May 31, 2013
This is an open, public, correspondence to my fellow board members.
For nine years, I have served on the Santa Clara Unified School Board with considerable
pride. We have a phenomenal school district. Certainly, there are areas for
improvement, and we continue to make improvement year after year. Part of what makes
this district so impressive is the people who work here and their dedication to our
students. We have some of the best people in education.
Over the last 5 months, I have watched with great sadness as talented and dedicated
employees, who have spent their careers at Santa Clara, leave to find other districts where
they feel valued and safe. I have tried to talk several people out of leaving. As one top
administrator told me “Andy, I am sorry, I just do not feel safe here.”
When we put together our mission statement and strategic plan, one of the five guiding
principles was to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers. Until recently, we
have been successful at this. New applicants fought to become part of the SCUSD team.
Employees were proud to say they worked at SCUSD.
To retain top employees, they need to feel respected; they need to feel that they are part
of something important and that the work they do is appreciated. They need to feel
secure and that their careers are safe and not at risk.
And yet, we have done the opposite. We have ridiculed our unions. We have treated our
employees with disdain. We act as though our employees and administration do not
know what they are doing, even though most of our teachers and administrators have
decades of experience and years of specialized training. Instead of praise for the good
work, they are doing, we point out the flaws and failures. Instead of asking them for their
advice, taking advantage of the many years of training and first hand experience, we tell
them what to do, accuse them of making mistakes, and chastise their work with innuendo
and accusations that they are somehow not doing their job.
We have allowed personal attacks on employees who some of us did not like. It is not
our job to evaluate or investigate accusations of employees. We have paraded
accusations against employees, students and parents in public with little or no regard for
their well-being. Many of our employees fear us; they will not speak up out of fear.
Because of our actions, many employees are leaving. As such, we are failing our
students as the talent and enthusiasm of our workforce dwindles.
We need to act now to repair the damage done and begin the healing process for our
The first and most important task is to show respect for our staff, parents and
students. This is not something one does by way of empty compliments, but
We need to refer any discipline issues or concerns to the superintendent. This
needs to be done confidentially so that an accused employee’s reputation is
protected. Employee evaluation is not our job. We need to remember that people
do make innocent mistakes. We need to encourage a constructive environment
where employees feel safe to seek help when errors and mistakes are made.
We have dedicated employees who have their careers in our hands. We need to
let them do their jobs. We do not ambush and berate them in meetings if they
suggest something where we disagree.
We need to exercise the discipline to stay in the high-level strategic role the board
was meant to serve. We act as a board, not individuals. We recognize that as
individual board members we have no authority.
We are not the experts. We need to listen to our staff and administration. We
need to listen to the public; we cannot punish groups or individuals when they tell
us things we do not like. If needed, we should invest extra time to hear the public.
After listening to staff, the public and other interested parties then we can make
decisions using the information we have learned.
We need to understand the role of the board. The board should not be involved in
the day-to-day operations of the district. Our charge is to address the high-level
strategic questions, the big “what” questions of the district. The “how” questions
are for the superintendent and staff to answer.
We meet twice a month for a few hours. We need to rely on data and information
presented to us by staff or if needed by our hired consultants. It is not our job to
When new ideas come up, we need to refer those to the superintendent for
evaluation. We need to respect that there will be times when we need to wait for
an answer. There are many demands for our staff’s time.
We need to make global decisions that consider the effect of a decision on the
We need to avoid any notion of favoritism. If we have any personal agendas, we
need to put those aside. Our decisions must first consider the welfare of the
students. They are our responsibility.
There are voices that suggest our district needs to go in a new direction, that some board
members including myself are resistant to change. I do not believe that to be true. I am
happy to make informed strategic change. I am not, however, agreeable to making
strategic change without understanding the pro and cons with a fully transparent, public
exploration of the benefits and risks, as well as the costs to make the change. We should
not be addressing tactical change; this is the job of the superintendent. He or she must
develop that tactical plan to implement the board’s policy for the district.
We cannot effect change using a subversive or hidden agenda. We should not make
changes without involving the stakeholders in the district in those changes. We need
evaluations from our staff showing the pros and cons of the proposed recommendations.
This does not mean that we must follow those recommendations, but it does mean we
need to make informed decisions and put our personal issues aside to address the greater
good of the district and community.
We need to hold the superintendent accountable, and the public should hold us
We have a new superintendent and my hope is that we can change course and begin to
repair and heal the damage we have done. We need to start building trust with our
community, which in my opinion is at an all time low. I think we also need to build trust
among ourselves. This will take time, but it is important to help heal the district. Sadly,
at this point, I do not have much faith or trust that the board will do what it needs to do.
Please prove me wrong. Not for my sake, but for the sake of our community that we
were elected to serve.
Governing Board Member
Santa Clara Unified School District