Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Reading between the MAOS and MPUSD lines

Sometimes, the most fascinating stuff to come out of board meetings it's what's left unspoken.

Take the Monday night meeting of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District. I thought I was losing my mind when I kept thinking to myself, why are they doing this? Why do teachers want to take the Monterey Academy of Oceanographic Science away form Monterey High and make it its own charter? What's the real reason?

I've been asking myself this question over and over again. I even asked marine biology teacher Geoff Von Saltza, but I never felt I received a satisfactory answer.

So the question came up again, Monday night, from some people in the audience.

Why do the teachers want to do this?

English teacher Ron Woods said, in not such few words, they want more control. Echoing Woods, Von Saltza said (see the videos) that MAOS has always been a teacher-driven program, and that they want to return it to its original mission.

So they want more control.

Then Monterey High principal Marci Plummer got to the podium and told trustees something like this:

"I’ve offered and I've extended during the entire process the opportunity to work with us on an alternative proposal, a schedule within a schedule so we could begin articulation. I have a memo I wrote about our meetings (documenting) some of the things MAOS needed and we have achieved 10 out of 11 objectives around course curriculum... "

(Mmm. There's people at MPUSD who actually take notes during meetings. Fascinating.)

Plummer went on. She's made some hires for MAOS. And she also offered all the teachers who are willing the opportunity to work with her to design a master schedule.

So the teachers want more control and Plummer has tried to make concessions. At least, that's what she said.

Then came the most poignant commentary of the evening, from MPUSD keen observer Pam Silkwood and mom of two MAOS students. The idea of a charters is innovative and out of the box, it should be encouraged and pursued, she said. But the plan as presented lacks details, and besides, the charter petition is just a symptom of a bigger ailment at the district.

"It's an example of lack of collaboration between teachers and administration," Silkwood said. "I have respect for both parties. A MAOS charter is like putting a band-aid on a gouging wound."

There you have it. The real reason why MAOS teachers want out of Monterey High is because they seemingly can't work with administrators.

At least that's what I thought until Tuesday evening. Then Scuttlebutt came a'calling, and the rug was pulled from underneath my chair.

I've covered the district long enough to agree with Pam Silkwood in one thing: this is symptom of a bigger ailment. It's worrisome because the district is looking for a new superintendent, and it makes me wonder how effective he or she will be working in this atmosphere of distrust.

And it makes me very sad because in school we ask students to learn to collaborate and work together, but we can't get the adults to do that --not just at MPUSD, but everywhere I turn in education. So how realistic is it to ask that of young people?

Also, we ask of our youngsters not to lie, and it turns out, adults do it ALL THE TIME. And I wonder, how can anybody work with people they can't trust???????

That's how Scuttlebutt pulled my rug. Because, it turns out, some of the adults in the room Monday night were not being completely honest about what's happening in the district. It's not the first time I've heard these claims, so by now I'm giving them more credence.

Excuse me, everybody. I need to go throw up.


  1. Yes, Claudia, you had the rug pulled out and your Herald report on Tuesday showed how hard you hit. It was disappointedly amateur and slanted and seems to reflect on the sorry state of objective reporting; Education reporting award of excellence? Where was the other side of the story? The several other parents of MAOS students, and students themselves, who voiced support for MAOS and the charter. Friends of MAOS President Rick Pine was given only token recognition in your article and yet represents one of the biggest vested stakes in MAOS of all those who spoke. von Saltza and Woods articulated specific answers to all the specific questions posed of them. Where was that information. Was your article to inform or inflame? Do some research. Ask why some other academy teachers (like Ms. Warner of SPARK) oppose the MAOS academy change so strongly; what's THEIR agenda? Ask why some non-MAOS teachers "dis" MAOS, its teachers, and treat MAOS students with less respect than they deserve, despite all the exceptional achievements. Ask why MAOS teachers (Begbie and Cook) really left the school? Look into the relationships between MPUSD and other charter schools for reference and context. Look into the un-reproachable caliber of students that MAOS produces and ask why ANYONE would question the motives of Woods and von Saltza. Report on the academic and post-high school record of MAOS graduates and what they have achieved compared to what the nay-sayers have only tried to achieve. Your blog shows a slight improvement in wanting to tell "the rest of the story" but is poorly deficient and draws a too simplified and narrow conclusion based on one person when you are still so ignorant of all the circumstances. Compare the MAOS historic record statistics against the contemporary rhetoric. You'll see, as plain as diamonds in a dung-hill, that the charter proposal and its public record clarifications are specific. Not one person who voiced, or tried to veil, their opposition had any specificity or substantive issue that was not answered clearly by Woods and von Saltza.

    Because there are students with greater motivation and capacity to excel academically than others, and because there are teachers and a program that capture this talent, prepare these high achieving students for entry into the most prestigious universities this country has to offer, and gives them the additional skills to compete at these universities, is this what it's all about? Is this what is driving the underlying antagonism; this disparaging of success? Find the answers BEFORE you form and publish a half-baked editorial. Caring about students and their futures is worth the effort.

  2. Hello Mr. Jensen,

    Thanks for your comments. I'd please ask you to refrain from insulting my work and stick to the facts. Let's be respectful of each other and we'll go a long way.

    First of all, in a 700-word story, there is little room to include everyone who speaks at a one-hour hearing. So no, I did not include all the comments by all the speakers, pro-and-against charter status. It's simply not possible.

    Likewise, it's not possible to get into details about the specific achievements of the hundreds of students that by now have gone through MAOS -- in a 700 words story. I know MAOS is producing outstanding students, and I know these students and their families are seeking the school precisely because of its prestige. That's not news.

    What's new, once again, it's the desire to split a very elite program from Monterey High school. Why? Like you, I'm trying to find answers but sometimes, before you can have them, you have to ask questions. So that's often the purpose of my writing: to ask questions. I don't pretend to have all the answers, nobody ever does. And if I waited to write before I did, I would probably not write anything.

    So yes, my blog post was an attempt to make sense of something that doesn't. And the reason why it doesn't it's because some people are not being forthcoming. So what's the point of asking questions if people are not going to tell you what's really going on?

    Like you, I care very much about education and all our students in public schools. And more than ever I realize education is a very emotional topic: it's about our kids and our future, and if adults are not properly doing what's best for these kids, we're in trouble.

    That was the point of my blog post.

    Have a great day.

  3. Reader extraordinaire Joanna Greenshields asked me to include this comment in the blog thread. Happy to oblige.

    Dear Mr Jensen,

    As a former MAOS parent and an active member of the MPUSD community, I certainly understand and share most of your concerns and observations.

    One of the difficulties for Ms Melendez has been getting accurate information on the underlying story of why MAOS would be seeking autonomy from the current administration.

    People with accurate knowledge and an understanding of the complexities currently facing MAOS and MPUSD, are either unable or unwilling to have an open, honest dialog with her about how we got to the point of charter exploration.

    In Claudia's defense, she has to make assumptions or rely on information to be passed on to her that can be verified as correct, and I suspect that has been a difficult task.

    We have spent a number of years as a District community afraid to ask questions, unsatisfied with the answers and confused at the motivations of employees up and down the chain of command.

    I hope we are slowly coming out of this period of paranoia, but it hasn't been as quickly as we would have all liked.

    It must be extremely frustrating to be asked to report on a community story and then have little or disingenuous information to report on.

    While I understand District protocol and the chain of command used for distributing information, the lack of people truly willing to speak out and allow their names to be used in print only further exacerbates the situation.

    As parents, we know that Mr Von Saltza and Mr Woods are working extremely hard to not only continue one of the most important programs in MPUSD, but to keep the very program intact before it disappears away altogether, and make no mistake, I believe without a serious revamp MAOS will go the way of the dodo bird.

    I would encourage people who want to see a fair and balanced story to provide Ms Melendez with factual information and to allow their name to be included in future reports. For too long, too many people have been afraid or unwilling to speak up when issues need to be addressed and that has to stop.

    One other issue, I would like to address is the use of the word "elite" when referring to MAOS, as some people believe it was meant as a derogatory term. I believe Ms Melendez was referencing "elite" from an academic standpoint as to the entrance criteria and standards to which MAOS operates.

    I know we are all proud and grateful to have an elite academic program in MPUSD.

    Very respectfully,

    Joanna H Greenshields.