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Parent Chris Bennett stood to speak with the trustees about his concern for safety at El Tejon School and the need for a full-time principal there.
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Stoic Trustee Anita Anderson looks on silently as Superintendent Katherine Kleier argues with the new board that they cannot evaluate her because the prior board never finished their job of setting the goals for what she was to accomplish.
School safety, superintendent job evaluation bring debate
By Patric Hedlund
It was 10:45 p.m. when Chris Bennett finally got a chance to speak to El Tejon Unified School District trustees about the prospect of moving 5th and 6th grade students back to El Tejon School in Lebec. His daughter is currently at Frazier Park School. Bennett told trustees at the Wednesday, Feb. 13 meeting that a full-time principal is needed on the El Tejon campus.
"El Tejon is a broken school. I’ve heard of kids being harassed and bullied," he told the board. "It does not sound like a safe school or a good, safe learning environment. I am looking for a school in Valencia."
Newly-elected trustees Lark Shillig and Scott Robinson replied with passionate promises about the future of El Tejon School. Robinson said his daughter will be going to 8th grade there next year, after Pine Mountain Learning Center, because he believes it will be a good learning environment.
"We are going to make an amazing school here," Shillig said, "everyone echoes that. We are committed to this being a great place for your daughter. I’ve raised ten children in this district and they have had a wonderful education…."
Robinson spoke about the district’s commitment to the Rachel’s Challenge program to help make the entire school culture eliminate bullying.
Superintendent Kleier (who has been serving as the superintendent-principal for El Tejon School) said, "We are working hard on bullying at El Tejon school. There is zero tolerance for that. We have suspended many students. Most of my days are spent taking care of discipline. I admit I am not the best principal because I have two jobs."
Parent Michelle Mosher said, "The bus is a bigger concern than the school campus. Most of the bullying behavior problems are now taking place on the bus."
Two years ago, without a board vote, Kleier moved 4th, 5th and 6th grades to Frazier Park School, leaving only 7th and 8th at El Tejon. There was a possibility that El Tejon School might be closed. That did not happen. Now there is concern about overcrowding at Frazier Park School.
Formerly, Gretchen Skrotzki split her time as principal of Frazier Park School and El Tejon School. Last fall, she declared that was short-changing both schools. Superintendent Kleier took on the site administration duties for El Tejon School but within weeks she was out on medical leave which lasted throughout November, part of December and through January, leaving the job to Bud Burrows, who served as an interim superintendent-principal.
Burrows told the ETUSD board in January that he believes it would cost $80,000 to hire a full-time principal for El Tejon School, and that one is definitely needed.
Kleier, who returned in time for the February 13 board meeting, told the trustees she has a solution for the principal problem. She proposed moving the vice principal from Frazier Mountain High School into the position at El Tejon. In an email to this reporter, after the board meeting, Kleier said that the additional cost to the district for reassigning the vice principal to serve as a full-time principal at El Tejon School will be just $3,079 a year.
Back at the meeting, there was general agreement among the board members that the experiment of splitting a principal between more than one site was shown to be a "lose lose" for the school, parents and students.
Lark Shillig urged the concerned father (Chris Bennett) to go visit El Tejon school: "It is a beautifully set up school when you have actively involved parents. Go sit in the classroom. You need to experience it yourself… We are so blessed to have an elementary school, a middle school and a high school up here. It just has to be restored to work well."
Robinson (a firefighter paramedic for Los Angeles County and chairman of the ad hoc School Safety Task Force) said, "I am concerned about my own daughter’s and son’s safety… I teach them a lot about safety. I feel comfortable at this point sending them there."
Parent Michelle Moser suggested sending 6th grade back to El Tejon and leaving 5th grade at Frazier Park School.
Trustee Anita Anderson said "to me [El Tejon School] has outlived its life. Is it really wise to have those low numbers when we don’t need three schools? We need only two schools. I think Frazier Park school is at its maximum. We need a K-6 and then a 7-12 at the high school."
Kleier argued for adding four more classrooms at Frazier Park School to diminish crowding there.
ETUSD board chair John Fleming said there was an online poll of parents: "75 answered ‘yes’ to moving 5th and 6th grades back to El Tejon School and 55 said ‘yes’ to just 6th grade moving back."
The board voted 4-1 to move 5th and 6th grade students back to El Tejon School for the upcoming 2013-2014 school year. Anita Anderson was the ‘nay’ vote.
In other business, a budget was presented by Bud Burrows for the 2013-2014 school year. Two support employees, a lead mechanic and bus driver/warehouseman were restored to their full pay rates, after taking a temporary "crisis" cut prior to passage of Proposition 30.
Fleming asked the board to direct the superintendent to provide information to the board, based on follow-up calls to families, to learn why students have been leaving ETUSD schools. It was decided to put the issue on the February 28 regular meeting agenda for discussion and action.
Lark Shillig said she hoped the board would be able to provide an evaluation of the superintendent by April. She presented a form used in other districts. Superintendent Kleier said "I have nothing against the form, but I have a problem with the process. It is impossible for this board to do an evaluation that soon, because the board last year was never able to agree on goals." The new board members looked on in surprise as she spoke. "We have to agree what you are going to evaluate me on and you have to give me time to do that," Kleier said, suggesting 8 months. "They never sat down and gave me goals. Is the intent of the board that you are going to evaluate me in April?"
"We have to," Fleming said. "It is the law."
Anderson replied, "People break the law all the time. Let’s be realistic. People cannot do more than they can do in the time allotted."
A special meeting on February 21, 6 p.m. was set to establish final goals. The school safety committee meets February 26 (both at the Continuation School on the FMHS campus). The public is invited to both meetings.
This is part of the February 22, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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