JEWELL — It was standing room only at Wednesday’s meeting of the Jewell School Board, with estimates of the crowd at more than 50.
Tensions in the district have risen, dissipated and risen again during the tenure of Superintendent Brian Gander, who started in July 2009.
The biggest issue of the night was one of the first public presentations by former Knappa Superintendent Jim Carlile on the mediation of grievances he’s been facilitating between Gander and two employees’ associations.
Another issue, which could possibly reach a conclusion at Tuesday’s 6 p.m. board meeting, is the search to replace former Board Chairman Matt Samuelson, who resigned May 21 with about one year left in his term.
“Anybody who wants to talk to you ought to be given an opportunity to do that,” said Carlile about the facilitation process so far between the superintendent and teachers, adding that he’s talked to about 75 percent of the faculty and staff at Jewell School. “I basically made myself available for two full days.”
Carlile has been talking with faculty and the superintendent about exercises they can partake in to improve communication.
“We’re at the point where we need to do some of the proposed activities and others I’ve suggested,” said Carlile.
He added that depending on teachers’ and staffs’ availability, those exercises could happen this summer or next year.
The Jewell Education Association and Oregon School Employees Association filed a grievance against Gander in September, detailing what they called a hostile, uncommunicative work environment in which the superintendent misrepresents facts, withholds information and micro-manages staff and faculty too closely. Carlile was hired early this year to head up the facilitation process.
“I was hoping he’d give the board a recommendation to terminate Gander, and he didn’t,” said Jennifer Brandon, former business manager for Jewell School and a candidate for the vacant school board position.
She said many people wondered why Carlile took it so easy on the superintendent after making comments that Jewell was one of the more toxic school environments he had witnessed.
Community member Jim Hedford, a former board member and another candidate for the vacant position, started a petition two months ago that he said now has 70 signatures from parents wanting the superintendent to resign or be fired – he will eventually bring it before the board. There is also a Facebook group called Concerned Parents of Jewell School with nearly 167 members.
“I think there was and is a group of people who feel that the changes that I have been asked to implement in the district are not representative of what they would like their district to look like,” said Gander about the calls for his ouster. “I feel I’m following the directions of the board, and we’re making necessary changes.”
Gander, who recently received a mixed and sometimes lackluster evaluation by the board, said he needs to work on his communication.
“All the students know about it,” said 2012 graduate Thai Curtis, who added that students as young as the third-grade have a working knowledge of the situation. “All the students know that the staff feels hurt by him.”
“By the time school is out, we’ll have a plan developed or we won’t,” said Carlile, adding that teachers’ busy end-of-year schedules is the main variable affecting whether the plan is put in place this school year. Building some success on one or two issues, he said, is key.
Some community members say it is too late.
“The truth of the matter is that Mr. Gander has hurt too many people,” said Sandra Lerma, grandparent of a Jewell student. “If he could change, that would be good. But nobody believes he can change.”
Samuelson resigned May 21, citing the difficulties of serving on the board.
“I came to a conclusion that there were a lot more ways to serve the district … that only have positive aspects to them,” said Samuelson, who first served from 1997 through 2000 before joining again four years ago. “We have a volunteer effort building a baseball field; we’re also planning to replace a barn. It would be more positive for me personally. It’s no fun being a board member.”
He wouldn’t comment on the issues facing the faculty and superintendent, but said he has always wanted things to work out smoothly for Jewell.
The district has come up with nine candidates for thevacant seat, including Brandon and Hedford. At Tuesday’s meeting, the superintendent and board will interview the candidates and likely make a motion to appoint one. Members will also hold readings on policies concerning public complaints, communicable diseases and head lice protocol.
via Jewell to work on staff, leader relations – The Daily Astorian: Free.