CASEY AT THE BAT
The animus and distrust has been building for some time.
This week, contention over the hiring process for the next Mammoth High School Principal pushed the low-throated grumbling into something more of an insistent roar.
As parent Jena Wight said after the public session of Monday’s meeting of the Mammoth Unified School District Board, when former Mammoth instructor and current Bishop Assistant Principal Casey O’Neill was not granted an interview for the MHS Principal job opening, “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
MHS parents and faculty- at least a faction thereof- are displeased with the leadership of MUSD Superintendent Jennifer Wildman and the MUSD Board.
As Monday’s board agenda involved board evaluation of Ms. Wildman, this drew a small protest from a crowd of 20 or so down the hill from the District offices before the meeting began.
Then at the meeting, four parents of MUSD students made public comment before the board went into closed session.
Ms. Wildman was not present for the public comment portion.
Daniel Gammons said MUSD school closures (which have been more prevalent here than in other districts, notably Bishop) have severely impacted student mental health. “The administration is not acting in the best interest of our three kids,” he said. “Closing schools was understandable when the pandemic began … but we are no longer ignorant, so stop acting like we are.”
Chelsea Brown echoed Gammons’ remarks. She works in health care, and said throughout the pandemic, she’s seen people with all sorts of physical/behavioral issues unrelated to Covid.
Message being: we’re all craving a return to routine, and kids need to be in the classroom.
She was therefore puzzled as to why, after the two-week school closure in January, the District also decided to take spring break.
How come the Covid closures weren’t treated like excess snow days which could/should be made up? How come parents weren’t consulted? “When do we get to become participants?”
As stated, Ms. Wildman was not present. So therefore, where was she? Most thought she was hiding out in her back office, waiting for the storm to blow over.
The following words were used by those protesting to describe Ms. Wildman’s personal style: defensive, rigid, retaliatory.
“We want respect, not threats,” said Wight. “We want our opinions heard. Academics are in decline, and we don’t think the superintendent has us as a priority.”
Parent Mike Karch didn’t arrive until after the school board had gone into closed session. But in conversation outside the District office, he mentioned a recent “Parents’ Advisory Council” meeting he had attended on May 11.
Karch said that one hour and forty-five minutes of the two hour scheduled meeting was largely devoted to back-patting and elucidation of all the wonderful things the District is doing.
And instead of hearing some frank critique over the final fifteen minutes, Wildman instead pivoted towards coming up with “wish lists” versus sitting through what could have been blunt commentary.
It was as if, said Karch, the meeting was held to check a box to say that you’d had a meeting and done outreach. The meeting didn’t seem to be about dialogue and insight at all.
Then Wight piped in. Achievement gaps weren’t discussed, she said. Nor STEM.
Wight believes Casey O’Neill, who is in his first year as Asst. Principal at BUHS, did not get an interview because Wildman is threatened by his good relationship with the kids, his personal qualities,, his involvement with athletics and his overall community connection.
The Sheet spoke to Wildman Wednesday morning about the High School Principal recruitment process.
She said that because of a breach of confidentiality (no one should know who has applied for the job, much less who is being interviewed), the MUSD Board has decided to bring in a third party consultant to handle the job.
She insisted that the recruitment to date, conducted by she and Middle School Principal Frankie Alvarado, has been no different than previous recruitments.
While she could not go into specifics due to confidentiality, she said the Principal post had drawn seven highly qualified applicants.
All had a clear administrative credential, save one.
All had one Masters degree.
Three had two Masters degrees.
Four had doctorates.
Three have led a WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) accreditation process, which is upcoming for MHS.
Five had 10-18 years of administrative experience.
All have been teachers.
Three have served as Athletic Directors.
“We draw a great candidate pool because of where we are [the beautiful Eastern Sierra]. And this is a super district.”
Wildman said two candidates have since withdrawn applications once they learned of the privacy breach regarding the O’Neill application.
“This is a confidential process. Candidates may not have told their current employers about their applications.”
“The High School Principal is the highest profile, most important position we have, maybe more important than mine. A High School Principal is dealing with students entering adulthood. It’s high stakes. This is not something one should campaign for and this is not a popularity contest.”
Wildman stressed that the process is about certifications, qualifications and experience, and it’s the same process that led to the hirings of the current three principals: Rinaldi, Alvarado and McMillan.
In response to criticism that staff wasn’t allowed to help screen the principal candidates, Wildman said staff screening has not occurred during her tenure. It did occur prior to her arrival.
In regard to criticism that the requirement for admin. experience this time around is hypocritical, since McMillan (Principal at MES) had no admin. experience when she was hired, Wildman noted that an intermediate “Learning Director” position had been created as a quasi Assistant Principal role which McMillan fulfilled for a year prior to her formal hire as Principal.
Wildman said she did not know how news of O’Neill’s lack of an interview leaked.
When asked about it, O’Neill replied via text: “I called the district office to check the status of my application. I was then informed I was not getting an interview. I then responded to family and friends who inquired about my situation and informed them … “