School Board, administration admonished during Public Comment

The April 1, 2014 Fillmore Unified School District (FUSD) Board Meeting discussed bullying and the after-school program funding; but it began with a scathing address to the Board by a retired FUSD employee.

During Public Comments Karen Ashim, retired Fillmore High School (FHS) Counselor, addressed the Board with observations over her many years at FHS stating, "Fillmore High School is disintegrating. For 25 years I saw improvement in student achievement and college acceptance rates. During my 26th and 27th years, I saw established practices be thrown away. This year FHS is crumbling and you the Members of the School Board have done nothing to stop it; not even to go visit the school to investigate problems brought to your attention. Leadership is an active process."

She then confronted the Board on an issue that occurred at the March 18, 2014 meeting where she was told she could only ask questions on an agenda item and nothing else (a Brown Act violation, see VC District Attorney letter, page 2). The agenda item she referred to was Fillmore's accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

The accreditation process is an ongoing six-year cycle which schools do a self-study and a 3-5 year schoolwide action plan that demonstrates evidence of acceptable student achievement and school improvement. WASC is one of six regional accrediting associations in the United States designed to encourage a high standard of secondary school programs. With the accreditation the public is assured that the school has been evaluated extensively and conforms to general expectations of performance and quality.

Ashim, who participated in many WASC studies, questioned why Fillmore High School Principal Russom Mesfun had waited so long to address the self-study process needed for WASC accreditation stating, "It should have started in October 2012. As the head counselor last school year, I brought WASC to Mr. Mesfun's attention every month.....I also brought my concerns regarding WASC to the attention of the School Board last fall." She went on to describe Mesfun's presentation at the last meeting as "smoke and mirrors" and that a timeline had not been presented because one had not been created. The timeline is important due to the self-study that is required, an 18-month collaborative process that documents the school’s achievements and future goals.

Ashim continued her comments with addressing the 58 high school seniors who are in danger of not graduating. "That is 30% of the senior class of 2014," she told the Board. Ashim attributed most of the failure on a change in math policy, that it has had a devastating impact of student moral. She ended with stating, "This lack of support for students is a failure of leadership by the principal.”

Bullying was once again on the agenda with a presentation by Gary Mayeda and Carol Barringer on strategies to address the problem. Sexual harassment was included in the discussion. The focus of the presentation was on the laws covering the problem along with the policies and practices. Mayeda discussed prevention, intervention and consequences. He spoke of the different ways boys bully, using a direct approach of verbal and physical attacks, and girls who use an indirect approach using exclusion and rumor.

There are limitations of what can immediately be done to students who are doing the bullying. This is due to the recent law out of Sacramento (Cal Ed Code 48900.5(a) which states expulsion or suspension can only be used when other means of correction have been utilized and failed. This puts the burden on the school administration to investigate every report and document it. Assistant Superintendent Michael Johnson stated, "We can not slip on this area.....all reports must be investigated."

Superintendent Dr. Alan Nishino stated, "It's like a pecking order. The students who are bullied often find others to bully who can defend themselves less.”

The preferred direction of staff was to change students’ attitudes such as ‘telling and reporting is not tattling’. There was also discussion of having the students who observe the bullying stepping in to declare the actions unacceptable. Social engineering of young students who act out is a difficult task especially when students know the consequences are limited.

Another agenda item was a discussion of the After School Education and Safety Program (ASES). FUSD has 450 K-Middle School students and 21 adults participating in the program. ASES is the result of the 2002 voter-approved initiative Proposition 49. It was once called Before and After School Learning and Safe Neighborhood Partnership Program. The State current funding level for the ASES program is $550 million. The program runs after school from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and is funded at $7.50 per student per day with a required ratio of 20 students or less to 1 adult. This comes to $50 per hour or $150 each day for each adult working the three hours. The student must stay at least half of the three hours to qualify for funding. The adult supervising must meet a minimum of qualifications, which some did not meet and were recently laid off. Homework and tutoring are provided.

Other requirements are that snacks must be provided daily and the program must operate a minimum of 15 hours per week and at least until 6:00 p.m. every regular school day. Another requirement is the District must provide 1/3 in matching funding/ contributions; it does not necessarily have to be direct funds. The matching can be credited to contributions such as a school nurse providing services, snacks from the school cafeteria or other contributions. There was mention that the funding for the program may not be available in the future due to the Affordable Care Act. After the meeting had ended a comment was made about this being a very expensive form of childcare.