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Letter: Sequoia district superintendent finds critics' charge 'shameful'

Original post made on Jul 28, 2009

The continued misrepresentation that the Sequoia district would impede in any way the success of any student is, in a word, shameful. Every student matters as part of our commitment to all students.

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Comments (22)

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Posted by Observer
a resident of another community
on Jul 28, 2009 at 6:35 pm

what a relief for the superintendent to declare open that impeding "in any way the success of any student is, in a word, shameful."

sadly, it is not misrepresentation, it is fact.

Dr. Gemma has acted out many times to impede the opening of Everest:
- on Sept 17, 2008 at the district hearing where he thought the site was uncertain. Web Link
- on Dec 3, 2008 when he penned a guest editorial opposing Everest
Web Link
- on Dec. 8, 2008 at the county level where he claimed that Everest was "demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the proposed program" despite knowing that Summit was the first 10/10 API high school in the history of San Mateo County Web Link
- on Feb 3 at the Advisory commission on Charter school where he drove hundreds of miles to impede Everest. Web Link
- on Mar 11/12 at the state board level where he "expressed concern that the charter school wouldn’t be able to serve all students, particularly low-income students"
Web Link

His actions are, in his own words, shameful.

Like this comment
Posted by disgusted
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 28, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Amen, Observer. Gemma's statement reeks of cynical insincerity and hipocracy. Can anyone who has observed his obstructionism toward Everest -- which is legally entitled to all it is doing and asking the district to do -- swallow such dreck? Pat Gemma and the school board are the ones who should be ashamed.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 29, 2009 at 11:11 am

What is shameful is Mr. Gemma's continued willingness to make public statements that are grossly contradicted by the historical record and other data. Observer, thank you for succinctly listing what is just the tip of the iceberg of Mr. Gemma's ongoing war against charter schools. Mr. Gemma and the district made no reasonable attempt to look at what Summit/Everest asked for or to reach agreement. He appears to be arrogant enough to truly believe that he alone (with Board of Trustees approval) knows what is best for the students of Everest, independent of what the actual Everest community has said. How does this square with "every student matters". As a parent with multiple students in district schools (comprehensive and charter), I get the definite impression that Mr. Gemma sees charter schools as: 1)a threat, 2) an annoyance, 3)second class citizens. To say that charter school students (which are part of the district) are students he is concerned about is just bunk and contradicted by virtually every action Gemma has taken with regard to the charter schools. The recent debacle over Everest existence/location is just the most recent egregious example.
and with a lawsuit filed, I'd hazard a guess that Mr. Gemma had good, taxpayer funded, legal advice on exactly what the letter could say. Obviously he had to say he believes the Green Street site is fine as to do otherwise would undercut the district's position.
His letter also makes it clear why Everest's lawsuit asks for some restriction on how Gemma can characterize the situation as he clearly has no problem in spinning a convenient story. This villainizing certain student groups is, I suppose, just part of his caring about every student (except the ones who don't think too much of him).
Shameful indeed, but look in the mirror Mr. Gemma, your actions are shameful.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Woodside School
on Jul 29, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Mr. Gemma berates Everest for their "end run" around local regulations. Mr. Gemma, have you forgotten that your district did exactly the same thing when you exempted the construction at M-A High School from local review? What's good for the goose, Mr. Gemma.

You were really surprised that Everest isn't moving into your trailers on Green Street? Even your supporters won't believe that came as a surprise. Everest has been on record about your Green Street trailers for MONTHS. Here's another surprise - you're going to be able to drive by those empty trailers on your $2 million campus for at least another couple of years.

And you can stop perpetrating your lie about Everest taking money from the district. We know that a student's funding stays with the student, regardless of the school they attend. The only one taking money from the district is you by your unwillingness to comply with California law which has forced Everest to sue the district. Unfortunately, lawyers are expensive and the district will end up paying a very steep price for this mismanagement.

Shameful, indeed.

Like this comment
Posted by Had enough
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 29, 2009 at 2:56 pm

It should be apparent to all that Mr. Gemma is beyond just a closed mind with respect to the legitimacy of charter schools. He is obsessed with sabotaging them at every opportunity and, sadly, he stops at no expense with our taxpayer dollars. Hugo's Javert is a Hall Monitor compared to Mr. Gemma.

I have followed this weekly soap with a somewhat morbid fascination. Clearly, Mr. Gemma is not going to make this charter go away. He can't possibly prevail no matter how many road blocks he may throw up or school funds he may squander in his frenzied effort to break Everest's spirit and/or budget.

His Op Ed continues his ridiculous spin of facts--and further confirms that this is a man who has now spun completely out of control. Where are our Trustees? Mr. Gemma needs to go.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 29, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Mr. Gemma does not necessarily need to go, but he does need a Board of Trustees that is independent and holds him accountable. The result of that could be that Mr. Gemma doesn't want the job anymore. The only consistent part of the SUHSD position has been hostility toward charter schools while trying to find a way to spin it. One can only hope the courts can see through the muck.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Woodside School
on Jul 30, 2009 at 7:39 am

I agree with the post above. Mr. Gemma does not need to go but the Board of Trustees must start acting like a board.

And the courts will most definitely spank the district for their bad faith actions. This is about as clear a case as I've seen.

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Posted by calling for accountability
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jul 30, 2009 at 8:47 am

OK, Gemma does not need to go IF the school board has overridden his recommendations on how to deal with Everest and he has merely been following board members' orders. If that's the case, it's the board that should be replaced.

However, if the board has been convinced by Gemma that this folly the district has embarked on is the right course, Gemma should indeed be fired. This course of action on the district's part is not only outrageous in and of itself, it will cost the district -- that's us, the public -- big time, and our kids are the big losers.

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Posted by M-A grad & M-A/Summit parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 30, 2009 at 2:48 pm

This ongoing, money-draining effort by Dr. Gemma and the SUHSD board in their illegal attempt to thwart the voter-approved, State mandate to provide suitable housing for Everest Charter High School, stimulated me to drive to the "recommended" Green Street location proposed by the board. Having now seen-for-myself how "ideal" this facility could be, I suggest Dr. Gemma pack up his office and move the entire District offices from their cushy 480 James Ave. location on the Sequoia Campus to 763 Green Street. District offices close at 5:00 sharp, so it would be ideal to share the trailers with the Adult night school.
Everest will settle for James Ave. Problem solved.

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Posted by revenge of Prop 13
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 30, 2009 at 9:45 pm

District superintendents are programmed to artfully manage school boards, teacher unions, demanding parents and stingy taxpayers.
They, like their brethren running the UC and State College System, deserve all their pay, fringes, golden parachute retirement packages, double dipping, ad nauseum, that have turned the best students to seek private/alternative schooling.
Because they are not accountable! No parent has the guts to stand up to the arrogant bureacrat because they fear for their child's future! Sounds almost Neo Fascist!
It has become an unwieldy, self serving, bureaucratic top heavy administrative disgrace that smacks of Neo Feudalism where the peasants (students/parents) are the pawns to prolong the illusion of
Free Public Education

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Posted by supporter
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 31, 2009 at 7:37 am

Thank you Mr. Gemma for explaining to the Everest supporters your concerns. I have never doubted that you have the interests of the MAJORITY of students of the SUHSD as your main concern.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 31, 2009 at 8:42 am


It would appear that your belief is that the majority of students in the SUHSD are NOT interested in 1)school choice, 2)high academic achievement or 3)small school environment, all of which Summit has numbers which appear better than the district's. And additionally, you would presume that the majority of students are not interested in the net return of money the district receives for each charter student not in the comprehensive high schools and believes that needed educational reform can ONLY occur through the wisdom and blessing of Mr. Gemma.
Your argument is a divisive one and one that Mr. Gemma has perfected, that is portraying charter schools as "takers", when in fact they have much to offer the district but the district and your prized Mr. Gemma are too territorial and arrogant to realize that.
If Mr. Gemma truly had the interests of the MAJORITY of SUHSD students as his main concern, he and the district would cease and desist in picking petty fights which consume district resources and accomplish nothing.

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Posted by Concerned community member
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jul 31, 2009 at 10:41 am

For community members like myself who are interested in an informed, balanced and intelligent public dialogue about this subject, you may be interested in visiting this link:
Web Link
This Q&A offers a candid conversation with the Sequoia district superintendent, an educational leader who has devoted his entire adult life to California's youth and the past six years overseeing the maturing of Sequoia district schools into some of the finest anywhere.

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Posted by what a hoot!
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jul 31, 2009 at 11:09 am

A "candid conversation"? How dumb do you think we are? The propaganda machine is hard at work, and it's churning out a bad joke.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 31, 2009 at 11:29 am

I'm sorry community member from M-A, but I suppose there were some in the Old Soviet Union who believed Pravda supplied objective news. Perhaps there are some who believe Fox news is truly "Fair and Balanced". These days, there are enough sources of information that one does not need to blindly accept Mr. Gemma's self-serving dreck. If you want to show me a candid conversation, have an open debate between Mr. Gemma and the folks at Summit where the questions aren't chosen and phrased by the one answering them and where more than just the district's position is given. Providing a link to a propagandist PR piece that is paid for with our tax dollars is not reasoned and objective, it helps people avoid looking at any facts that might contradict Mr. Gemma. Perhaps that is your agenda. I suspect the salary of MR. Gemma's PR person (salary courtesy of taxpayers like you and I) could pay a fair amount of Everest's rent. Paying district money for self promotional propaganda is hardly in the interest of ALL students.

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Posted by not buying
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jul 31, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Wow, CCC, if Pat really wants to shine his reputation, why doesn't he come on here and respond to real questions instead of hiding behind his PR machine? Candid...or canned? How dumb does he think we are?!? All he is doing with this kind of trickery is making himself look even more manipulative and disingenuous.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Woodside High School
on Jul 31, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Concerned community member (of Menlo-Atherton High)

The only thing I find interesting about your post is that you managed to place the web link to the SUHSD site literally within seconds of it being placed on the district's site.

Your timing is just a bit suspicious!

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Posted by enough already
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 31, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Don't we all want to have the best possible education for every student? The problem is that there isn't enough funding for that. It appears to me that Gemma is trying to balance the needs of the few who win the lottery to go to charter schools with the needs of the many who don't. It just doesn't make sense to me for anyone to spend money on lawsuits rather than give that same money for education.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Woodside High School
on Jul 31, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Enough already:

It takes two to make a lawsuit.

Remember that Everest's first facility request was for space within Sequoia High School. Had the district accepted, it would have had zero cost to either party. It was the district that proposed developing the $1.6 million Green Street site with $400,000 worth of trailers. Everest found that unacceptable - and they have every right to pick their location under California law - and the games began.

The trustees can end this incredibly sad chapter with a quick motion to accept Everest's facility and order the district staff to settle the lawsuit.

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Posted by what a hoot!
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jul 31, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Enough Already, your argument just doesn't hold up. The purpose of creating Everest was to increase the number of kids who "win the lottery" - to accommodate all kids who want to go to a small high school with the type of teaching philosophy offered by Summit.

The "not enough funding" argument is bogus. How many times does it have to be stated that funding follows the student? Can we drive a stake through the heart of the district's lie that Summit and Everest are draining money from the comprehensive schools already? It's just not so. The Sequoia district spends more money per pupil than Summit spends. With Summit and Everest, the district has fewer students to educate. The district is NOT adversely affected financially by these charter schools. In fact, if the district hadn't rejected Everest's request for space on the Sequoia High campus -- space that was available -- housing Everest could have been even cheaper than it will be.

Gemma is trying to protect his turf and stop the threat of having other high schools outshine the comprehensive schools he oversees. And he's treading dangerous water, legally speaking. He and the board are the ones to blame that any money is being spent on lawsuits. They should be ashamed.

And if we want to talk about money, let's talk about the money wasted on the time, energy and resources it took to manufacture this preposterous "conversation" between Gemma and Gemma. Pathetic.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 31, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Enough already:
Yes, we all want the best for all the students in the district. If you have concerns that not everyone has the option of "winning the lottery", then I would hope you would have been in favor of SUHSD granting a charter for Everest. SUHSD did not as it was claimed that there was no need. You can't have it both ways claiming not enough people get in and that there is no need.
I agree that it would be nice if a lawsuit were not necessary, however, despite Mr. Gemma's not liking current state charter law, he is obligated to comply with it. Since both sides disagree with who is right, the courts will decide. The question I would ask is whether it would have been worthwhile for SUHSD to pay Everest's rent for this year while negotiations continue as opposed to going to court now since I have to believe the costs incurred at this point (defense of claim, work at Green Street, personell time to fight Everest's opening at Charter, legal opinion about Main Street, possible legal fees, possible damages) could easily total more than $200,000. Is this responsible stewardship?

The sad thing is that there is actually a dialogue to be had over charter schools. While they are not a panacea, there are some real success stories, and Mr. Gemma in his arrogant stubbornness is turning down an opportunity for the district. Imagine that in conjunction with a local institution of higher learning (e.g. Stanford), that the local schools were allowed to operate without all the wasteful district interference and detailed results about achievement were obtained. That might point to pilot programs. But Mr. Gemma's behavior does not match his rhetoric. It is apparent that he sees charter schools as only useful if they are subservient to the district's whims. Guess what, that inhibits the type of freedom that allows these schools to be , for better or worse, "laboratories of innovation".

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Woodside High School
on Aug 3, 2009 at 8:31 am

Mr. Gemma thinks our criticism is "shameful." Our criticism has consistently been of his policies which are transparently anti-charter school. No matter how hard you may try, no self-serving question and answer press release is going to overcome a long history of that policy.

Mr. Gemma: stop having conversations with yourself for pure public relations purposes. Your time may be better served figuring out how you're going to tell your board and the public how you are going to deal with a very serious lawsuit, legal fees for both parties, paying the rent for the new Everest School campus, and, of course, that $2 million testament to your management, five empty trailers on Green Street. And all of this in the midst of a budget crisis. Wake up, trustees.

On second thought, "shameful" is probably a pretty good word.

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