Special education director forced out Schools & Kids, posted by Editor, The Almanac Online, on Mar 13, 2013 at 12:26 pm
The school board approved the removal of the Menlo Park City School District's director of special education from her job last night (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.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 11:56 AM
Posted by Member, a resident of the Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 12:26 pm
This is ridiculous. The board is supporting a superintendent's decision only because by NOT supporting they would be admitting their own failure in hiring. A quick googling of the superintendent's name brings up a host of articles about his questionable character. In fact, in this same magazine, in an article about Menlo hiring him the comments were overwhelmingly warning MP of what was to come. An they were amazing spot-on. Posted by Big Al, on May 7, 2011 "Amazing. This guy has a track record of poor judgement proven in the MV scandal. Not a shred of integrity in this guy, yet he's duped them again. Menlo Park had better get ready for a wild ride with this character whose vast experience is due to never staying in one place for too long. First he'll lay on some charm, then he'll go after long-term loyal employees that don't respond to him, and then he'll fill the district with his own yes people. Fatigue by the community will set in after a couple of years after he imposes lots of corporatisms on everyone. Good luck, you'll need it. No wonder public education is in the dumps."
Read them all here and be worried about the future of MP schools: Web Link
Posted by A parent in the DIstrict with Special Ed kid, a resident of the Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 12:39 pm
I think Ms Mandilk was due to leave. As a special needs parent in the District, all I have ever heard about Ms Mandilk were complaints from other special needs parents. And to judge from the list of other departures, all of whom were weak links, this is probably also the right decision.
It is something to expect that a change of top leadership brings a change of senior management. It happens every time there is a new CEO in a business, etc. I support the changes that have been made and am really looking forward to more improvements.
It is a shame that Ms Mandilk spoke publicly in a tone of complaint because it undercuts my opinion of her judgment.
Posted by beta, a resident of another community, on Mar 13, 2013 at 12:48 pm
To A Parent in the District,
A school distrist is not a business. Maurce Ghysels is not a CEO, he is a superintendent of a public school district. This large amount of turnover in the past year and a half has left many staff confused, angry, and scared for their own job security. MPCSD is going down a dangerous path with a leader proven to be dangerous in other districts.
Posted by Mom in Menlo, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 12:52 pm
If the board had not made up its mind in the first closed session -- after the complaining session -- I would have voted just as they did.
Furthermore in her statement to the Almanac -- she was extremely unprofessional when she blantantly violated a parent and student's privacy - a central pillar of special education and any other student related issue in an educational setting.
As any special education parent who is trying to learn about services knows -- it is extremely difficult to gather comparative information about challenging situations because almost every special education settlement is shrouded in secrecy -- regardless of who "won" -- decisions frequently come with the the famous gag order -- If you tell anybody about this and what services or funds you received -- then you lose all benefits. The gag order applies to BOTH sides.
Posted by MP parent, a resident of the Menlo Park: The Willows neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 1:08 pm
Change doesn't need to come with turnover. A true leader knows how to build trust in a team in order to create change. Look at the example of Hillview. Teachers couldn't have been more unhappy but Erik Burmeister has been able to make great change by building trust and making sound decisions that the teachers and parents can support.
Maurice Ghysels, on the other hand, is a coward. A leader who brings change by just firing people that he doesn't like or doesn't want to work with is no leader. He takes the easy way out. True leaders know how to bring out the best in their team. It doesn't sound like he cares much about that. This district needs a leader----not a coward! Shame on you, board of trustees, for buying into his corporate jargon and actually believing in his methods. They don't work in business and they certainly don't work in education.
Posted by Sped Mom, a resident of the Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 1:13 pm Sped Mom is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
I am stunned by how unprofessionally Ms. Mandilk is handling this situation. Most people that work here in the valley in any occupation knows how these things go, many have been through it multiple times. For her to publicly announce every step of the process is outrageous.
As for the reasons Ms. Mandilk was let go, she has been given plenty of reasons over the years and her personnel file is chock full of complaints and law suits. She has just chosen to ignore them.
A majority of Sped kids in MP are not majorly significantly impaired. The majority have an LD such as dyslexia or auditory processing disorder, ADHD, Anxiety, and a good number with high functioning spectrum disorders. These are the families that Olivia has utterly failed.
Many families such as these are unable to attend the board meetings because they are at home with their kids battling over another stack of worksheets, spelling list or diorama of the day. Or they are still driving home for the OT, SLP, Educational Therapy or other some such appointment that they attend multiple times weekly and pay for out of pocket. The less the school gives, the more we have to take care of on our own. This means we have less time to spend volunteering in our kids classrooms, participating in civic activities such as school board meetings, and more time at work to cover the expenses.
I have worked with many, many schools who say, "how can we help you?" "Here are all of the things we can offer your child." This is not the majority experience for MP Sped parents. While MP has some truly outstanding teachers and sped staff, including the brilliantly gifted inclusion specialist Margie Rubin, most of the good that goes on happens in spite of Ms. Mandilk, not because of her.
I know nothing of Mr. Gysels political doings, cronyism, bullying, or whatever. What I do see is that we now have amazing principals at all of our schools, Hillview has literally been turned around over night, Alison Liner has had a fantastic start as the CLO and now we are replacing a dead end sped head. It looks to me like MP is shining more brightly than ever!
Posted by Some Guy, a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm
I can see the parents dont get it. It isn't about Ms. Mandilk, it's about the process that Mr. Ghysels engages in to remove people who don't agree with him, and whose positions, more often than not, are filled by cronies of his.
Posted by Wake Up, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 1:17 pm
This is not about the dismissal of Ms Mandilk. This about the actions of the Superintendant and how is creating a workplace full of his yes men, and in the process destroying what was once a very strong district.
There are very shady things going on in this district, some of which is quite un-ethical and possibly illegal.
Posted by Mother of a Special Needs Kid, a resident of the Menlo Park: The Willows neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm
I am delighted that this curtain has been lifted. While parents with significantly disabled kids have had appropriate action taken to improve their students education under Ms Mandilk, it's my impression that those kids who are in the mainstream classes have not had adequate services and I will put the blame squarely on the director of the program. If you graph the changes, I would expect to see that IEP's are down, test scores are up, and attorney fees are up during this director's reign for our special needs students. No, it's not that the District got better at teaching our SNKs.
On more than one occassion, my concerns about my student were ignored from being denied an IEP early on (in Kindergarten) to having staff claim via testing she was at-grade level in 5th grade (in effort to reduce services), only to discover in sixth grade (just six months later) that she's in fact 3 YEARS BEHIND her peers and now is in a class full of students who need super supports due to the gap (they can't handle main-stream classes because they are too far behind their peers).
Maurice, I commend you on this one. Please put someone like Eric Burmeister into this position--let's get current about this! It's estimated that a third of students in MPCSD are behind grade level. That means ALL teachers should know how to teach kids who have special needs. Let's get this started now rather than pushing our kids onward and upward while the gap grows.
Maurice, you are no fool. You know change can hurt. Thank you for not being a coward!
Posted by Concerned Parent, a member of the Encinal School community, on Mar 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm
I am concerned by this story, the comments, and what I have heard is going on in the district. Whatever people's experience with Ms. Mandilk, there is clearly turmoil and serious accusations of unprofessional behavior on the part of the superintendent. Despite the quote from the board president, it clearly appears that a good number of people are NOT "fully confident that Dr. Ghysels is leading the district effectively." None of this is good for the schools, the teachers or the kids. Bad morale trickles down. At the very least, the school board needs to take note and find out what is going on by talking to district employees - particularly those who work closely with Mr. Ghysels. And if the dismissal of so many has created an atmosphere of fear and mistrust, they need to be very careful they are getting accurate information. I understand his contract was extended last year - was that based on any actual data gathering from district members about his performance?
Posted by Personal Exerience, a resident of the Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 2:18 pm
Why in the world would a superintendent fire talented people who were doing a great job? How does it hurt our school district to replace weak people with strong, innovative people? Those Dr. Ghysels fired all had long histories of performance issues, and were given time and support to improve. When they didn't change or just weren't up to the task, they were managed out. For those critical of the way they were managed out, it's sad to say the Union is very powerful and supports even weak members, so outright firing is often impossible.
Ms. Mandilk's surprise is an act -- her reporting structure had been changed this year so she'd have more supervision and connection with the general education program instead of operating in her own secret silo. Most Directors of Special Ed only stay in a district for 4 or 5 years tops, so she must have been pretty comfy. Now she is trying to claim that she was cheated out of her ample pension -- does this mean the district should have kept her in place to the detriment of its students to bring in more progressive practices just so she could tread water until she reached retirement age? This is our tax money you're talking about.
Posted by Divine Justice, a resident of the Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm
It takes a bully to know a bully! Olivia has bullied special ed families for eight years and anyone who's been on the receiving end is rejoicing to see the tables turned. She's made a very public spectacle out of her venomous attack on Dr. Ghysels who can't make any comment on personnel matters but can put an end to her reign of terror.
Posted by MVer, a resident of another community, on Mar 13, 2013 at 2:52 pm
This has nothing to do with the union. The union does not support administrators and administrators don't pay union dues. Get your facts straight.
The damage is done. The same thing happened in Mountain View. Ghysels is toxic, is a bully, and has no idea how to manage or lead an organization. He targets individuals because he has no idea how to work with people, or to value or develop them professionally in the interest of the students and student learning. You can be assured that a large population of district employees are not towing his line. People don't trust him and fear him. In that regard, he has failed as a leader to let things get to the point they have. He is damaged goods a second time over. It's just hilarious to watch. And the board sits by and let's it happen. He's managed to stay out of the press for almost a year. He avoids getting his name in print or tied to any story about the schools. But sure enough, he's back again with even more scandal attached to his name. He pushes his friend's administrator-level hiring consulting firm on the district for easy money, knowing full-well he's already got yes men and women lined up for the positions. He raids Mountain View for loyal followers, a principal and a secretary--a secretary that was his lover's secretary in Mountain View. This was the same secretary that covered for his favorite principal as he moved the two of them around into choice assignments. Who else to better trust to cover the dirty work. It's twisted loyalties at work here. [portion deleted.] And let's not forget these are public jobs and positions where fair and objective hiring practices are supposed to rule. Only he is capable of continually attracting such negative press attention to his name.
I agree, he's a coward and not much of a man. For those that suffered his wrath, all I can say is be thankful you don't have to work with the guy any more. For those who continue to work with him, look in the mirror if you've got the stomach for it.
Posted by Wake Up, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm
"Why in the world would a superintendent fire talented people who were doing a great job?"
Because they would call him out on his garbage. Because he wants to use his position to elevate his friends and because she cannot stand anyone to disagree with him.
The bottom line here is that no matter how you slice it there is OBVIOUSLY a problem. Perhaps all of these people that have been pushed out deserved to be pushed out (though I believe this is not the case) but at the end of the day their is never smoke without a fire, not matter how much Gysels may tell you that it is just fog and is under control.
To the parents that still believe that the man is great, I challenge you to talk to the teachers and other admin staff, heck talk to the people in Mountain View, and even talk to him directly. Ask him what his plans are for the district and see how quickly he falters, stutters and answers queries in long drawn out ways that give little to no actual information.
Posted by Nosy Neighbor, a resident of another community, on Mar 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm
The MPSD dirty laundry aired out in public is making me realize that the grass is not necessarily greener in adjacent pastures after all. Systemic change in public education can be stymied for any number of reasons, and it does not sound like the approach taken by Mr. Ghysels has fostered a positive context for change within the MPSD. Ms. Mandilk also has not demonstrated the best judgement when she solicited feedback from the community. Even the most effective leaders in the underfunded and overtaxed special education system will have alienated some staff and parents during the course of 8 years managing a system that was doomed to dysfunction from the day that the federal government issued legally mandated but unfunded obligations to state and local educational entities when the laws governing special education were written in the 1970s. I do like the idea that principals should be given more of a role in supervising and ensuring the education of ALL students in their schools, irrespective of whether those students have been identified with a disability. The ultimate success of students depends on having engaged and involved adults (parents, teachers, and administrators) who support a child's education across settings and who know the children who they support as people with unique learning needs. A centralized district office-based approach to meeting the needs of the children with the greatest potential barriers to their progress does not seem to be the most effective way to meet the needs of families who have a SNK. As for the "toxic" impact of Mr. Ghysels, I can only say that I hope that he patches things up with the MPSD parents and staff and is able to ride out the rest of his career in MPSD. Those of us looking over the education fence into the Menlo Park school yard would prefer that Mr. Ghysels not drift north or south to one of the nearby districts with his divisive approach to staff hiring and firing.
Posted by Member, a resident of the Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 3:40 pm
Many readers keep coming back to whether or not Ms. Mandilk deserved to be forced out. That is a specific issue and no reader can venture a guess at that. What we can all see from this is there is a potentially serious issue with the MP school leadership. True or not, even a threat of cronyism or bullying needs to be investigated. If half of the staff reporting to the superintendent have left, retired early, quit, gone or medical leave - whatever - in a year and a half, that ALONE is worthy of investigation. I think the real question now is what plan does the board have to investigate these charges and how can they protect the remaining team and give them a chance to voice concerns so that we don't see more of his direct-reports being forced out. The general feeling in MPCSD seems to be one of general fear of repercussion. No one will willingly provide the evidence of improprieties now that they know that not only will the board not support them but they will be crucified in the press. An external agency or task team should be solicited immediately to investigate and provide their findings to the board.
Posted by whatever, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 5:41 pm
Our MP housing prices are outrageous as usual. The number one reason we're told why is the "great schools" in the MP City School District. From what I've been, reading, seeing, hearing and experiencing over the years (and two kids who attended Oak Knoll and Hillview) - I have to say that MP home buyers have been ripped-off big time.
From teachers who have no clue as to how a child grows, behaves, and develops (due in part from having no children of their own) to school board members (not all) with a lack of the basic understanding of finance, planning, no personnel savvy and even a lack in the basics of schooling, it's a wonder our kids amount to anything. Fact of the matter is we have too many folks who care more about politics and what others think of them instead of thinking about what's number one - the young students.
Oh yes and how many more times is the MP school board going to renovate and tear down, renovate and tear down, ad infinitum the Hillview campus. It's time to reinstate the requirement that school districts must abide by all the local planning regulations.
Posted by Employee, a resident of another community, on Mar 13, 2013 at 5:58 pm
I like "Wake Ups" post. Maurice Ghysels has been divisive since the very beginning of his time in Menlo Park. We were assured by the Board and the recruitment team that the things we read from his time in Mountain View were "disgruntled parents and staff" and that his affair with a subordinate was "a love story".
At the first district-wide meeting, he asked people to call him, tell him what they want from him and for the district and he'd respond. Well, people called and he did not respond. He tells people he wants to hear their opinion but shuts them out when their opinions differ from his. He also made a comment that Menlo Park offered him a lot of money to come on board. Great, because we didn't know that already.
[Portion removed. We'd need verification for this.] Recently, he praised staff members for falling in lock step with him. These are not the words I want to hear from the leader of my beloved school district.
He is a narcissist, a toxic leader and has managed to scare many staff members. I know a number of great staff who are looking for other employment to get away from this environment.
The events surrounding his hiring must be questioned. I beg the Board to step up and admit that his hiring may have been the wrong decision.
Posted by Bully or Not A Bully?, a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 6:21 pm
One thing is for sure, Ms. Mandilk is certainly no coward and isn't afraid to call Mr. Ghysels a bully to his face. That requires a lot of confidence and certainty. This is not something that is done everyday on a whim. There most likely is a shred of truth in what she describes as the traumatic and hostile workplace that the district office has become. That's a pretty damning indictment of what's going on in the district office--the place from which the schools are ultimately run.
I think by definition Ghysels largely is a bully. It's easy for a bully to fire people because he doesn't like them or how they think. And Ghysel's retort that sometimes it's "hard to be a leader and make difficult personnel decisions" is quite telling a response. Those are the actions and words of a bully, not exclusively a leader. It's actually much harder to be a leader who can pull a team of people together while at the same time valuing the individual qualities within the team. But those qualities, or lack there of, would then tie in to Ghysels' personal life, which has been amply documented in the press. Two divorces and an inter-office affair while in Mountain View pretty much push him into the bully camp even further.
And now it's revealed his secretary, newly-imported from Mountain View, was also his current significant others' secretary from Mountain View? That also reinforces the notion of a bully, who can also surround himself with people who he thinks he can trust.
Break out the popcorn. This is going to get worse before it gets better.
Posted by MPCSD Employee, a resident of another community, on Mar 13, 2013 at 6:41 pm
In response to Personal Experience
Look carefully at the "right sizing" report. It's posted in the school board minutes. While you are looking through board meeting minutes, you should also look at Maurice's new contract. He negotiated (AND THE BOARD APPROVED) for him to "consult" on MPCSD time. I'm sure he managed to snow them over with how this will help the district. The only person this is helping is Maurice Ghysels and his own pocket book!
Interesting that he hires a consulting firm (who knows how much that cost the district) to say that he has too many direct reports and that they need to be divided between Allison Liner and Diane White (who now apparently need additional staff to manage the new workload that has been dumped on them).
I'm sure the reason for Olivia reporting to Allison rather than Maurice had nothing to do with Olivia needing supervision and everything to do with Maurice needing more time for his own personal ventures.
Posted by Apex, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm
It is CRITICAL that ALL Menlo school Principles and Assistant Principles stand up against this head case Superintend IMMEDIATELY, while the crack that Mandilk is wide open. If all admin staff refuse to participate with anything of Maurice, and if all teachers refuse to attend all staff meetings with Maurice, or simply walk out when he walks in, then the hard headed board will connect the dots.
Maurice HAS GOT TO GO!
Our kids depend upon us parents to do the right thing.
Posted by Parent Two, a resident of the Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 7:01 pm
I give the Superintendent mixed marks for his actions. It seems he does engage in a fair amount of cronyism, and we knew that going in, but at the same time his principal hires at both Encinal and Hillview have been major upgrades. The family of a sped student that I trust the most had no love lost for Ms. Mandlik, so I write that one off as Maurice being responsive to the community.
Posted by Barbara Simms, a resident of another community, on Mar 13, 2013 at 7:12 pm
As a former educator in another community, I've sadly seen this all before. In this case, it was a PhD from an Ivy School who was hired by the board for her "vision." She said she wanted input, to form parnerships, to create a team of exceptional educators. Her "door was always open." And yet it quickly became apparent from her behavior that she didn't want to hear anything that challenged her positions or opinions, and that there was retaliation and vindictiveness against those who spoke their mind. People were incredibly unhappy and started to leave in droves. An excuse was "spun" for every departure.
The board was kept at arm's length. She obviously behaved very differently around them - her bosses, who controlled her salary and welfare. Different information was funneled in each direction between the board and staff, all through a deceptive and untrustworthy conduit. The board hadn't a clue what was going on, and it took 4 years before she finally was offered the door. In the meanwhile, a lot of excellent people were lost, and a fantastic school was destroyed from the inside out. It was very hard for the board to admit this horrible mistake. And there had been parents on staff on the interview committee. The fact that the board alone selected the current MPCSD superintendent in a closed process makes it that much harder to see that they've possibly erred. It's human nature.
Please see this as the cautionary tale it is intended as - many good people were hurt and a reputable institution was damaged by a leader few people trusted or respected. It doesn't really matter whether board members have confidence in the superintendent if the staff doesn't. Perhaps a confidence vote should be held. Education works through cooperative engagement. The current environment at MPCSD seems the antithesis of that.
Posted by beta, a resident of another community, on Mar 13, 2013 at 8:04 pm beta is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
And now the comments have been locked. This is unfortunate as an anonymous forum has allowed some of us who are worried about our future in the District to voice our concerns. If he can fire Olivia Mandilk, who, by most accounts, is doing a fine job for students in the district, who can't he fire?
Posted by Sentinel, a resident of another community, on Mar 14, 2013 at 8:05 am Sentinel is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
I didn't realize that the Almanac authenticated postings by the public, particularly given the baseless, vile allegations that are posted in this thread.
I posted statements made by Superintendent Ghysels to staff members. There was no commentary regarding any of his statements; just a list of statements that he has made about the Board, the Foundation, and other relevant topics.
Kindly let me know what evidence you require for authentication, and I will provide it. The MPCSD community deserves to know what Superintendent Ghysels says behind closed doors.
Posted by JeffS, a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Mar 14, 2013 at 2:15 pm JeffS is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
Bad at their job? You going to tell me Jo Mitchell was bad at her job? Carol Meztler was bad at her job? The people out on medical leave directly related to stress at trying to work with Mr. Ghysels, Dennis Hatfield, and Robin Reading were bad at their jobs? And if Olivia was so bad, why did they keep her around for 8 years? Without any indication that her performance was not satisfactory? And while Ms. Burns and Mr. Burmeister may have been good hires (hard to tell less than a year into their positions, really) the are still old cronies of his.
Mr. Ghysels has all the directors report to Ms. Liner now, simply to insulate himself. When things go wrong he can point fingers farther down the chain, and he hears less criticism.
(Editor's Note: Robin Reding has told the Almanac that her medical leave is not stress-related and that she is in good standing with Mr. Ghysels.]
Posted by Renee Batti, news editor of The Almanac, on Mar 14, 2013 at 3:38 pm Renee Batti is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
In answer to Sentinel's question about what's required for authentication: We can't keep posts up in which a single person asserts that someone else made specific comments in private or in small, closed-door meetings -- particularly offensive or inappropriate comments -- unless that assertion is backed up by multiple, credible sources.
I invite anyone in a position to corroborate the assertion, or who wants to share any other information, to call me at 223-6528, or email me at rbatti@AlmanacNews.com
Posted by beta, a resident of another community, on Mar 14, 2013 at 6:12 pm beta is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
Please speak out. People who have been in a small group meeting with Maurice Ghysels have heard the way he speaks about himself (the former leaders he compares himself to). They have heard the way he speaks about the children, the district leaders, the initiatives he's put forward, his plans for the district.
Posted by Sentinel, a resident of another community, on Mar 15, 2013 at 6:35 pm Sentinel is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
I now understand what the Almanac is requiring in order for Ghysels' quotes to be re-posted. I am in the process of contacting a number of people who were present when Superintendent Ghysels made inappropriate, questionable statements over the past year and a half. Once the Almanac receives confirmation from those folks regarding the statements, the statements will be re-posted, and the MPCSD community can decide if Ghysels is the kind of man that they want at the helm of one of the finest school districts in the state.
Posted by Sentinel, a resident of another community, on Mar 16, 2013 at 9:44 am Sentinel is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
According to training that I received regarding the Brown Act, if the majority of the Board receives written communication in connection with a Board Agenda item more than 72 hours prior to a Board meeting, the communication must be included in the Board Agenda packet. If it is not included in the Agenda packet, it must be made available to the public at the Board meeting. According to members of the Student Services Department, more than 72 hours prior to the March 12th Board meeting, members of the Student Services Department sent a letter to all of the Board members and the superintendent related to the Closed Session item, “Public Employee Discipline/Dismissal/Release.”
The letter was not included in the March 12th Board Agenda packet, nor were copies of the letter made available to the public at the Board meeting. A member of the Student Services Department, Dawn Edgren, and a general education teacher from Encinal School, Karen Strohmaier, read the letter (below) to the public and the Board during the “Comments from the Audience” section of the Board meeting.
Superintendent Ghysels told the Almanac, "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. Why did the superintendent and the Board dismiss the leader of a district program that IS, in Ghysels’ opinion, providing outstanding services?
Prior to making the decision to dismiss the director, why did Ghysels and the Board choose to NOT seek public input regarding the new direction that they want the department to take?
Exactly what IS the new direction that Ghysels and the Board want to take? Why?
March 4, 2013
To: Maurice Ghysels, Jeff Child, Maria Hilton, Joan Lambert, Laura Rich, Terry Thygesen
From: Members of the Student Services Department
It has come to our attention that Olivia will not be returning as Director of Student Services in the 2013-14 school year. We would like to recognize her accomplishments and achievements while she has worked as the Director of the Student Services Department in our District. Olivia coined the phrase, "Together We Make a Difference” as our department motto and this is Olivia's leadership style.
Olivia has over 30 years of experience in the field of special education. She has worked as a Para-educator, a Teacher, a Special Day Class Teacher, a Teacher for students with Emotional Disturbance, a SELPA and COE Director, and for the past 8½ years, the Director of Student Services for the Menlo Park City School District. Olivia is a highly skilled professional and a visionary leader. She has always had an open-door policy for parents, specialists, teachers, para-educators, and administrators-creating time in her busy schedule to meet the varied needs of those with whom she works. Olivia works effectively and calmly with staff and parents even when faced with difficult challenges. Olivia is also a leader outside of the District as a vital member of the South County Directors Group and the SELPA Finance Committee. She is at the forefront of current trends in special education. Directors of other districts in the county seek out Olivia for her expertise, advice and counsel.
Olivia has established parent education and outreach programs in the District. She set up a Lending Library (using mostly ARRA funds) with over 250 books and DVDs for parents, staff, and para-educators to check out, including books in Spanish and books focusing on health issues. She created a robust, informational Student Services website and sends out regular parent-education newsletters through the website. The website includes a variety of resources for families, both to get to know the District and to get more information about disabilities in general. Olivia recently began a series of parent-education meetings to provide information and address issues related to parenting and educating children with disabilities. She has invited families who live outside the District to attend these meetings, providing outreach throughout San Mateo County. Parent education helps strengthen home-school continuity, which is vital to promoting children's learning and development.
Each of the schools in the District has benefited from Olivia's vision. She was instrumental in establishing the Occupational Therapy Clinic at Encinal and Heritage Oak Children's Center (which serves both students at HOCC and Laurel). She hired Occupational Therapists to work at each of the schools, instead of bringing in private, non-District employees to provide OT services. Olivia implemented the Learning Center model at Encinal, Oak Knoll, and Hillview. She recognized an unmet need for specialized curriculum for students with disabilities and, with input from teacher s, implemented curriculum programs throughout the Di strict. Olivia supports 504 Plans (accommodations to meet the needs of student s in general education). She works with administrators and counselors at each school to implement 504 Plans and policies to meet compliance. Olivia developed and designed monthly para-educator j ob-alikes for professional development. In 2006, she organized a District-wide staff development day with many relevant sessions presented by highly regarded professionals such as Fred Luskin, PhD, Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project and Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP, a local expert on autism, Asperger Syndrome, and nonverbal learning disorders. Olivia's innovative style brings out the best in her staff. She has encouraged and supported staff to apply for Jeanie Ritchie Innovation grants and attend professional development opportunities to increase their skills. Olivia has begun to develop a more robust Health Services Department throughout the District by hiring qualified staff and applying for and receiving grants through the Sequoia Healthcare District to help support the financial need s of the Health Services staffing. For Olivia, the educational, social, and emotional needs of children in the District are primary, but she ensures their services are appropriate and cost-effective for the District.
Unfortunately, litigation is often part of special education and can be stressful for all involved. Olivia handles difficult litigation with ease and grace. She works professionally and effectively with District attorneys. She supports staff involved in litigation by providing background information about the issues surrounding disagreement, and she brings in accomplished attorneys who work with our staff to help calm their fears and prepare them for testifying in front of a judge. Because of Olivia's vast knowledge of special education law and her ability to work well with the parties involved, Menlo Park has prevailed in the majority of recent litigation.
Olivia's organizational skills are exceptional. She ensures IEP compliance through staff education and careful scrutiny of IEP documents. She has standardized policies and procedure s for the Department and in the most recent state-wide review in 2008-2009, Menlo Park City School District was the only district in the San Mateo County that had no findings of systemic noncompliance. Olivia has established a very professional Student Services Department and she holds monthly staff department meetings with a relevant, predetermined agenda. Olivia provides structured timelines for teachers so tasks are done in a timely manner.
Under Olivia's direction, members of the Student Services Department strive to provide appropriate services in the Least Restrictive Environment for children with disabilities. Olivia is very supportive of including students with disabilities in the general education program. Under Olivia's supervision, in the 2006-07 school year, the District Inclusion Program received a prestigious Kent Award. This honor is awarded to a handful of exemplary programs in San Mateo County. Olivia also spear-headed the task of bringing back two county classes of students with disabilities who had previously attended school in our district. While in the county classes, many of these students had to travel long distances in order to attend school and access services. Olivia hired highly qualified teachers for these classes and in the process, saved the district tens of thousands of dollars per year on transportation costs and other related costs of educating District children en outside of our attendance area. Children attending schools and accessing services in their own community creates a sense of belonging for the parents, children, and siblings.
Olivia was instrumental in developing, designing, and equipping the Heritage Oak Children's Center, which serves preschool-aged students with disabilities in the classroom and the Speech/Language Clinic and various District students in the Occupational Therapy clinic. Again, these are children who would have previously attended a preschool for students with disabilities outside of their neighborhood, at a greater cost to the District. The preschool in Menlo Park creates a great sense of belonging for District families.
Olivia's character is unquestionable. She is modest and humble; she does not call attention to her accomplishments. She treats members of the Student Services Department with respect, trust, and autonomy to succeed. When a staff member needs to make an improvement in his/her performance, she supports them and encourages improvement. Olivia sets very high standards for her Student Services Department staff and helps them to reach those standards through staff development and consistent mentoring. She gives praise when it is due and helps teachers improve performance when needed.
It has been an honor to work with Olivia and get to know her over the last eight years. Her professionalism, expertise, kindness, and leadership have literally put Menlo Park Student Services Department on the map. It is a known fact that families who live in other parts of the country seek out our district so that they can access optimal special education services for their children. We think you will see from the comments above how much we appreciate and respect Olivia's leadership and professionalism. We owe Olivia a special debt of gratitude. She has transformed our department.
Posted by Educator, a resident of the Woodside: Woodside Heights neighborhood, on Mar 16, 2013 at 4:56 pm Educator is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
Other than the Board and Superintendent, no one knows exactly why employees of the District left. Public speculation is always just that, speculation. The Board's job is to make the best decisions for the district's students, and sometimes that requires very difficult and unpopular decisions.
You know your Board members; you elected them. Do you really think they are making frivolous personnel changes without good reason? I think you are lucky to have an excellent, educated, caring, and thoughtful school board that thinks first about your students.