Shadows linger as high school board looks to new chapter
New and old tensions surface at first meeting following the Nov. 8 elections
There was good news and bad news at the first WSCUHSD board meeting after the Nov. 8 school board election, which in December will bring three new trustees to the board. The good news was that school was off to a good start and the board supported exploring a new alternative school model for El Molino. The bad news was the emotional impact from the consolidation of El Molino into Analy High School was still very much in evidence.
Let’s start with the positive news.
Analy High School is off to a good start. The new school year is going well. Freshman Spanish teacher, Junie Curtis, spoke during the open session and said that she was happy to see the students back in person. New freshmen were getting to know each other and making friends, acting as new freshman should do. Curtis, who has been at Analy for 28 years, was grateful. She also thanked the board and Board President Patrick Nagle, for approving air-conditioning for Analy classrooms. In previous years, she had come to the board at least once a year to make them aware of how uncomfortable her second-floor classroom would become for her and her students.
Despite the good start, Analy Principal Shauna Ferdinandson in her report mentioned that “attendance had taken a hit” with many students out sick. Students were coming down mostly with cases of cold and flu; cases of Covid were low. From October 31 to present, attendance was down 8.5%.
News ideas for El Molino. Superintendent Chris Meredith asked for the board’s authorization to explore the creation of an innovative alternative program on the El Molino campus. He explained that 87 students had transferred out of the district this year. He had interviewed many of the families to understand why they were leaving. Many were finding that a school in a different district offered a program that was a better fit for them. “We can’t afford to lose students,” said Meredith. Eighty-seven students represent about a million dollar loss in ADA funding. In addition, Analy’s enrollment this year is down from an expected 1711 students to 1575.
Meredith explained that not all students want what Analy offers as a comprehensive high school. “Some students are looking for something different.” He proposed forming a small group to create ideas for an new kind of program that would be located on the El Molino campus. It would be an alternative, not a comprehensive high school. The El Molino campus is currently used by Laguna High School, a continuation program, and Meredith sees synergies between the two programs. Patrick Nagle expressed his support for these programs that “give us the opportunity to meet kids where they are.”
This authorization opens the discussion about what to do at the El Molino campus and how it might best serve the community, which might bring opposing sides together for a common purpose.
New student rep. The board also welcomed a new student representative from Laguna High School, Adam Bhat. He gave a report about the many things happening on campus and mentioned that Career Day at Analy was well attended.
Now the bad news
Sign stealing accusations. During public comment, two community members addressed the board in open session, accusing incoming board member Debbie Ramirez of stealing her opponent Patrick Nagle’s campaign signs. Although the vote has yet to be certified, Ramirez is the clear winner for the at-large seat currently held by Nagle. Both of the parents who spoke – clearly Nagle supporters -- questioned Ramirez’s integrity and called on her to withdraw from the election.
Afterwards there was a moment of uneasy silence.
Then Debbie Ramirez went to the podium and asked to speak. “I have to say something in response,” she said. She said that it is common that campaign signs are stolen and that some of her own signs were stolen as well. “I know the rules and I follow them,” she said sternly. With that, she sat down.
A final word from exiting board members. Reports from the board members, which are a part of every meeting, were a bit more bitter than sweet.
Trustee Kellie Noe, who is leaving the board, gave a parting statement. Noe had been the focus of a lot of the anger over the consolidation. In 2021, in response to the consolidation, a recall effort targeted her along with two other members of the board but the petition failed to gain enough signatures.
Obviously struggling to keep her comments positive, Noe said she didn’t like saying what she had to say. “It’s really hard to be in a position of leadership,” she said. “In fact, it’s heartbreaking.”
She cited the “cruel demeanor” of critics that she experienced as a board member. “I myself have been shamed. The emails I got were over the top,” she said. “When I moved here 20 years ago, I picked this community because I felt comfortable here.” Now, she said, “I’ve had to disengage.”
She has served for 15 years. “This is a hard-working board,” she commented. “We can have disagreement, but we need to move forward with respectful discourse,” she added. “We need to treat each other with a higher degree of respect.”
She was glad that many positive things were happening this year but noted that “there are major challenges that the West County board needs to look at for the district to be the best that it can be.”
Other board members made statements in praise of outgoing Board President Patrick Nagle. Julie Aiello thanked him “for supporting teachers.” Jeanne Fernandez said she appreciated Nagle’s leadership and added that “he cares so deeply about the district, students and teachers.”
In his remarks, Patrick Nagle talked about Career Day and how the military recruiters did a good job of explaining what the military is and is not. They offered students a t-shirt for doing pull-ups and he was surprised how popular the activity was. Then he began to reflect on his work on the school board.
“School boards have been under fire around the country, and board members have taken more heat than they deserve,” he said. “I have received a lot of public attacks.” Among the problems he and his family experienced were people “vandalizing our house.” He has received “hateful and disgusting emails during the campaign.”
He said that he “has strived every day” to do an excellent job but he is “disappointed that a lot of (negative things) continue still.”
“Together we can do more than we can if we are divided,” he said.
The meeting ended unusually early at 8pm. In December, we’ll begin to see how this new board comes together.
The next WSCUHSD board meeting is Dec. 14, 6-10 pm.
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