The El Tejon Unified School District Board of Trustees with new superintendent Katie Kleier (in yellow) in July 2010. (l-r) John Fleming (in his first term), Ken Hurst (in his second term), Anita Anderson (in her second term), Cathy Wallace (in her second term), Kleier and Paula Regan, who came on the board in February 2003 and has served continuously since.
Commentary by Richard Hoegh
with Patric Hedlund and Gary Meyer
“Work Together” has become more than a slogan. It is Mountain Spirit in action. Community involvement in our public schools has never been more important. The events of this past week prove that it has also never been more real.
It is true that Katie Kleier was hired this summer as the seventh superintendent for El Tejon Unified School District in seven years, but a new superintendent is not responsible for making the deepest changes needed in our district.
That responsibility rests with the members of the ETUSD Board of Trustees and the community’s parents. Trustees are elected to be responsive to the community’s desire for the educational excellence to which our community is entitled, and of which we are capable.
Some school districts in California (such as neighboring Gorman and my childhood school of Selma Unified in Northern California) have issued no “pink slips” for the past two years, despite the state’s miserable budget deadlock.
Far beyond being a rubber stamp to budget cuts, the trustees’ responsibility should include working to create proposals to upgrade the schools’ academic performance and to safeguard a rich educational experience, which includes competitive sports.
In Selma the union staff accepted board proposals for furloughs and an across-the-board cut in salaries so that no one would have to be fired. Their board gets the credit for the good management in Selma’s schools.
The most sizable loss of revenue at ETUSD is due to falling enrollment. That makes our problem here much more severe. It is fair to ask: “Where has ETUSD’s board been when it comes to proposing creative ideas for building a ‘no pinkslip’ environment at ETUSD?”
It was our community’s parents who created the top-ranked school in Kern County with their own hands and dedication about seven years ago. Pine Mountain Learning Center has now become one of the outstanding schools in California. Right here in our own district we have the clear message that parent involvement is the foundation of excellence in education.
It appears ETUSD’s board of trustees has been caught asleep at the wheel, despite the fact that three of these trustees are two-term incumbents and Paula Regan has been on the board for going on eight years. The board cannot be considered novices. But they are oddly passive in this time of crisis.
The community is calling for leadership, and is stepping forward to help. We have groups of talented people in our mountains— including many 501c3 nonprofit groups—who are willing to become involved. We applaud the board of the FMHS Booster Club for stepping up to help raise funds for sports. Many others were at the community meeting Monday night, May 23, who didn’t speak up publicly, choosing to speak privately to the superintendent or to wait for a less contentious moment.
Here’s a quick sample:
- Kat Fair of The Mountain Shakespeare Festival was there; the group she manages has already enrolled 20 youngsters in drama “boot camp” to prepare children from Frazier Park School, El Tejon School and Frazier Mountain High School along with homeschoolers to appear in this year’s performance of Romeo and Juliet, which will play every weekend of July.
- Focus Central has been offering music classes.
- A group of over a dozen local college professors volunteered three years ago to provide college readiness experiences for our high school students. The principal of FMHS didn’t accept their offer. Perhaps now that can change.
- The Rotarians offer Interact and RYLA leadership camps, third grader dictionaries and a Festival of Books.
- Michelle Nosco’s Arts for Earth Foundation has provided a Nature Art Club for Pine Mountain Learning Center this year. After seeing the art show at El Tejon School’s Open House Thursday, May 19, Nosco offered to seek grant funding to help organize and conduct art classes for the middle school.
- Larry Skiba, a retired law enforcement officer, coordinated the repair of the Frazier Mountain High School weight room as a community Christmas present to the sports teams at FMHS last year. He was there too, looking for a way to help.
- So was Don Eubank, who has offered his fine skills in woodworking to help students gain shop experience.
- Community parents such as Tonya Zorich and coach Tom Farrar are organizing Club Soccer to stretch local kids to high achievement in college prep skills in the classroom and on the field.
- Community businesses such as Frazier Mountain Internet, Tejon Ranch, The Mountain Enterprise and Pine Mountain Village Merchants have created incentive scholarships for students who work hard to excel.
- The Mountain Enterprise is offering journalism internships to middle school and high school students, if school administrations will help us implement that for their students.
The community as a whole wants to be in the loop. We need the superintendent and the elected trustees to recognize that we will roll up our sleeves to work as their partners, but we are all aware that we are more than that. We pay the bills and we have the votes. Feeling as if they were not being heard, too many of our parents have already voted with their feet.
But most choose to stay and fight for excellence right here at home. It is our labor that will hold this school district together in this time of crisis.
We expect to be treated with respect. That means answering our questions and listening to our concerns.
This past week has been a good “new beginning.” It looks as if the superintendent may have what it takes to help us weather this storm.
But what about the board? The community is putting it bluntly: It is time for each of these trustees to pledge to “Work Together” or to let someone else step into your position who is willing to be part of the solution.
This is part of the May 27, 2011 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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