Residents express concern and give praise to Board

Multiple residents spoke at the Board of Education on Monday, March 9, to call for change and support current actions

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By Clayton Kistner

District resident Pete Panagakis speaks to the Board of Education in front of a large crowd who attended the Board meeting on Monday, March 9. “You guys need to be holding each other accountable,” Panagakis said to the Board. “If [leaders are] not doing their job, then they need to answer why.”

Justin Curto, Mill Valley News editor-in-chief

District residents have begun to express a need for change on the Board of Education after allegations of Board member Scott Hancock’s misconduct and requests for his resignation.

At the Board meeting on Monday, March 9, seven residents spoke to the Board during the patron input portion in front of a standing-room-only crowd of more than 325 people. Many of those residents said the Board must change in light of the controversy to keep other administrators and teachers from leaving the district.

After superintendent Dr. Doug Sumner and director of teaching and learning Dr. Jessica Dain resigned, approved by the Board on Monday, Feb. 9, district resident Anh-Nguyet Nguyen and former district teacher Karen Wall wrote letters to the Board requesting Hancock’s resignation, alleging he violated Board policies.

Board president Angela Handy agrees the Board needs improvement.

“We definitely have some work to do,” Handy said via phone. “I will be the first to say that. As the Board president, I have had conversations with not only Board members, [but also] directors and teachers, on finding out exactly what I can do in my role to make Board meetings go more smoothly.”

At Monday’s meeting, she suggested Board members schedule a planning meeting and review how the Board conducts itself, adjusting policies and how it does business as necessary.

“As elected Board members, we have a responsibility to our patrons to insure that we maintain the highest standards in all areas of our job description,” Handy said at the meeting. “We owe it to our patrons to always reflect a professional, encouraging, appreciative and cooperative environment to work within.”

One patron who spoke at Monday’s meeting, district resident Pete Panagakis, called for accountability on the Board, especially in the search for leadership to replace Sumner and Dain.

“I honestly believe the very next leader that you bring in has to be willing to hold his staff accountable, or her staff, and that should flow downhill,” Panagakis said to the Board. “It really also starts also with the Board. I think you guys need to be holding each other accountable, holding your leaders accountable and make sure that we have the right people in the game.”

The search for new leadership was just one of the many concerns vocalized at the meeting. Prairie Ridge Elementary School teacher Brandi Leggett said the Board and district must also learn from what has happened, so that more administrators do not leave.

“Although we now need to move forward, we need to remember what mistakes were made to get us to the point where we’re at,” Leggett said to the Board. “Whether purposely done or not, we can no longer sit back, looking for mistakes to be made or possibly even creating them ourselves to antagonize people to the point where they’re fed up and want to leave.”

Some teachers at the meeting had other concerns, such as Mize Elementary School teacher Holly Schreiber. She said she worries about stability in the district amid leadership changes.

“In order to sustain an environment where children feel supported, the teachers, administration and district-level administration must feel supported as well,” Schreiber said to the Board. “This is my eighth year in the district. In August, I will be serving under my fourth superintendent.”

As a parent with children in the district, Schreiber also voiced concern for her children’s support.

“It would be negligent to assume the acts happening at the district level aren’t permeating the morale at the building level,” Schreiber said. “My third-grader is on his second principal. While most of us would agree that children seek structure and familiarity, it would behoove us to acknowledge the fact that adults do too.”

Not all saw morale as going down, though. District resident Bob Dyche said the Board has done well thus far, and should continue to do so.

“I believe the Board, when they look at leadership to hire somebody in the future — continue down the same path,” Dyche said to the Board. “I believe you’ve done a great job … I wanted to come up and thank the Board members, and I appreciate everything you do.”

Multiple district residents voiced a need to attend more Board meetings. District resident Tony Lauer, who tries to attend every Board meeting, views this as a necessity.

“I think patrons of the district, if they pay attention, they can provide some oversight, some direction and, at a very basic level, I think they need to be able to watch what their elected Board is doing,” Lauer said. “They need to be able to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Board member Mitch Powers said he supports residents attending Board meetings, as it can be beneficial in many ways.

“I am absolutely, 110 percent, in favor of patrons, as many as possible, attending Board meetings,” Powers said via phone. “They get to see the process, the get to see the position of every Board member and they get to see the behavior of every Board member.”

As a Board member, Powers said he would listen to district residents’ concerns, as they are the ones who should drive Board decisions.

“The patrons of the district are our boss as Board members,” Powers said via phone. “We as Board members, in general and at large, need to consider what the patrons of the district [have to say].”

Lauer said the situation with Hancock may have been avoided with higher meeting attendance, but does not think residents will stick around for future Board meetings.

“If there were more people that came to the meetings … I don’t think we’d have this situation,” Lauer said via phone. “I think this will blow over … I’m used to seeing a bunch of energetic people show up … and then they’re gone.”

While the Board and district may be undergoing some turmoil, Handy said the Board will keep working as best as it can.

“We will go on,” Handy said via phone. “We will be able to jump back and get right back into it … It may be bumpy, but we will give it everything that we got and we will keep fighting strong.”

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