Saturday, August 8, 2015

Update on Everett Public Schools Coach, Steve Bertrand - 10 months later

My husband, Mark, generally stays out of much of what goes on at the Everett School Board Project.  However, as a former High School athlete and runner, himself, he was deeply troubled by Coach Bertrand's dismissal given the tremendous out-pouring of support and the amazing stories (see first video) of this beloved and respected Coach. Over the last few months, he has reached out to Coach Bertrand as School Board President, Pam LeSesne invited the public to do in the second video below, in an effort to learn Steve's side of the story. The following information is the result of his personal investigation.  He also sought more information about the situation from the district in a couple of meetings with a member of the school board and Dr. Gary Cohn but, their story continues to support the district's internal investigation "findings" so, for the purposes of this blog post, we haven't included additional information from the district's point of view.  

Dear Everett School District Community Members,

Over the past few months I have become better acquainted with an example of the strong, caring teachers and leaders that can be found in Everett School District. Throughout my career in business, I have been a student of effective leadership principles, whether these are manifest in business leaders, community leaders, or others. As I have come to know Steve Bertrand, a veteran teacher at Cascade, I have found him to be an amazing example of “quiet leadership”. His focus is not on bringing attention to himself, but on teaching, encouraging and leading in a way that helps young people to realize their potential, not just as athletes, but more importantly, as strong, caring human beings and as committed members of the community. 

Steve has done all of this without trying to bring attention to himself but instead has focused on bringing attention to the amazing young people he has worked with. As a former graduate of Cascade High School, Steve has been a teacher as well as a cross country and track coach at Cascade for over 30 years, despite numerous offers to coach at the collegiate level. But he has stayed at Cascade because of his commitment to the Cascade High School community and its focus on being the “School of Pride”.

“Coach Bertrand” as he is often called formally, or “Bert” as he is called more informally by many of the students that he has coached over the years, has had an amazingly positive impact and influence on students over many decades. Though I have known of Steve Bertrand by reputation for many years, I have only come to know him personally during the last year, a period of significant challenge for Steve in which he was first dismissed as the head cross country coach, and then after significant public outrage and pressure, reinstated, but as an assistant cross country coach.

This situation stems in part from an investigative report regarding Steve’s involvement in working with Cascade student athletes to hand out flyers for the Mike Wilson campaign on October 15, 2014. The assertion of school and district leadership, as communicated in a report by Dr. Catherine Matthews, the district’s Director of Curriculum and Assessment, is that Steve’s actions violated the State Public Disclosure Guidelines associated with campaign activities. After making a public records to the district for Dr. Matthew’s report on June 22, 2015, I received an electronic copy of this document on July 9. 

Because this report is a public record, I am sharing it publicly, but wish to first give some context to help people as they read this document. As I initially reviewed this report, I was struck by how skewed either the investigation or at least the report was. An “investigation” and the resulting report should by definition be an attempt to get to a full and accurate understanding of the facts of a situation, and to fully understand the context and background to ensure that an appropriate decision can be made. As such, this type of investigation and report should by nature be even-handed and seek to represent the views of all sides. But, because this investigation was conducted by the district in defense of the district against potential legal repercussions, the investigation does not appear to have been handled in the unbiased manner an independent investigator would have utilized. Instead, it is clearly an investigation and a report that started with the hypothesis that Steve Bertrand was the guilty one, and then worked to justify this view. It is written not as a judicial report that seeks to understand, but rather as a prosecutorial document that seeks to condemn. 

Consider the following:

General Observations

  • Though the report talks about the people that were interviewed, many people with insight and details fundamental to this situation were not interviewed. For example, only one of the 14 Cascade cross country runners that was involved in the situation on October 15th was interviewed. And all of the runners have signed a statement supporting Coach Bertrand’s assertions of the situation. But these views are not represented in the report.

  • Ian Boswell and other leaders of the Bruin Community Parents were involved with the October 15th event and are intimately familiar with the details, but were not spoken to during the investigation. In fact, district administration has sought to replace Bruin Community Parents, which Steve Bertrand helped start in the 90’s, with a PTSA and has quietly encouraged PTSA supporters from the middle schools that feed into Cascade to start a group despite the fact that no one within BCP has expressed any interest in replacing the group. It appears to be punishment for the group’s support of Coach Bertrand and setting up a BCP “Steve Bertrand Scholarship” after he was dismissed. 

  • Much of the presentation of Steve Bertrand’s statements throughout this document are extremely skewed. For example, the report will at times talk about how Steve “denied” various things, suggesting that the investigation was based on accusations rather than on a desire to understand. In another spot in the report, it talks about how Steve said something “menacingly”. This is an extremely skewed presentation of Steve’s statements that are very inappropriate for an investigative report. 

  • Additionally, there are many facts of the case that Steve was not questioned about. And others that he was questioned about that would give important context and details that were not included, again, suggesting that the report was skewed to justify a pre-determined view.

  • In each case that other people are discussed—Robert Polk, Mike Wilson, Eric Hruschka, etc—in the end, the report essentially “gives them a pass”, pointing to a variety of extenuating details. For example, Robert Polk’s comments are excused because they were “in passing”. However, in each case, Steve Bertrand has not been given the benefit of the doubt.

  • The district has repeatedly stated that this is a private personnel matter that they cannot comment further on. Steve Bertrand gave permission to the district to publicly release his entire personnel file, which they have refused to do. School Board members have refused to help him resolve the situation by washing their hands of it and declaring they have no ability to change the decision. Per RCW 28A.150.230(2), the school board does have the legal right, and even the obligation, to get involved in this situation as representatives of the community. 

What are the PDC guidelines and how does this create a conflict?

  • The very title of the report is inaccurate and suggests that Steve potentially violated “rules”. The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission's document entitled "Guidelines for School Districts in Election Campaigns", provides some insight on interpreting the intent of RCW 42.17.680(2). It is important to understand that though this document does give insight on activities that are "Permitted" and "Not Permitted" by Teachers, Students and others, these are stated as “guidelines”, not “rules”.
  • Part of the challenge of this RCW is that the guidelines differ significantly for teachers and for students, and this creates the potential for conflict when teachers, as part of their responsibility in classes and extracurricular activities, help to support students. Here is the conflict:

It is not permitted for a teacher to use public resources or work time to support a candidate.
However, students may both "originate school projects for credit that promote or oppose candidates" and also "may use public resources to carry out school projects promoting or opposing ballot measures" (and implicitly, the same would apply to promoting or opposing a candidate".
So, this creates an interesting question. Though the guideline states that teachers cannot use public resources or work time for campaign activities, what happens when they are supporting kids in their efforts—be it for credit or for part of their community service efforts with an extracurricular activity? How does a teacher, coach or adviser help to support the students in doing these activities that are permissible for students, yet are not allowed for teachers?
This is relevant in this situation in that the students came up with the idea to campaign for Mike Wilson. And per the PDC guidelines, it is permissible for them to do so, even on school time and with school resources.
This differs significantly from a situation where a teacher or school staff member supported a particular candidate and then was using school time and resources to advocate for that candidate. But when it is a teacher or coach supporting students in doing what is permissible them to do, this creates a far different situation. 
Was there intent? 

  • Another important issue in any investigation of this type is to consider whether there was intent. Consequently, in the course of the investigation, it would have been wise for those conducting the investigation to look at intent, but this was not done. For example, as Steve has said, “I didn’t look at this as a political event but as a public service event.”
  • The situation did not start with Steve having the intent to support a candidate. The situation started with the students on the cross country team, fitting with their culture of “Honor, Unity and Service”, deciding to focus their community service on distributing flyers for a teacher that most of them know very well. Again, this is permissible for students within the PDC guidelines. 
  • Since students participating in campaign activities supporting a candidate can happen per PDC guidelines, both in or outside of school hours, and given that they were doing this as a cross country team, just as he has done in the past over many years, Steve Bertrand simply helped in the coordination of their service activities in keeping with his approach of “quiet leadership”.

Was there precedent? 

  • As Steve reports, and even as the Matthews report states, Steve has “conducted community service projects with his cross country athletes annually”.
  • There have been many times in the past that cross country athletes and other athletes have helped to distribute flyers for other candidates. School administrators have been aware of this activity and have never suggested that this should not be done.
  • Given that this has been done many times in the past, there was precedent for Steve’s belief that he was simply supporting a community service activity, not something that was overtly and intentionally a campaign activity.

Based on all of this, I believe that you will find as I have that:
  1. The investigation was flawed in that it was not an investigation, but rather an “interrogation” focused on justifying the district leadership’s initial opinions.
  2. Not only was the investigation flawed, but the report is even more flawed and written using an extremely unprofessional, biased approach.
  3. Consequently, all of the decisions by Dr. Cohn based on this report, including the original dismissal, and then the eventual reinstatement—which was still a demotion—were flawed and incorrect as well. As such, they do not support the needs of the community to not only to have a more appropriate view of Steve Bertrand’s work over the years, but to also have him continue to work with youth in a role that allows his impact and influence to continue, rather than relegating him to a more junior role not in keeping with his experience, nor in keeping with the actual facts of this situation.

So, why did this happen? Why was there an intent to punish Steve Bertrand?

Though there are many potential reasons for this, the most likely reasons are twofold:

  1. Steve Bertrand has sometimes given feedback to Cascade and district leadership they viewed as critical. For example, he shared concerns regarding the tracks and fields at Cascade. Additionally, he shared other concerns about programs that seemed to be administered to maximize district revenue from government programs rather than being done to benefit students. Keep in mind that this feedback was given through proper channels, direct to administration rather than sharing this feedback with teachers or complaining to parents.
  2. Steve is seen as a leader with a “quiet leadership” style, at a time where there have been significant questions by teachers, parents and the community about the leadership abilities and style of district leadership. It would be disappointing if an element of “leadership envy”, regarding Steve’s standing, impact and influence in the community were to cause decisions that are essentially punitive in nature and are contrary to the best interests of students.

My recommendations

Based on this, I recommend several simple actions:

  1. I encourage Everett School District teachers, parents, and community members, and even students, to read and understand Dr. Matthew’s report in light of its significant shortcomings.
  2. I recommend that Everett School District leadership, including the school board take the important step of redoing this investigation, and to present a report that is more representative of the context, background, and full details of this situation. This investigation will be done most effectively by an unbiased, third party with appropriate experience and a willingness to reach out to both sides. 
  3. As I have come to know many of the facts of this case, I would be surprised if this new investigative report does not put Steve Bertrand’s intent and actions in a more positive light. Consequently, I would recommend that Steve Bertrand be reinstated as the co-head coach of the Cross Country team at Cascade High School, and that district leadership issue an apology for their inappropriate and unjust treatment of this amazing public servant.

Best regards,

Mark Guymon

Please CLICK BELOW to read the Everett School District report:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Graduation Rates - the truth is in there somewhere....

Last month, the Everett School District published a "Good News" letter about rising graduation rates in the district.  We are now less than 1% away from the coveted and celebrated Northshore and Lake Washington School Districts in terms of on-time graduation rates.  Seems like good news, doesn't it? 

However, 10 years ago, the same graduation rate in this district was 14% LOWER than it is today. Ten years ago, the graduation rates in Northshore and Lake Washington School District were a mere 3% lower than they were last year.   When you add in the fact that Everett has seen a dramatic rise while having 40% of our students on free or reduced lunches (the ever-present achievement gap between low-income and middle class kids) when LWSD and NS had about 15% of their kids on the same is suspicious.  If we recognize that lower income kids often struggle with school, how is it that in a district where nearly half the kids are "low income" that graduation rates have risen so dramatically to the level of higher income districts?  That's some kind of educational genius to make that happen or the "achievement gap" is a lie.  It can't be both.  

Graduation rates are a GIANT bullet point on an administrator's resume. Showing a dramatic increase during one's tenure creates job potential GOLD! However, they are also pretty darn easy to manipulate.  Pushing kids out of school after 4 or even 5 years is easy.  But, graduating EDUCATED kids who have proven themselves competent and educated is quite another matter.  But, what happens AFTER they "graduate" is not a Superintendent's problem, nor does anyone ask that in a job interview because it's not measurable.  

If you lower the bar far enough, you can create LOTS of graduates. Graduation rates should mean very little in the grand scheme of education.  The real measure of success is how many of those kids met high standards vs. how many were just passed along.  But, once they are released from the public school system, no one blames the Superintendent for their failure to succeed in college.  It's all about the graduation rates for him.  

Has the Everett School District done some things to help increase graduation rates?  I will say they have.  The addition of "Success Coordinators" to make sure kids falling between the cracks get held accountable may have increased the number of kids who actually get a diploma.  However, that doesn't come without the pressure to get those kids to graduation that is patently unfair to those kids.

I have heard several disturbing anecdotes from parents of high school students that I don't believe are isolated incidents.  I believe they are part of the grand scheme to raise graduation rates because teachers have also told me they are pressured to not fail students.  

1. Students are passed along regardless of their grade:  I have heard from teachers that there is pressure to pass students no matter what.  Some will give a minimum grade on a final no matter how bad the student does. Some will pass the student if they do very little in class but pass the EOC exam. One mother told me of her son who had an F in a math class for the entire semester high school student had an F the ENTIRE semester but suddenly got a D on the report card.  The pressure is to pass them no matter what.  I have heard all of these from parents in the district.  So, it doesn't matter how incompetent you are at the end of the semester, you are passed along at the expense of your education just so you can become a graduation rate statistic. 

Fifty-seven percent of WA high school students who enter WA Community or Technical colleges must take remedial classes (that they pay for) in order to be able to sign up for college classes.  Of that 57%, 51% must take a remedial math class before they can take college level math.  So, the education you should be getting for FREE in our public schools becomes something you must pay for in college just so the Superintendent can take a victory lap about increasing graduation rates.  

2. The Bar is lowered to the floor:  Two mothers have told me two very disturbing stories about how their high school students "graduated".  The first was the mother of a Special Ed student who was told that he could "graduate" after 4 years if he wrote a rap song about school.  That was it - his final exam to get out of high school.  She could not accept that so demanded they keep him for another year and expect him to pass some level of actual test that demonstrated that they had educated him.  

Another mother told me that her son couldn't pass the required HS math test. So, they looked back and saw that he had passed the state's 8th grade math test so they lowered the bar for him back to 8th grade and let him graduate. What a service to that student.....  But, he graduated and the "rate" ticked up just a tiny bit because of it.  

3. Minimum Standards are applied:  I have heard of teachers who will guarantee you a passing grade if you do X.  X can be showing up to class every day all semester (or baking cookies for the teacher if you miss a day) or students are guaranteed a minimum grade on a test no matter how you do on it just for "effort".  So, I can show up to class every day and stare at the ceiling and get an A or at least pass.  Seen it and been part of it.

4. Watering it all down: A girl I know took Calculus in a local high school and got an A.  She then went on to a state university and signed up for Pre-Calculus, thinking she'd do well in the class and came out with a C-.  She was shocked at how difficult it was.  She said it was as if she had never seen calculus in her life. A family I know who lived in the Mill Creek elementary boundaries moved to Oxford, Mississippi in the Spring of a school year and was told by the Oxford school district that their three children needed to either repeat the same grade the following year OR attend summer school to catch up.    

5. WHO is actually graduating? It's important to note that the graduation rates are just telling you the percentage of SENIORS graduating, not the percentage of ALL students in the system.  So, if a kindergarten class starts out in Everett Public Schools with 24 kids and only 18 of them make it to their senior year (assuming all of them stayed in Everett), then it's not 90+% of those 24, it's 90+% of the 18 who didn't drop out before their Senior year.  Don't be fooled into thinking that 90% of ALL KIDS in Everett Public Schools WILL graduate - it's just that percentage of Seniors.    

So, I'm questioning the district patting themselves on the back.  Of course there is room for improvement for our graduation rates.  But, the dramatic rise in graduation rates is largely inexplicable and almost unbelievable.  And, the question begs to be asked, if Gary Cohn has the magic formula to raise graduation rates like that, why is it when he started at the Port Angeles School District in 2001 that the graduation rate was 4 points HIGHER than when he left at the end of the 2008 school year?   

Monday, February 23, 2015

An Inconvenient Truth.....

I'd like to thank Carl Shipley for putting this timeline together. While we have many great teachers and administrators in the district, many of us believe we have the wrong leadership at the top. Secrecy coupled with a punitive attitude has caused many to become fearful of speaking up for the needs of the students. Add to that the historic DOUBLE FAILURE of the bond last year and we have a problem... 

The School Board is RIGHT NOW working through the Superintendent's performance evaluation. In June, they will announce that they are extending his contract another year or not extending it. Currently, I believe his contract goes through 2017 when they added a year last year. Last year he got a 5.5% raise AND was praised for getting 58% on the bond vote (which failed both times because 60% is required - how a loss became a success is beyond me). 

And, a bit of information that might be of interest is that the Superintendent wrote his OWN performance evaluation grid and then asked the board to use it. Who gets to write their own performance evaluation??? Gosh, let's write all my goals to my own strengths..... 

If you have concerns about what's been going on the last 6 years, please let the school board know your concerns ASAP by clicking on their names and sending each an email with your thoughts. 

In the meantime, click on the little grey book with the S (or HERE) to view the timeline of the last 6 years.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

HELP WANTED! Two Everett School Board Seats Up for Grabs in November!

It is concerning how many school board races take place across the country in which incumbents run unopposed.  Carol Andrews, who won re-election in 2012 made a comment during our interview with the local paper for their endorsement (which I won), that she would like to be running unopposed.  I nearly snorted when she said that - of course she would.  However, that's not how our system is supposed to work.  We should always have a choice.  

In November of this year, there are two board seats up for election.  Both are filled by district appointees who posses the right "rah-rah" district pedigree and support.  Despite an impressive list of applicants when both Jeff Russell and Jessica Olson resigned from the board within a couple of months of each other, the district went ahead and ignored those who hadn't come up through the sacred ranks of appointees to district committees and the Everett Public Schools Foundation.  They even ignored a former candidate who had just narrowly lost to Ted Wenta less than 6 months before.  He was booted out in the first round of cuts (so there, Everett voters!).

So, I am hanging out a HELP WANTED sign.  We need a few good people who have the best interests of our students and teachers at heart.  We need people who are not willing to be a rubber stamp for the Superintendent's desires - but, instead, are willing to ask hard and uncomfortable questions and demand answers to them.  We need people willing to evaluate the Superintendent based on a set of parameters not constructed by the Superintendent himself (no joke - he sets his own goals and parameters).  We need people willing to listen to the public - and not just the "public" the Superintendent tells you to listen to.  

So, how does this all work and what does it entail?  Here's the job description in a nutshell:
  • Able to attend at least two meetings a month on Tuesdays at 4:30
  • Able to stay late when needed
  • Able to visit schools during the day
  • Willing to attend a couple of school board conferences annually
  • Willing to meet with the public and listen more than you talk
  • Willing to serve a 6 year term (or work to roll it back to 4 years like 98% of the other districts in the state serve)

You need a flexible schedule, but, many companies are willing to let you have the time off to serve in a public capacity like this.  

Does the position pay?  

Very little.  You get a maximum of like $4,000 a year based on a per-meeting payment. So, if you're looking at this to increase your income, you'll be disappointed.  You will be a public servant in nearly the most literal sense of the word.  Mysteriously, though, the school board has an annual budget of over $600,000, but that's for the Superintendent to spend, not the school board.  

How do you state your intent to run?

The filing period opens up in early May and runs through about the middle of the month.  It's quite easy to fill out the form online.  They often have a meeting before that for prospective candidates to help you understand the process and the state laws for candidates better.  I HIGHLY recommend attending that meeting.  You can find info in the coming months at the County Candidate page:  You will select one seat or the other to file for.  Since all Everett School Board members are "at large", you don't need to worry about where you live in the district other than the fact that you MUST live within the boundaries of the Everett School District to run.  

What happens after that?

If more than two people file for one seat, there will be a primary in August to narrow it down to two candidates.  These are "non-partisan" seats - at least they are supposed to be.  But, expect the district's "pick"- whether that's the current incumbents or another candidate should the appointees decide not to run - to accept endorsements from several political groups on one side of the aisle.  Personally, I rejected such offers - good educational opportunities is not a partisan issue and the variety of members at the Everett School Board Project proves my point.  

Then what?

If you go through a primary and come out as a candidate for the General Election in November of this year, you can do as little or as much as you want. You will watch a LOT of money flow to the district's pick. Fundraising is difficult but you don't need a lot of money.  Basically, you'll have to fight "the machine". The teacher's union will most likely endorse the district's pick (they always do) and set up phone banks with their own money to call voters.  There's not much you can do about that.  But, a clear message, signs and a good website is really all you need.  

There may be a couple of candidate forums sponsored by the Everett PTSA who pretends to be neutral and, frankly, aside from one sponsored by The Port Gardner Neighborhood Association, I wish I hadn't bothered.  The far majority of attendees were not the general public, but district administrators there to support the district's picks.  It was a pointless distraction, in my opinion.  

If you want more information. don't hesitate to contact me at KimGuymon at gmail dot com.  If you are wanting to be part of the change in this district, I will be happy to talk to you about running.  This is a rare opportunity to secure TWO seats.  We won't have another opportunity for 2 seats to change hands for 4 more years.  The madness of the 6 year terms in this district is that it creates a very comfortable spot for the Superintendent if he gets friendly faces in those seats and it creates a situation where our school board really doesn't have to be accountable to the public very often. Serving just 2 terms on the school board covers nearly the entire length of an Everett Public Schools education and means having to face voters just twice in 12 years.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Everett School District Employees SPEAK UP!

I can't tell you how many teachers and other district staff have told me privately that they wholeheartedly support he work of the Everett School Board Project. My kids even come home from school telling me that teachers will take them aside and ask them if they are related to me and then say, "Tell your mom she's doing good work."

I'm sure there are plenty who would like to poke my eyes out or flunk my kids in their classes, too.  But, I'm encouraged by the private "thanks you's" I get. Many teachers get it - the administration of this school district doesn't focus enough on the classroom - they spend a lot of time focusing on things that make good resume' bullet points for themselves while creating, at times, a hostile workplace with low morale for those "in the trenches" at our schools.  

For instance, since our current Superintendent arrived about 6 years ago, the graduation rates in this district have sort of mysteriously and dramatically INCREASED.  Can't quite figure out why other than we are counting "Super Seniors" (5th year high school students) in the mix as well as some others who were dragged back to finish.  Essentially, if they graduate before they're 21, they're counted as a graduate.  The other troublesome bit of trickery is that we also lower the bar for students who really can't graduate under the regular standards.  A mom told me the other day that her child graduated ONLY because they scrapped the High School math requirement for him and lowered the bar to the 8th grade math test - the last one he passed.  Another mom told me that her special needs son was told he could graduate if he made a rap video about what he'd learned in high school.  *BOOM* two more for the statistics....

But, I digress.  

While I know that far more people are reading the Everett School Board Project Facebook page than have actually joined (we are approaching 400 members now), I know that a lot of them are district staff members who dare not join and/or participate.  The recent kerfluffle with Coach Bertrand at Cascade High School has been a bit of a cautionary tale for anyone thinking of "crossing" the Superintendent and making him look bad.  Suddenly, he took an interest in reorganizing the X Country program at Cascade (things must be going so well down there at the new $28 million administration building that he has time to run all the sports teams in the district now) and declared that he wants to see the Cascade X Country program go "in a new direction" and then fired the respected and inspirational coach who had held the position for over 30 years.

Insert public outcry here and here and here.... (with much more not linked here).

So, how DOES an ESD employee speak up without incurring the vindictive wrath of an administration unafraid of punitive punishment?  Well, a recent ESD graduate figured that out.

Behold a completely anonymous way to tell your story:

And, I am NOT kidding when I say this is anonymous.  There is no way to connect you back to any school or position unless you reveal too much about yourself.  Even if the district DEMANDED we reveal who said what, we can't because we simply won't know.  It's a chance to finally have your say about whatever you want to have your say about without fear of reprisal.  

Comments will be posted at Everett School District Anonymous Facebook page so that others will see they aren't alone in their frustrations.  It sort of is for Everett School District employees what the Everett School Board Project is for frustrated parents and taxpayers.  We get to speak publicly because there's no danger of losing our job.  You don't, sadly.  

The bottom line is that we think the Everett School Board needs to take district leadership in a new direction. We need to find a leader who is engaged and participating in our schools.  This year a new contract will be negotiated for teachers - and I know based on comments I got three years ago, that this secretive process is as frustrating for teachers as it is for taxpayers.  

Have your say about:
  • Learning Improvement Fridays
  • Workdays
  • Assignments
  • Leadership
  • Paperwork
  • Funding
  • Transparency
  • contract negotiations
  • Union leadership
  • Morale
  • Maintenance
  • Curriculum
  • ?

It's your turn to speak up and we hope you will!