Almanac

Schools - March 20, 2013

Board OKs firing of special education director

by Renee Batti

The school board approved the removal of the Menlo Park City School District's director of special education from her job on March 12, but not until the defiant director publicly accused Superintendent Maurice Ghysels of bullying staff members and creating a "traumatic, hostile workplace" since he took the district's top post in July 2011.

Olivia Mandilk, the district's director of the Student Services Department for the last eight and a half years, will no longer hold her current post after the end of the school year, but will be reassigned within the district, said Mr. Ghysels.

Board President Terry Thygesen said the board voted unanimously in closed session to approve Mr. Ghysels' recommended change in the department's leadership.

Ms. Mandilk, members of her staff, and a number of parents whose children are or have been served by the department attended the emotional meeting, speaking during the public comment period before the board went into closed session to make its decision.

Most speakers supported Ms. Mandilk's leadership of the department, which provides instruction and other services for students with developmental and other disabilities and special health needs. But two parents encouraged the board to support the change, saying Ms. Mandilk and most of the department staff were unresponsive to the needs of some children in the program and resisted parents' attempts to communicate and work for improvements.

During the comment period, there were some tears on the part of Student Services staff who showed up to support their boss, and applause from the audience, mostly by Ms. Mandilk's supporters. But high drama prevailed when Ms. Mandilk expanded the discussion of her dismissal to Superintendent Ghysels' leadership.

Holding up photocopied images of leadership staff members who have left their jobs since Mr. Ghysels came on board, she spoke of each departure or extended sick leave, alleging they were the result of the superintendent's bullying and other forms of mistreatment. Six of 12 members of the district's leadership team, she said, were "targeted victims" of Mr. Ghysels' "unprofessional conduct and bullying behavior" before they either agreed to retire or became too ill to continue working.

Responding to the comments, Mr. Ghysels said the next day: "It's hard to be a leader and make difficult personnel decisions. I know that people are not always going to be happy with those decisions." He said he wouldn't comment on the charges of bullying.

"I want to make sure that parents and their kids rest assured that we're going to continue to provide outstanding service" in the program, he told the Almanac.

In response to Ms. Mandilk's accusations, board President Thygesen told the Almanac: "I am fully confident that Dr. Ghysels is leading our district effectively."

Ms. Mandilk told the Almanac before last week's meeting that she had received no warning or indication that her job performance was a problem before Mr. Ghysels called her into his office on Feb. 22 and told her that he and the school board want to "change the direction" of the program she leads.

She said she was offered three options: to retire, to resign, or to request a teaching position if something becomes available. "I can't afford options one or two, so I selected option three," she said, adding that in addition to work in the special education department she is also credentialed to teach social sciences at Hillview Middle School. She won't know whether there will be a job for her for months, she said.

To retire now, she added, would mean "financial disaster" because she will be only 59 by the end of the school year, and retiring before she's 61 or 62 would shrink her pension by about $36,000 a year.

After Ms. Mandilk's comments during the board meeting, Ms. Thygesen told those present that board members are restricted by law from commenting on personnel matters.

Mr. Ghysels said he wanted parents to be assured that services for their children will continue even as the direction of the program shifts — a direction "based on collaboration" that will involve teachers and staff.

Comments

Posted by MPCSD Employee, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 20, 2013 at 2:39 pm

{post removed. personal attack.]


Posted by Les Bloch, a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2013 at 9:35 am

As a long time friend of Maurice Ghysels, I find it highly inappropriate to suggest that he admires Mussolini--suggesting he has a "favorite quote" from a fascist ruler. Allowing slanderous unattributed comments on the internet does nothing but damage the reputation of a caring, earnest man trying to improve the educational system. Maurice is of Italian descent, so it hardly makes sense. I respectfully ask that you remove this comment--it has already caused enough damage as an unsubstantiated, obviously vindictive comment.

Editor's note: The comment was removed.


Posted by Kate , a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 25, 2013 at 10:42 pm

My child was at Oak Knoll, I have spoken with Superintendant Ghysels, and I am now a Hillview parent. I have to say that Menlo Park is exceptionally lucky to have gotten such a savvy and competant administrator for our district. Mr. Ghysels is responsible for hiring Eric Burmeister to be the Hillview principal, and we are all very impressed, watching these two move in professionally, and begin to raise standards. This was a smart move and will allow Mr. Ghysels to raise the level at which MP meets special ed needs. Sending an district-wide email criticizing your boss is a rather... negative political move, if you think about it. This isn't socialism. It's a professional environment. BTW, 97% of the special needs parents in MP absolutely hated the now-fired director, but they won't talk about it.


Posted by Former Ghsyels Associate, a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2013 at 6:25 am

Let's see. Hillview has been named a California Distinguished School eight times, more than any other school in the state. It is among the few public middle schools in California to receive a distinguished GreatSchools Rating of 10 out of 10.

Erik Burmeister has been on the job only a year and a half. Did he really make Hillview great or did he inherit a great school?

But that didn't stop Ghysels from spinning the news as is if he came along, hired Burmeister came and rescued the school from poor performance. And then Ghysels nominates him for a leadership award with the Wiseman Group before he even finished his second year at Hillview???

This is spin and nothing more and demonstrates how Ghysels just wants to plug his name into anything linked to corporate leadership. This is classic Ghysels. He networks with his cronies and buddies at ACSA, Leadership Associates, the Wiseman Group, Brandon Partners, ect. These are all a small group of networking and old boy groups that all point back to each other. They are purely designed to fluff up one's qualifications and create the illusion of someone who is plugged in, highly qualified and knows how to lead.

Web Link

Ghsyels is more about detaching himself from anything that sticks to him that doesn't make him look good.


Posted by Damage control, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 26, 2013 at 9:03 am

Was there any reason for this thread other than to counter the negative publicity the sup has gotten?

I agree with Former Associate about Hillview. Mike Moore gets all the credit for making it an amazing place to go to school. Michael Melton, unfortunately, tried so hard to distinguish himself from his illustrious predecessor that he eliminated many of the programs that made Hillview such an outstanding place. Burmeister looks good compared to Melton, but neither comes close to Mike Moore.

That said, in a district like ours, with so many bright kids and motivated parents, the academically performance is typically going to be very high. So the sup and administration are going to look good...unless they massively fail at their jobs.


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