasanton schools director of curriculum for the 2014-15 school year. Terri Quesinberry left her post as Alisal Elementary principal in late July when she accepted a principalship at a Livermore elementary school.

Ahmadi told the Weekly there was nothing unusual about the reasons most of these employees left their positions. According to Ahmadi, in the past two years five site administrators have left the school district because of either a change of residency or a better opportunity at another school district (principals Giglio, Ceminsky, Dwyer, and Fobert, and vice principal Gorton), and five retired (Colleen Henry, principal of Lydiksen Elementary School, Hansen, Whitney, Sira and Vella).

She also noted there are people who have left the district over the past two years and have been rehired (Aileen Parsons, principal, PMS; and Amy Simione, principal, Donlon).

"We try to promote from within as much as we can when possible," she added. "I look at this as a strength of the school district that we are able to retain wonderful people but we're also able to bring in and attract quality people here. We're very luck to have that."

Ahmadi acknowledges that some parents feel that a lack of leadership consistency is affecting the district negatively. However, she believes the district's accomplishments in the last four years paint a different reality.

Just recently, Hearst, Donlon, Walnut Grove, Vintage Hills and Mohr Elementary schools were named Distinguished Schools, two high schools ranked in the state's Top 100, and students consistently receive awards for academics or sports. PUSD has a graduation rate of 96% and a 99% passage rate of the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).

And in the area of finance, Moody's Investor Service has given the district an A++ credit rating and a strong credit rating of "Aa2."  

"We take pride in the fact that our parent community and staff, including our principals, teachers and classified members work collaboratively together to ensure our students have positive experiences at school and reach their fullest potential," Ahmadi told the Weekly. 

"Our district has been at the forefront of some very innovative educational initiatives because we are focused on what is best for students," she said.

The spark?

Jon Vranesh was placed on administrative leave from his position as principal at Walnut Grove Elementary School Oct. 25, 2013, for allegedly creating a hostile work environment by using vulgar and intimidating language.

When Superintendent Ahmadi notified the school community via email Nov. 5 that there was an interim principal at Walnut Grove, with no mention of what happened to Vranesh, parents and other community members were up in arms. (See Pleasanton Weekly stories on Nov. 14 and Dec. 19, 2013.)

This was the beginning of school board meetings with large crowds and parents holding signs and wearing t-shirts in support of principals, and public comment filled with tears, anger, accusations and a lot of pain.

"Losing a popular principal is hard and if not handled well can be very harmful for a school," said Alameda County Office of Education Superintendent Sheila Jordan. "However, our schools are workplaces and people make decisions that, although are sometimes painful, are often necessary for any number of reasons."

Citing privacy and personnel reasons, Ahmadi and the school board were not open about why Vranesh was not at Walnut Grove after Oct. 25. Community members, particularly parents, quickly became frustrated by the lack of information.  

"The lack of communication has not helped the parents," said Walnut Grove parent Jeremy McCarthy at the Nov. 26 school board meeting. He said he learned of Vranesh being placed on administrative leave when his kids started asking where the principal was.

"All you guys have done has created mistrust in this community," said Bruce Henry at the same meeting.

Vranesh is not the only principal whose performance has become the subject of controversy.

Teachers and their union have been urging Ahmadi to remove Hart principal Terry Conde for over a year, according to comments made by union vice president Janice Clark to the Weekly after the May 13 school board meeting.

Walnut Grove and Hart teachers who lodged complaints against their principals both used the phrase "hostile work environment" in their written allegations. 

A complaint against Conde was filed by a school employee, whose name and position is redacted from the documents, but presumed to be a teacher.

This is one of several complaints filed against Conde, according to comments made by Clark in April. Clark did not produce documentation of the other complaints, nor were any provided by the district in response to a Public Records request made by the Weekly, which only included a timeframe between March 1 and June 30, 2014.

Clark declined repeated requests for comments.

Clark reported during the April 22 board meeting that, "An APT survey, documentation of complaints and grievances and letters from staff were presented to Superintendent Ahmadi and the school board in September of 2013 and in January of 2014. The documents presented defined issues of trust, favoritism and unfair labor practices set forth by the principal that have had a negative impact on a great number of teachers." 

Based on this documentation and survey, a vote of confidence was taken by the teachers at Hart on April 16. Forty-six of the 53 teachers answered yes or no to the question: "Do you have confidence in the principal's leadership," with 26 voting yes, 20 voting no and 7 abstaining.

Clark reported the vote results saying, "The results represent a strongly divided staff, where over one half of the certificated staff refused to support the principal in this vote."

Clark told the board that the vote and documentation show an "undeniable problem that cannot be ignored for another school year."

"It is unfortunate," Clark continued, "that so many of our dedicated teachers at Hart are still suffering."

According to documents obtained by the Pleasanton Weekly under the California Public Records Act, Hart parents have lodged at least one complaint against a teacher for slander and defamation of students.

The complaint is in reference to an email sent in the latter part of the school year to, according to one writer, more than 90 parents, students and district personnel. The email named students who would not be allowed to participate in an activity because of their behavior, which was described in the email.  

Escalating tension

In her April 22 comments, Clark said tensions at the school escalated when a group of parents were made aware of the no confidence vote taken April 16 and a parent-generated letter was circulated that "denounced teachers and supported the principal."

"Even more alarming, some students were asked to petition for the principal during the school day," Clark said. "A few students wore T-shirts in school to support the principal, which could potentially create a safety concern between students on our campus."

Community members, parents, and students at these two school have shown their support of the principals in visible ways, Hart students signing a poster that said "Hart Students Support Conde" and wearing T-shirts to school that said "Students support Mrs. Conde" inside a heart.  

According to Clark's comments to the board, there had been further deterioration of the site environment at Hart, where she is a teacher, because "not only teachers have been pitted against teachers, but now parents against teachers, students against teachers and possibly students against students."

When asked about the perceived tension between the parents and teachers, Ahmadi said, "I would not characterize the relationship between our teachers and parents as contentious in our district. There are strong opinions at times in certain situations. I would venture to say that you would encounter that in any district or entity, especially where there is a change."

Documents obtained by the Weekly show that dozens of emails were sent to Ahmadi and school board members shortly after the vote of no confidence in Conde's leadership; the emails appear to be from parents, although names were redacted.

The writers stated that Conde is a "kind and compassionate advocate for children," "a wonderful role model for our community" and a "consummate professional that demonstrates exceptional leadership…" and models "positive parent and teacher collaboration to solve problems."

They expressed anger and disappointment, making claims that Conde was being targeted for removal because a small group of Hart teachers were feeling pressured by Conde to improve their performance.

One email states, "I hope the district administration and the trustees are able to see through any baseless attacks made by teachers toward Ms. Conde. The new tactic of the incompetent teachers in our district is to go on the warpath. Through the help of their union, they ban together to disrupt their schools and attack our leadership."

Another Conde supporter emailed, "We fail to see how acting in the best interest of children by asking those who teach them to do the right thing creates a hostile work environment. In truth, administration consistently intervenes to stop certain teachers from creating hostile learning environments for our children."

The similarity between "hostile work environments" allegedly created by Conde and Vranesh was not lost on parents and community members.

Victoria Glenn, parent of Amador and Walnut Grove students, said during public comment at the April 22 board meeting, "Recent events at Hart sound all too familiar and I have to questions whether there is a common theme with the dismissal of the Walnut Grove principal."

Also referencing the similarity, an email writer stated, "you stress they are not analogous and are very different situations. They may be. But from the outside looking in, parents see vague board agendas, cryptic reports of 'safety issues at Hart' in the Weekly and an out-of-control union wielding all their weight and power to 'defend' the rights of a few bad / entitled teachers."   

Neither APT president Peggy Carpenter nor Clark has responded to multiple requests for comment.

The costs

The population least involved and probably the most impacted by the infighting, distrust, tension and changes in leadership is the students.

"Our parents, teachers, and administrators work very closely together to support students in our schools," Ahmadi said. "Parents and teachers share one thing in common; they are passionate about students being successful, although at times they may have a different approach to things."

Audrey Purnell has a fourth-grader at Donlon and said he has had a new principal every year of the five years her son has been there.

"He actually thinks that's protocol, that every year you get a new teacher and a new principal," Purnell said. "I think part of the reason for the high turnover is that being an administrator in Pleasanton is a tough job."

Jacobs reminded the board during a previous meeting that, "One of the main functions of the school district is to support their administrators. You have clearly displayed failure in what you are paid to do." He furthered that the board has "buckled and allowed the bullying tactics of the teachers union …" to sway their decision to remove Vranesh.

In response to Clark's comments about Conde at the April 22 meeting, Erika Schmitz, a Hart parent, said to the "teachers at Hart who filed complaints and the teachers union that is backing them… shame on you, you are not here for the kids. You are here for the power and the politics and don't think our community doesn't recognize that simple and inescapable fact."

"We know about the hit list," Schmitz continued. "Your plan to target principals who seek to hold teachers to a higher and honorable professional standard. You look at an administrator like Terry Conde, who is trying to build something better for our kids and your first thought is how that affects you and your control.

"The teachers who filed the original grievances, with the union's backing, looked at those standards and instead of examining themselves, instead of rising to a challenge - an opportunity to make something better for yourself and your career - you decided it was better, cheaper and easier to fire the principal."

Brian Schwartz, whose wife Kirsten is the president of the Hart Middle School PTSA, said at the April 22 meeting that most community members are strong supporters of the schools, staff and teachers, "but many of us do not support the tactics that are being used by a group of disgruntled teachers at Hart to attack Ms. Conde."

"The issue here isn't Ms. Conde," Schwartz said. "The issue here is what happens when we have poor performing teachers."

When asked by the Weekly about the perception that the teacher union is bringing allegations against principals to protect under-performing teachers, Ahmadi said, "Government code affords teachers the right to be represented by a union with regard to these rights; however, our administrators have the right and the responsibility to guide, support, supervise, and discipline employees as appropriate."

None of the five board members nor Clark responded to requests to comment on this issue.

Schwartz also said he hoped community members were watching the Vergara v. the State of California lawsuit, "which does a very good job of illustrating what happens when students are forced to endure poor teachers."

A Superior Court judge in Los Angeles ruled June 10 that state laws virtually guaranteeing teacher jobs for life are unconstitutional. The Association of Pleasanton Teachers did not respond to requests for comment on the decision.

"While everyone's focus is being taken away (by) what's being done here, we're losing what's best for the students in all this," said Patti Eichhorn, a parent of students at Hart Middle School and Foothill High, at the May 13 school board meeting.

"The superintendent and cabinet are more concerned about the self preservation of their professional careers rather than doing what's right for our children," Jacob said.

The participation of one board member in particular, Jeff Bowser, in votes that involve the teachers union has come into question by some citizens, particularly the votes concerning Vranesh.

Bowser, who was president of the board during the time votes were taken on Vranesh, is married to a teacher and union official in the district, Patty Bowser.  When the Weekly asked Bowser about this concern, he said, "I can tell you that I have had no conflict of interest, or need for recusal, based on my wife's employment with the District or membership in the teachers union.

"As confirmed with the district's legal counsel, 'conflict of interest' is limited to a board member's financial interest in a contract or a decision made." Bowser continued. "Outside of those, there is no general conflict of interest based on a board member's spouse's employment in the District or membership in the teacher's union."

"If you are intending to ask whether my wife's role in the teachers union has influenced me with regard to any matter involving Mr. Vranesh's employment status," Bowser said, "the answer is no. I intend to continue to fulfill my duties as board member in this and other matters."

In addition to the cost of time, energy and trust, the financial effect of the turmoil is also significant. Between October and March, more than $315,000 was paid to the district's law firm, and the open purchase order maximum for the fiscal year ending in June was increased from $335,000 to $455,000.

Another $14,429 was paid to the investigator, Shon Davidsen, to look into complaints against Vranesh.

Vranesh was named an itinerant principal in February and informed the board later that month that his only duty has been data entry on Excel spreadsheets. He also said he was performing this task at his current rate of pay of approximately $125,000 a year.

"It seems pretty clear that my doing data entry is a highly questionable use of our scarce district funds and a misuse of my educational and administrative skills," Vranesh told the board.

A potential cost comes in the form of a formal claim Vranesh filed April 16 "for money damages and injunctive and other relief against your local public or other entity, for amounts totaling significantly in excess of $10,000..."

 The claim states that "PUSD and its agents and employees defamed Jon Vranesh" by "making or publishing false statement(s)," and by "making statements to third persons that disparaged Jon Vranesh's skills and services, especially to the public." It also claims Vranesh's right to privacy was violated.

Claims are generally required before a lawsuit for money damages can be brought against a public entity. In addition to naming the district, Ahmadi and assistant superintendent Luz Cazares, the claim also names the then-president of APT, Peggy Carpenter, as allegedly conspiring to "intentionally interfere" with the employment contract and the economic relationship between Vranesh and the district.

In conjunction with the complaints against Vranesh, in July, financial settlements of $245,000 each were made to two unnamed district employees who claimed they were subjected to sexual harassment by Jon Vranesh at Walnut Grove.

Community of Character

The Pleasanton school district describes itself as a "Community of Character," and the school district has character education as one of its goals. The website states, "In the Pleasanton Unified School District we will develop curriculum, create an atmosphere, and model behavior that instills personal, social, and civic responsibility."

Character education is "the study of the core ethical values that our society shares and holds important, including, but not limited to, respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, caring, honesty, justice and fairness, and citizenship and civic involvement."

Several speakers have referenced this initiative during public comments to the board.

Schwartz said on April 22, "It's a shame the principles of respect don't apply equally when the union is trying to put a spin on what's going on because a few staff members are feeling some pressure to improve their job performance."

And parent Victoria Glenn referenced the goal of teaching character when she said, "For the past three years under the current superintendent, our district has deteriorated due to poor leadership and bad decision making. Attending school board meetings over the past three years, it has become clear that the organizational structure is inverted. The administration and the teachers union are the ones making the decisions for our district.

"It is apparent that the administration has made a habit of making important, high-impact decisions without consulting the board," she added.

She continued that the board isn't aware of what is happening in the district and that board members have been "surprised to learn important information from speakers during public comment."

Some of the issues that came up during public comment that Glenn said the board was unaware of include Vranesh having requested a public hearing, as he is entitled, on the allegations against him and what his duties were as itinerant principal.

Glenn said she was particularly disturbed when Paige Wright, who is now a candidate for the school board, told the board that "someone in an administrative capacity" had banned her from substitute teaching at Walnut Grove because husband, Bruce Henry, had spoken in support of Vranesh.

"What kind of examples are we setting for our children?" she asked the board and administrators. "Are we giving lip service to character traits?"

Staff reporter Amanda Aguilar contributed to this report.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Apple
a resident of Birdland
on Aug 21, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Hats off to Gina Channell-Allen. This is exactly the kind of in depth reporting this community needs.

Thank you.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Amador Estates
on Aug 21, 2014 at 3:55 pm

This article really does sum up the issues in our district! It is a little late though.... The whole issue surrounding Conde at Hart as been completely dropped it seems...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Aug 21, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Carpenter has retired and Clark is now the new president of the Union. I think Stuart is the new Vice President?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Been There
a resident of California Reflections
on Aug 21, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Sounds like PUSD is in the midst of turmoil in which a core of disgruntled parents are seeking to turn every administrative move or decision into a political one. We can replace teachers and administrators; unfortunately there is no replacing of dirt-sniffing parents who are advancing a political agenda.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by AP
a resident of Birdland
on Aug 21, 2014 at 4:16 pm

Ya, blame the parents. They are the one who pay the taxes, send their kids to school prepared, donate 1000's of dollars and take their kids to after school tutoring when the school just isn't meeting the child's needs.

Blame then parents for asking that the district be accountable to the public instead of hiding behind closed doors making decisions that cost the public millions. Ya, blame the parents for not being lemmings who just follow the crowd.

Blame the parents for trying to ensure that KIDS are put first in our district and not a union agenda. Ya, blame the parents for asking that the wizard step from out behind the curtain.

Above all be sure to blame the parents for asking the administration to be transparent and accountable.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fact check
a resident of Amador Estates
on Aug 21, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Any Simione may have returned to the district but she did not come back as a principal. She is now a teacher.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fact check
a resident of Amador Estates
on Aug 21, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Sorry, Amy Simione.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fed Up
a resident of Civic Square
on Aug 21, 2014 at 5:23 pm

(removed because it addressed another poster instead of the issue)


 +   Like this comment
Posted by john
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2014 at 6:16 pm

"We can replace teachers..."

Not that easily. Not the tenured ones who aren't performing.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2014 at 10:35 pm

How disappointing and depressing to be going back to school with a community that relies on rumors and assumptions when it comes to judging our teachers.

I hear from teachers from other communities- you're right- they dont want to come teach here- yet you're wrong as to why...they read these blogs- they hear you tax payers, and "reporters". They tell me all the time there's no way they would come work in a community like this- one that actually believes a blog and a gossip column over high performing schools and the professionals that work there.

Welcome back PUSD teachers, I am in constant awe that you come everyday with a positive attitude serving the children of this community, even though the community has constantly been telling you that you are not a valued professional. Thanks for that Gina.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Nila
a resident of Carlton Oaks
on Aug 21, 2014 at 10:55 pm

Can someone please give me their OPINION of exactly what happened to Mr. Vranish? And if he asked for a public hearing, why haven't we heard of one?

I've gotten bits and pieces, but nothing that make sense.

Very interesting that a member of the school board is also married to the union chief.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wow
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 7:54 am

Nila,

If you read the transcripts of the investigation of Jon Vranesh you would also come to the same conclusion. The ramblings regarding Go-gurt smeared whistles and Ghandi didn't prove or disprove the allegations against Vranesh. They were, however, consistent with the false accusations against to other District employees, Linda Pipe and Mary Snell.

Did the PUSD ever do as they requested and statements to their employee files that the claims were false?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Former WG Parent
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 8:10 am

I can think of two more situations that indicate the current Superintendent is not cooperative and willing to honestly work with the community. They both involve the school calendar.

Prior to the Superintendents arrival, PUSD would confer with Livermore, Dublin and San Ramon on the school calendar. The calendars matched as much as possible. This is helpful in many ways. Some employees of the district have children attending schools in these bordering communities. Services to the kids for after school and extra curricular activities are affected as the calendars become more and more varied. This includes The Parks and Rec departments of all these cities, Libraries, Scout Camps and private instruction for music lessons, languages, etc.

The manner in how the current calendar was decided on by the district was mishandled. They spent money on a survey that had NO BEARING on their decision. Parents filled it out thinking they were adding to the process and had a voice in the decision. How much did that cost? Surely the money would have been better spent on ANY of he suffering educational programs instead of a bogus survey. It was a move you would expect in a Third World Dictatorship!

To Been There, yes, I'm disgruntled. I expect that as a tax payer and a parent, the District would handle these situations in a more honest responsible and professional manner. I don't think that is an unreasonable expectation.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wanda
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Aug 22, 2014 at 8:11 am

Like all the other naysayers on this thread, I don't know the facts either, except for those facts I either ignore or misconstrue to support my wacked out negative view of anything associated with unions, teachers, and public (tax payer paid for) education.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MSJ Grad
a resident of Castlewood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 8:25 am

We have bigger issues folks. Janice Munoz Clark? (Removed) Very fitting she is in the union I guess. (Removed) Nice job Pleasanton teachers good choice.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Gram-ME
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 8:35 am

PUSD "ain't what it used to be". Superintendent and Board are in denial and teachers' union has too much say in what goes on with our children/students! Much CHANGE and renewed CONFIDENCE is needed in PUSD. Keep this in mind when voting in future.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Aug 22, 2014 at 8:43 am

Time for Ahmadi to go.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Vernon
a resident of Avignon
on Aug 22, 2014 at 8:54 am

No different than any other Government run agency, school system is rigged and corrupt. Dump the teachers union and most of the problems will be cured.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Conflict of Interest
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 8:59 am

One thing that is very important is to not have school board members whose spouses are teachers or administrators in the District. It is a huge conflict of interest. They have a situation in a neighboring school district where a board member's spouse is a teacher in the district. The teacher rats out teachers and administrators, and passes on all that goes on at teacher staff meetings, and what administrators say, to the teacher's spouse board member. The teacher also gets very emotional and combative when a teacher or administrator questions any board action. It hinders productive communication and creates a hostile environment.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hart Mom
a resident of Hart Middle School
on Aug 22, 2014 at 9:05 am

Nice work PW. Especially fitting that you closed with the character discussion.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Conflict of Interest
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 9:06 am

I think it would be very constructive that any person running for the school board to have to disclose whether they have any family members employed by the school district, and that information conveyed to voters in the election materials.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Henry
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Aug 22, 2014 at 9:13 am

Vranesh gone. Conde is next. Only 14 more to go. Clark is on the ascendancy, working diligently to create hostile work environments to be used first against creative principals and next against half of the committed and qualified teachers that don't support her. Ahmadi has her office staff putting together propagandist blurbs to win awards for the district and have photos taken to ameliorate the parents. Sounds like the Raiders' front office staff a few years ago. Go Pleasanton School District!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sal
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 22, 2014 at 9:17 am

The problem is the anti-teacher, anti-union attitude in Pleasanton. Yes, a minority conservative of parents - more than any other group - are the ones to blame for this disharmony. They are the ones who will ultimately ruin this district. Let's be honest, this mob of disgruntled parents have a clear right-wing agenda. They want Ahmadi out because she doesn't fit into their whitebred image of a superintendent. She isn't a Sarah Palin clone and that is a problem for them. No one seems to be mentioning this underlying fact. As others have already said, some in this community rely on rumors rather than the facts about this highly performing district. No wonder teachers want to go elsewhere.

This article reads like a sounding board for disgruntled parents. Would it have killed the author to quote some parents who are actually supportive of Ahmadi and the district? Nope, let's just interview a bunch of former Tea Party parents. Of course, the loud minority and their groundless hyperbole get the attention, not the measured opinion of the majority.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sal
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 22, 2014 at 9:49 am

Gina Channell-Allen,

Is there any chance you'll quote a supporter of Ahmadi or do you just quote angry parents? I'd sure like to know.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 9:50 am

Sal, if people do not agree with you, do you just assume they are tea party members? That sounds like it.

I am far from a tea party person but agree there are serious problems inside the district. It is not the teachers or the principals. It is the leadership at the head office. The leadership is creating and/or allowing these problems to occur. I have been deeply involved in the district for decades and the problem I see is poor leadership/management and poor communication. If we want our district restored to a point where we were the envy of others, we need to replace those at the top. Start with the two board members up for re-election, and get in some board members who will make the hard decisions and replace the superintendent and others at the top (especially the finance superintendent). It is going to cost us some to cancel their contracts that the current board blindly renews each year (except for one board member, Arkin). The short term cost will be worth it in the long run.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Amador Estates
on Aug 22, 2014 at 9:57 am

"Without knowing the type of turnover that other like school districts have, we cannot say if ours is high or not," Board president Jamie Hintze said. "We know the reasons why our administrators have come and gone and it does not seem unreasonable."
Did you ask them why they were leaving ?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sal
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 22, 2014 at 10:03 am

Neighbor says "Sal, if people do not agree with you, do you just assume they are tea party members? That sounds like it."

Yeah, like this mob of parents isn't a bunch of right-wingers. You think I was born yesterday. You think people can't see through this political agenda? You should thank me for pointing out what is really going on. They want to gin up fake outrage in order get right-wingers on the board. It's that simple. Don't be fooled P-town.


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Posted by Accountability
a resident of Southeast Pleasanton
on Aug 22, 2014 at 10:05 am

I just finished watching the most recent school board meetings, which are available on the PUSD website "on demand". I am beyond sad. I am angry. The Superintendent and her Vice are clearly in over their heads. Seem like nice people, who are "deer in the headlights" when it comes to managing a district full of highly educated, successful, and involved parents. It's a tall order, but they are failing miserably. The parents do not trust the board or administration. Teachers have told me how helpless and frustrated they are at the lack of accountability for their peers.

In a successful district, the "boss" is the parent community. They are the #1 customer. The School board is selected to represent their views. The Administration is picked by the board of trustees, and very clearly the Superintendent should report to the Trustees. The certified and classified employees are just that: employees. The teacher's union is a conduit to those employees - more of a supplier but certainly not a customer! Without parents there are no kids, no schools, no jobs for teachers. Everyone reports to the PARENTS. The parents are the CUSTOMER.

PUSD is upside down. The "bosses" (parents) are ignored. The vice-Superintendent pulls the puppet strings of the Board of Trustees, with no transparency to the public or even to the board! Reference the "only two options were approved by the union" revelation at the modified schedule board meeting, where the trustees were shocked and out of the loop. The superintendent and her Vice-superintendent have no guts or backbone to negotiate with the union, which is unusually hostile and defensive. Things are just upside down. This is not a personal attack on anyone. It is an observation that here at PUSD the Board of Trustees reports to the Superintendent, who reports to her Vice-Superintendent, who reports to the Union "associations". Missing from the equation are the parents. Entirely.

It is time for a change, time for the parents of our community to demand better. It's not a Union/non-union issue, not a teacher/parent issue, and not Have/Have-not issue. It's about the children and parents. It's about customers and suppliers. "About The Kids" is on the tip of the tongue of the board and administration, ready for a good sound bite. Instead, "About the kids" needs to be at the tip of their pens as they vote WITH the parents. No more rhetoric, please. No more saccharine sweet praise for our "incredible" school district. It's time for an honest assessment of PUSD leadership, both board and administration. It's time for change. Let's make it truly "About The Kids". New board of trustees, and new administrators. Our families and children, in my opinion, are unusually exceptional. We need school board leaders and administrators who are similarly fantastic.


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Posted by AP
a resident of Birdland
on Aug 22, 2014 at 10:22 am

To Sal,

It appears that most if not all of the quotes in this article came from people who spoke up at School Board Meetings in the 2013-2014 year. How do I know that? I watched every meeting. I don't think I missed even one meeting. I don't recall ever seeing one person at those meetings who stood up and said they agreed with how the board is handling either the union or any of the numerous issues that have come up with principals in the district in the last year.

If you are in support of the current school board and agree with how they are running our schools I would suggest that you voice your opinion at a school board meeting. It's the best way to be quoted in the local newspaper.


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Posted by Citizen
a resident of Birdland
on Aug 22, 2014 at 10:33 am

Best education is here in Pleasanton ! Thanks to our teachers here!


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Posted by Citizen 2
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 10:56 am

Best district administration here in Pleasanton?

Definitely not!


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Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Aug 22, 2014 at 11:04 am

Like it or not, parents do represent the interests of their children. [removed because it was irrelevant]


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Posted by Go away cholo
a resident of Charter Oaks
on Aug 22, 2014 at 11:07 am

Cholo- you have no right to comment on our school district! Heck, you don't even have a right to comment on the Livermore school district! GO AWAY CHOLO!


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Posted by Ellie Cusick
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Aug 22, 2014 at 11:41 am

The article seems awfully biased. It is likely that the majority of parents who do not attend the meetings are pleased with the district and do not have any political agenda. It's the loud and aggressive ones who get the attention, and Gina seems to want to please these loudmouths. We've put three of our kids through the PUSD system, and all three have gone on to top-rate universities. UCLA, UCSanDiego, and Georgetown.


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Posted by Citizen 2
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Kudos to excellent teachers in Pleasanton.

Excellent teachers will be able to shine even in the worst of administrative circumstances., much like excellent students (like Ellies) can shine even with a mediocre teacher.

Is it satisfaction or apathy reflected in these "majority" of parents who do not attend or speak at board meetings? Or is it fear of retaliation that prevents citizens from speaking? Nobody truly knows. We are all speculating.

Hopefully the anonymity of the ballot box will give more people a chance to express their opinion.
















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Posted by CJ
a resident of Carriage Gardens
on Aug 22, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Sal,

I am not a Tea Party member and in no way have ever supported them. Am a life-long liberal Democrat. But, if you think I can't also be against the teachers union then you don't know much about having a brain and not just following party lines. The teachers union in our state has gotten way to powerful. You obviously no longer have children in our schools and/or know any current teachers in the District. I do and let me tell you, the teachers union is pulling this baloney at almost every school in the district. My friends who are teachers try to stay out of it but they've told me numerous times now that Principals are being bullied by teachers and told that if they don't go along they too will be "reported" for who knows what. We need our Board and top Administrators to start realizing what is going on and make decisions accordingly. We need them to think of our kids first, which means making everyone, teachers and administrators, do the jobs they should be doing and not trying to just get along. Kids first people!


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Posted by Ellie Cusick
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Aug 22, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Please don't put words in my mouth. We have been very satisfied with our children's teachers over the years. [Removed because it focused on another commenter and not the topic]


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Posted by Sal
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 22, 2014 at 1:55 pm

CJ,

LOL! You're liberal democrat, good one. I needed a laugh. You're such a liberal that you regurgitate a bunch of baseless, right-wing, anti-union, anti-teacher talking points. You're a regular Elizabeth Warren aren't you? Nice try.

This whole dustup is the creation self-entitled parents with an ax to grind and a thinly veiled political agenda. According to them, they are perfect, their kids are perfect, but that pesky teachers union and school board is holding them back. Self-refection be damned. Don't look in the mirror, look for the easy scapegoats like Ahmadi and unions. So pathetic and sad.


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Posted by happy camper
a resident of Stoneridge
on Aug 22, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Pleasanton School District is the reason we moved here and I am glad we did. Our district is providing opportunities that we would have just dreamed of in the South Bay. The families, faculty, staff and administration in elementary and middle school have been superior and above the grade. Principals turnover is not effecting our amazing experience. We are grateful to be here.


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Posted by Support Ahmadi
a resident of Walnut Grove Elementary School
on Aug 22, 2014 at 2:32 pm

I am fond of Ahmadi.... glad JV was ousted!


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Posted by Support Ahmadi
a resident of Walnut Grove Elementary School
on Aug 22, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Y'all just hate Ahmadi because she is not the perfect (white) superintendent y'all tea party members want. It is sad to see parents attacking a lady of a different ancestry than you! Ahmadi and the school board members (with the exception of Arkin) are very smart and good decision makers! I have full faith in the ability of the school board to lead us! As for the unions, I think they are doing their job nicely. The union keeps the school board in check and the school board keeps the union in check, a perfect harmony! I will never take my children out of the beautifully organized PUSD. Viva America and viva PUSD!


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Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 2:42 pm

I am so thankful for Sal and Ellie's comments. I cant tell you how many teachers Ive spoken to today who are really crushed to see the deliberate timing of this front page article. Isnt it time we start asking who is really helping to cause the hysteria in this school district? The media and those here on this blog!

Case in point- a gentleman posted that since hearing that the Principal from Alisal has left the district, that is the last straw- he is now running for school board...to what, fix this? I am absolutely dumbfounded by this logic, and coming from someone who claims to be educated and wants to run our schools? Had this person actually known the real story as to why the Principal has moved on, one that is absolutely no one's business but her own, you would see that there IS NO ISSUE. Being a tax payer does not entitle you to know a district employee's personal affairs. Yet how quickly you jump to gossip, rumors and assumptions. Well, they certainly do say a lot about you and Gina who clearly planned for this kind of response.

What a shame Gina has chosen to welcome our kids back to school like this. What a shame that any positive article on this rag is given maybe 7 comments. What a shame that this community cant even see their role is decreasing morale, and how their very public vitriol and gossip is effecting new talent from coming here. How sad I am for this community that they cant even see the positive right in front of their face, yet how quickly they gravitate and believe gossip.

It is time for those who do not want to stand for this kind of community behavior to pour their ice bucket of water all over this site and post the awesome stories about what's really happening in the classrooms you so entrust to drop your students off at on Monday. Welcome Back to School Pleasanton.


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Posted by Dan
a resident of Highland Oaks
on Aug 22, 2014 at 3:03 pm

The School district is a reflection of the community.


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Posted by It takes a village...
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 3:24 pm

...to remove the ineffective, untruthful, incompetent superintendent Ahmadi who apparently when criticized either alleges the PUSD staff member/community member/public has 1)'autism/Aspergers syndrome' or is otherwise 2) 'crazy,' 3)'mentally ill,' 4) racist (e.g.,doesn't like Iranians) or 5) sexist (e.g., doesn't like women).

Nothing could be further than the truth. The PUSD superintendent has lied to this community, brought ridicule and shame to the public and children of this town, and now it is time that she step down.

Next time, the Board should hire someone with actual experience as a superintendent who has experience and is not a complete newbie.


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Posted by thanks
a resident of Amador Estates
on Aug 22, 2014 at 4:02 pm

All of the above, especially the main post, reassures us that we made the right decision to yank our child out of the PUSD system at the elementary level in favor of an area private school. Our child is now ready to graduate from high school and it has been a very successful switch.

I would strongly encourage other Pleasanton parents to evaluate alternatives to PUSD.


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Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Aug 22, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Parents have a legitimate interest in the education of their children and the communities in which they reside. The emotions of parents are simply that...their emotions. What they are expressing in the above posts are certainly appropriate even if they are perceived/experienced as offensive some readers.

The USA is willing to tolerate a broad range of opinion(s). FREEDOM OF SPEECH makes the USA extra special.




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Posted by Sal
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 22, 2014 at 4:14 pm

It takes a village says "The PUSD superintendent has lied to this community, brought ridicule and shame to the public and children of this town, and now it is time that she step down."

Wrong, when outsiders make fun or complain of Pleasanton, they almost always mention the uptight, self-righteous, selfish, tacky, vindictive, Tea Party mentality of this town. People suck in the Pleasanton bubble that never travel to other parts of the Bay Area don't know this. They are the ones who bringing ridicule and shame to this town(see the 2009 and 2010 Tea Party events at the fairgrounds). I love the total lack of self-awareness among the blowhards in this town. Of course, they are the minority (the really loud minority) in this town so is no indictment of Pleasanton as whole.


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Posted by Former WG Parent
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 4:29 pm

I find the comments that the criticism of PUSD is based on racism offensive and themselves racist. I happen to share the same ancestry as the superintendent. You can't know the background of those posting on this board!


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Posted by Wow Gina...
a resident of Amador Estates
on Aug 22, 2014 at 5:16 pm

(Removed because it was irrelevant )


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Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Aug 23, 2014 at 9:18 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Most families are happy with their child(ren)'s school(s). They are likely to know less about the schools they don't attend. And most have little reason to interact with anyone at the district level.

There is much to celebrate in this community. In the Lake Wobegon sense, the majority of the children are above average. So are their parents. Expectations are high, and the vast majority of teachers and principals are knocking themselves out to meet and exceed them.

That is true in many districts around us and throughout the state. But not all of them shine, and some only shine part of the time, and even the best are bound to have weaknesses.

If you think, however, that everything is hunky dory at 4665 Bernal, it is not. This governance team is weak, and the previous one was . . . awful. What the "vindictive" people have pointed out (no need to rehash here) is accurate Those people have taken, researched, and provided the broader view of how poorly this district has been run in the last dozen years.

This isn't about hating teachers and never has been. We have to be interested in seeing the truths, all of them.


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Posted by Eric
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Aug 23, 2014 at 11:46 am

Eric is a registered user.

In true PUSD fashion, late this friday after business hours we receive an email telling us that 2 of the 5th grade classes at Walnut Grove will start the year this coming Monday with substitute teachers and how it will be a smooth transition. I call BS on that. How is starting a school year with substitutes smooth? The first couple of weeks are usually spent with the teachers getting to know their kids and what makes each individual tick. The children are in a constant state of what now, what are they going to take away or change? This particular group of 5th graders has had no sense of continuity for the last three years with the elimination of Discovery, removal of a Principal, unhappy teachers and staff, substitute teachers because they were out applying for School awards. A week ago my kid was excited about school, now just hoping that they don't have a bunch of different substitutes again. Disgusting.


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Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Aug 23, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

There was legislation enacted as a result of the Williams settlement: Web Link It refers to many areas of education, but one section is about substitute teachers and how they can be used. While a long-term sub, with proper credentials or a declaration of need (requires Board approval and must meet guidelines), is allowed; a series of substitute teachers is not. The question would be why, at one grade level and this late in the hiring process, are there suddenly two teachers out.

As for the distinguished school, blue ribbon, or teacher of the year awards, a tremendous amount of time and money (subs for one) is wasted on these "feel good" efforts. A great school is a great school regardless of what logo you are then allowed to slap on the letterhead.


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