Teachers Question Leadership of Fillmore High School Principal, District
Faculty and parents attended Tuesday’s school board meeting to express concerns about the District’s leadership.
Faculty and parents attended Tuesday’s school board meeting to express concerns about the District’s leadership.
Karen Ashim reads her statement.
Karen Ashim reads her statement.

Over seventy faculty, parents and concerned citizens attended the first half of the February 18, 2014 Fillmore Unified School District (FUSD) Board Meeting which was held in the auditorium. Most had come to support those who spoke during the Public Comments. They addressed the Board on a variety of issues from concern over lack of leadership, questionable funding, English translators and teacher salary increases. During the second half of the meeting there were two presentations on the Common Core State Standards.

Site Council Members addressed the Board stating no confidence in the Fillmore High School (FHS) Principal Russom Mesfun. There were complaints that during Site Council Meetings Mesfun showed little interest and would often leave early having stayed less than 15 minutes.

Site Councils are a group of teachers, parents, classified employees and students (at the high school level) that work with the principals to develop, review and evaluate school improvement program and school budgets. They have an obligation to make decisions that will best serve the whole school community and advise the principal on the school’s academic or school improvement plan and evaluate the school’s progress.

There were accusations of Mesfun not following legal requirements and distorting information on funding that was available while also leaving meetings early therefore not being available to discuss the budget. One of those that addressed the Board was Karen Ashim, who worked as head counselor at FHS and the Site Council for two years. Ashim stated, "Mr. Mesfun either lied or misled the Site Council" adding that Mesfun, after being asked about funding, sent an email six weeks later dated February 18, 2014 stating; "This is to ask you to get a wish list from team members for individual and/or departmental use. I would like to request the School Site Council to fund much needed materials and resources for classroom use. Please send me your items by Friday (2/28)." [See Letter to the Editor www.fillmoregazette.com/letters/february-20-2014 ]

These concerns about Mesfun are overshadowed by his past work at Lodi Unified School District (LUSD) where he was sued for harassment, and lost resulting in LUSD paying out a total of $750,000 to three teachers. When asked if FUSD Board Members had knowledge of the harassment case and if they had vetted Mesfun before approving his being hired, the Board responded that Superintendent Dr. Alan Nishino had told them about the harassment and Mesfun's loss in court before they approved his being hired, but refused to respond any further citing employee confidentiality.

Others addressed the Board by reading letters from parents and teachers (20 letters). One letter questioned a $500,000 expenditure where the writer asked the administration for an itemized list on what that large amount of money had been used. The writer received a response of "books and supplies." The letter goes on to ask "Is that an itemized list?"

Many of the teachers who attended were there to display their unity and anger over the Board not having put a salary increase into this year's budget, stating that they had not received a raise in over seven years. And that with the increased funding that Proposition 30 has brought, they felt it was time to reward their patience adding that last year ended with a 15% surplus. FUSD teacher Sandy Butts charged "....the District’s bargaining team has not come to the bargaining table" adding that present teacher moral is low.

Some in attendance are considering a recall of the FUSD Board and flyers were handed out before the meeting with the websites www.co.sutter.ca.us/pdf/cr/Guide_to_Recall.pdf and www.sos.ca.gov/elections/recalls/recall.pdf for those wanting information.

There were two presentations on Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in both Math and Special Education Curriculum. Amber Henrey gave the Math presentation on the differences this new path in teaching will take. Henrey cited the anchor standards as "Rigor, fluency and solid conceptual understanding." This new method of teaching emphasizes critical thinking and deemphasizes rote memory. Board Member John Garnica asked, "How does the Common Core work at the lower level grades" questioning the CCSS approach. Memorizing the multiplication tables and other math standards that use rote memory taught to children for well over a hundred years is considered less essential with CCSS. Henrey reassured Garnica the young students get a portion of their study on the standard basics. But critics of the CCSS have stated that none of the new approaches/changes in either math or English have been tested or proven to work and this is more like an experiment with our students being sent out on a maiden voyage with hopes of success.

Mary Williams gave a presentation on what impact the CCSS will have on Special Education Curriculum, which includes 14 different disabilities and handicapped definitions. She spoke of the need for support and related services with the key elements being, "Ownership, high expectations, intervention system, collaborative teaching and professional development."

Spring 2014 will be the first tests of CCSS using the Smart Balance Assessment Consortium. This will require a huge upgrade in computer technology. The tests given will be the California Modified Assessment (CMA) and California Alternative Performance Assessment (CAPA).