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Mendocino County Today: November 4, 2012

ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT? by Mark Scaramella

Back in May of this year we posted the following items in Mendocino County Today and in Off The Record in the print edition of the AVA.

UKIAH’S SCHOOL BOARD handed off responsibility to an expensive team of edu-talent (sic) scouts to find Ukiah a new superintendent, and you’re excused if you wonder why the Ukiah School Board had to pay someone else to do the job they’re elected to do.

GLEN McGOURTY of the Ukiah school board told the Ukiah Daily Journal that the hiring search he and his fellow trustees had paid someone else to do had been “exhaustive and exhausting.” But, his pudgy little fingers bloodied to the bone at the pure effort of paying someone to find — ta da! – Deb Kubin at Willits Unified, McGourty soldiers on.

PREDICTION: As the Willits School Board now commences its own “national search for educational excellence,” Ms. Kubin will be paid slightly more than the Socrates of Talmage, Paul Tichinin, County Superintendent of Schools. Tichinin will surely now turn to his board of trustees to demand that as Mendocino County’s senior educator he simply can’t endure the niggardly $120,000 he makes a year plus and a free car and fuel to commute back and forth to his Fort Bragg home in.

THE UKIAH SCHOOL BOARD hired, at a fee not yet revealed, Jim Brown and Mike Escalante, “consultants” from the “firm” of Leadership Associates to locate ol’ Deb in Willits.

LEADERSHIP ASSOCIATES advertises itself as “Providing the highest quality candidates to meet the needs of your district.” They say they are “California’s premier executive search firm,” which “has assisted school boards in their selection of superintendents in more than 200 California school districts and organizations since 1996.” They go on to talk about their own “integrity” and blah, blah, honkety honk, bleepity bleep.

THE POMPOUS hi-ho’s of the McGourty type get their jive selves elected to Mendocino County school boards where they buy this consultant bushwah for top dollar rather than assume hiring responsibility themselves, dollars that come right out of any hope you might have for a decent education for your kid. And wasn’t it this same consulting firm that inflicted mega-feeb Lois Nash on Ukiah?

* * *

On October 31, more than six months after that item was posted, someone identifying themselves only as “UKiahHighGrad” got around to replying to the item.

“This blog was uncivil and disappointing re: the school board post. McGourty and others are unpaid, and serving the public. We’re lucky to have people who care enough about the school system to dedicate their time to improve its performance (much less make themselves vulnerable to the local press to be bad-mouthed about the size of their fingers.) Hiring consultants to solve specific problems and to run a talent search is vastly cheaper than hiring someone full-time to deal with these issues. Every successful organization hires consultants. The status quo– not doing anything and letting problems fester — will create greater and more expensive issues down the road for the school system, as has happened in the past. I grew up in Ukiah and know that the community in Mendocino County fosters a unique system of values. It is a wonderful place. Students there deserve to have the best talent in place to help them fulfill their potential. I would challenge the AVA to report on things that actually matter, with context and civility, so that people in the county can make informed decisions. Instead of criticizing people who are trying to do something to make their community better, figure out the basis behind their decision.”

* * *

Not exactly a great example of the critical thinking skills that should have been imparted to this self-alleged Ukiah High grad.

Let’s break it down.

1. McGourty is “serving the public.”

Volunteering or getting elected to a school board where he makes bad fiscal and educational decisions is not “public service.”

2. “…lucky to have people who care enough about the school system to dedicate their time to improve its performance.

See the accompanying charts from Ukiah High School’s “School Quality Snapshot” based on standardized test results for 2011-2012. (The red lines are the state average, the blue lines are Ukiah High's results.) Note that the academic performance, as measured by the school’s own standardized test results, has been sub-par for years, with particularly dismal math scores and very low levels of success on UC graduation requirement tests.

We then reviewed the Ukiah Unified school board agendas and minutes on-line. (Mr. McGourty now functions as board chair). None of the district’s chronic academic problems have arisen for discussion by the school board for 2012.

We did, however, find several amusing entries under their standard “Academic Achievement” agenda heading

• On March 3, 2012: “Physical Education Testing.” Way to go, Glenn!

• On June 12, the board adopted the UCLA Math Content Program for introductory algebra for 8th graders. But they don’t say why that was on the agenda, what the expectations are, nor how improvement, if any, will be measured.

• On August 15, under “Academic Achievement,” the Board got a report on “transitional kindergarten.” (No details provided.)

• On September 13 under “Academic Achievement”: “Action: Prioritization of Board initiated initiatives.” This item took 30 minutes of board discussion which, according to the minutes, resulted in a unanimous vote “to accept Superintendent Kubin’s recommendation to focus on Elementary Physical Education, Alternative Education, and the UHS start and end times and to bring reports to the Board in November and January for possible recommendation.” Note that the school’s dismal test results were, again, not even on the list of possible priorities.

(Check out the board agendas and minutes yourself if you like:

http://www.uusd.net/pages/Ukiah_Unified/School_Board)

3. “Hiring consultants to solve specific problems and to run a talent search is vastly cheaper than hiring someone full-time to deal with these issues.

No one suggested “hiring someone full time to deal with these issues.” The Board and their admin staff should have done it themselves, especially considering that they ended up hiring Superintendent Kubin from just up the road in Willits. They wasted tens of thousands of edu-dollars that should have gone to the classroom.

4. “The status quo– not doing anything and letting problems fester — will create greater and more expensive issues down the road for the school system, as has happened in the past.

What, exactly, is different now that the “status quo” has allegedly improved since Mr. McGourty and/or his fellow trustees are on the Board?

5. “I grew up in Ukiah and know that the community in Mendocino County fosters a unique system of values.

We agree that Ukiah is unique (as are most places, by definition), but probably do not agree on whatever this Ukiah High Grad means by Ukiah’s “system of values.”

6. “It is a wonderful place.

Opinion, unsupported by evidence.

7. “Students there deserve to have the best talent in place to help them fulfill their potential.

Agree. Too bad that’s not what they’re getting.

8. “I would challenge the AVA to report on things that actually matter, with context and civility.

We did and we do. Mr. McGourty is a lousy trustee on a board of lousy trustees, and that certainly matters since “Students there deserve to have the best talent in place to help them fulfill their potential.” Saying otherwise — i.e., being “civil” — would not be “reporting.”

9. “Instead of criticizing people who are trying to do something to make their community better.

What exactly is Mr. McGourty doing to make his community better? We’d really like to know.

Remember, this is the same Glen McGourty who, in his day job famously said that rules and regulations are pointless because people don’t follow them anyway – not a viewpoint that we want in a school board trustee. In 2009, when some very modest rules were proposed to regulate the wine industry’s overpumping from the Russian River during frost protection to prevent the killing of endangered fish, Mr. McGourty opposed even the suggestion of regulation, saying, “Regulations never work. Look at marijuana. It’s illegal as heck and yet we have marijuana all over northern California and our county in particular. So people don’t necessarily go along with regulation.”

“Regulations never work. … People don't necessarily go along with regulation.” There’s a great attitude for a School Board Trustee.

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ARCATA'S MEASURE I on their November ballot would place a 45% electricity tax on households — with medical and other exceptions — that use three times the amount of power a typical family home does. The measure takes aim at commercial growers who maximize production by packing homes full of high intensity lights and irrigation systems that gobble electricity and sometimes cause fires from overloaded circuits. If Measure I passes, it would be the first measure of its kind in the nation aimed at marijuana growers, said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The amount of electricity that would subject a resident to the tax amounts to a $700 per month bill, and is roughly equivalent to the power used by a big chain drugstore. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. reports that 633 homes — one in 15— are using that much juice, indicating they are raising pot rather than families. If that many growers decide to absorb the tax instead of getting out of town, the tax would generate $1.2 million, or nearly 4% of the city's $31.7 million budget.

COMMENT OF THE DAY: “Viewed from here, the Tea Party shows a remarkable similarity to various political movements in interwar Europe: a rightwing populist movement which uses radical slogans to conceal profoundly conservative core values, financed by big business, cheered on by rightwing media, and drawing its support from the angry, the ignorant, the bigoted and the borderline psychotic…” — Tony Dennis, England

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