Allegations of misconduct by staff at Illinois Valley High School were not directly addressed at the Nov. 15 Three Rivers School District Board of Directors meeting, but it is unclear if the audience would have testified in regards to the matter had they not been told before public comments began that discussion of individual district faculty members’ behavior is not allowed.
TRSD Superintendent Dave Valenzuela recounted during his superintendent’s report that he sent out a memo to I.V. High families in regards to statewide policy BDDH.
“I sent out a little blurb to some of my friends out in the Valley and I want to address policy BDDH and explain it a little bit,” said Valenzuela. “It’s a statewide policy and it’s titled ‘Public Comments at Board Meetings.’ The policy goes through a whole bunch of stuff and it’s important to understand that public comment at board meetings is not required. A lot of districts don’t include public comment. If you want to talk to the board there’s lots of mechanisms that you can address the board: you can email them, you can call them, you can set up a meeting through me; lots of ways to access the board if you have something to say.
“Three Rivers has always had public comment as far back as I can remember and we will continue to have public comment. It’s one of our core values – engaging with the community. We want to hear what you have to say but there are some rules around that and I would argue with anybody that this is not an attempt to censor; this is an effort to protect the investigative process when necessary and our employees have rights that we protect through this process as well. So our policy BDDH specifically says that a person speaking during public comment of the meeting may comment on any topic except comments regarding staff members and it goes on to say the board will not hear comments regarding any individual district staff member.”
The superintendent later said, “It was a tough message to send out. I know some of the people that I grew up with – friends, family, kids, people I’ve taught, people that I went to school with – read it and it fired them up. And I’m fired up that I had to write it but it’s important that we maintain those lines of investigation and we maintain the rights of our employees until something else happens. But that’s where we’re at.”
Board Chair Rich Halsted also weighed in on the policy, saying, “Anytime (public comment) pertains to a particular staff member, if things don’t get adjudicated or appealed or whatever, the board needs to remain outside that whole process so that they can make a fair and complete decision on what’s being presented and that is why we don’t talk about staff members.”
During the board’s Say Something Positive statements, Board Member Jennifer Johnstun shared a story of being invited to judge Manzanita Elementary’s Halloween door decorating contest. “It was very adorable, I appreciated, we loved it and so thank you for inviting us to come do that,” Johnstun said.
Board Member Nancy Reese praised organizers of school events in honor of Veterans Day: “It was outstanding and very honoring and such a blessing. I think that they really appreciated it and it meant a lot to the vets. They deserve it.”
Halsted and Deputy Superintendent Casey Anderson both praised recent contract negotiations with the teachers’ union. It was a “pretty seamless process,” Halsted commented, adding that he was surprised not to receive any emails criticizing the negotiations. Anderson added that both the district and union “both feel like it was a great process.”
Valenzuela highlighted recent efforts by the district to carry out their core value of family involvement and community engagement, such as “Soup with the Supe” which gave families the opportunity to get some face time with the superintendent, ask questions and raise concerns.
“I learned a lot about how parents and students might struggle with what we offer as a district in education,” said Valenzuela. “For us to be able to hear that, take that and make it actionable change is really, really important to me.”
The superintendent also got back at critics who believe the district’s approach to education is inadequate: “I’ve heard from folks in the community, ‘Why don’t you get back to teaching reading and math? You’re not doing it anymore,’ and I would challenge those people to go talk to one of my elementary principles and look at a schedule and see how many minutes a day our students are engaged in reading, math; it’s a lot. And so how do we take that love for creativity with those minutes of reading in math and make it all work and that’s something that we’re continually striving to do.”