GPS District Retaliation …and a former board member’s HUGE mistake

This article is personal for me on so many levels.  I’ve stewed over this one for months… what to share, what not to share in the hopes of positive change.  I apologize in advance for the length of this article.  I’ve tried to summarize as much as possible and still it is quite lengthy.

A most destructive force that withers moral, cheapens mission statements, cankers promises, and eviserates trust between employee and employer is retaliation.  Akin to harrassment and creating a hostile work environment, retaliation is more malicious, devious, and disgusting.  Victims of such measures feel the ground beneath them give way and the chasm of shame fashioned for them by those who they should be able to trust and have authority over them often have life-long consequences.

Consider a teacher or lower-level administrator that disagrees with a decision upper mangement has made.  What is the recourse?  A situation of maybe… witnessing inappropriate relations between staff in the workplace, or financially wasteful or even dishonest practices.  But rather than “face the music”, authorities direct staff to hide, cover-up, distort, mis-report, and then shuffle these staff to other campuses to prevent a “leak”, also serving as a warning that one’s career success may not hinge on professional ability, but rather… keeping one’s mouth shut.

I have been contacted by several and informed that they have been given specific instructions to never speak with board members about anything of substance.  GPS employees are encouraged to NOT attend school board meetings unless directed by the district to do so.  Wasteful spending, procedural concerns, program weaknesses… every school district has them just as every business entity has them.  Often the best way to understand the problem is from those who deal with the situation every day. 

GPS is under enormous pressure ranked as one of the states leading districts.  Most certainly we can agree that many have come to Gilbert because of the great schools and excellent staff.  As a whole, GPS does a wonderful job and those in the trenches are to be commended for their excellence.  The issue here is not quality of education.  The issue here is how to improve that quality.  How does a teacher make recommendations for improvement if there’s been a tradition of retaliation?

Have you ever wished you could wind back the clock and make a decision over again?  I have.  One of these occurred while serving as board member for GPS governing board.  The unusual decision before the board was whether to authorize the district to terminate a certified employee, a teacher.  That unfortunate person was Sarah Green.  As for my part, I’m ashamed and feel as though I should have done more.  Had I understood then what I do now, known better the questions to ask and the situation I and other board members were put in, perhaps things would have been different.  Those of us who voted yes on Dec 7, 2011 to allow the district to terminate “If charges were found to be true…” should be ashamed.  What kind of decision is that… “if charges are true…”?  As we moved from executive session to reconvene the open meeting, I sat on the dias going over the proceedings that had just taken place and continued to feel sick to my stomach.  I knew NOTHING about this case other than what district admins told us.  We were advised by district admins and legal counsel to not go through the packet provided to us via Sarah Green’s process server.  This didn’t sit well with me either.  And yet, after failed attempts to table the issue for further direction and clarity, I found myself feeling forced into a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” situation.  I hoped then that I was making the right decision.  Months later, I was proven wrong… a decision I now regret, and chalk up as one of the biggest mistakes made while on the board.

After change of residence in March 2012, I resigned my position and on May 15, 2012 more than 2 months later, Sarah Green was cleared of all charges and provided a settlement to which I felt mixed feelings.  My first was that of elation for Ms. Green.  It never sat well with me what had happened, yet moments later after replaying the events again in my mind, I felt angry I had been deceived by GPS adminstrators and used as a pawn for retaliation purposes.  The video record of the Dec 7, 2011 meeting’s proceedings clearly shows that I had serious misgivings prior to the executive session and voted unsuccessfully to table the action pending further legal advice.  As for the executive session… well, not much detail can be shared about that event.  ARS statutes restrict discussing specifics of executive session proceedings… but I will simply say, a few district administrators should be ashamed of themselves for the manner in which this situation was handled.  The vote after executive session in open meeting was also extremely difficult.  I stewed over that issue then and since.

As for my opinion on the matter…  I believe Sarah Green was targeted for removal long before Dec 2012, and long before the board heard of the issue.  As for the details that have surfaced since, Sarah Green’s situation is perhaps a more extreme example of the enormous pressure a bureaucratic body can put on a single individual.  How many other situations like this exist?  I personally know of several… Why don’t we ever hear about them?  Rather than suffering potential public humiliation or a demotion, most employees would rather keep their current job/position.  Who can blame them?  When faced with so-called disciplinary action up to termination of employment, fighting the system when on the side of right just doesn’t work.  It’s easier to live with the uneasy feeling of compromise than to take on “the machine”.  Does this mean that every employee/district disagreement ends in retaliation?  Certainly not.  The hope is that it is quite rare.  Due to the very nature, it’s difficult to know how wide-spread the practice is.  What is the policy that provides an opportunity for appealing district decisions when the chain of command is believed corrupt or simply wrong?  Experiencing retaliation even in the slightest degree for even bringing the issue up simply must change.  We must all recognize that there’s a massive difference between discipline and retaliation.  One is corrective in nature for the sake of doing good, the other is mean-spirited for the sake of doing harm.

We must demand district administration reverse these practices and develop a culture of cooperation, synergy, and establish bottom’s-up communications.  Ultimately, the school board is accountable.  As for Sarah Green… I offer all that I can, a personal apology and a promise to do all I can to eliminate the destructive practice.  I fully support even-handed and fair disciplinary measures.  I invite everyone who believes that retaliation is wrong to also support measures to end it.

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