Friday, August 21, 2015

Roughshod Rookie

I found it interesting that the authors of the majority of the letters published in the August 18th edition of the Albuquerque Journal were put off more by APS Superintendent Dr. Luis Valentino’s spelling and texting errors than by what I believe to be more serious transgressions.

So he discovered it’s “roughshod” and not “roughshot.”  So he sent an embarrassing and potentially incriminating text to the wrong person.  How many of the letters' authors have not committed similar errors at one time or another?  

Like all public officials who use publicly funded devices, the superintendent should exercise the utmost care when using them.  However, the spelling and texting errors made by Dr. Valentino pale in comparison to at least two others.  

First, the superintendent’s misspelled and misdirected texts unwittingly divulged the fact that he has quickly cultivated a cozy and conspiratorial relationship with state education secretary Hanna Skandera.  Ms. Skandera is considered by many in New Mexico’s education establishment, including several APS board members, as public enemy #1 of public education.

Second, the superintendent’s texts revealed a penchant for head hunting among his own administrative team.  Apparently, the superintendent was asking Skandera for help in obtaining the head of APS chief financial officer, Don Moya, who, from all appearances, seems to have been doing his job just a little too well.  

District e-mail exchanges recently made public seem to show that Moya was trying to prevent new Deputy Superintendent Jason Martinez from engaging the district in a redundant and potentially wasteful business deal with a former Martinez associate known for his shady and unscrupulous behavior.

And now a third.  After admitting he never completed the fingerprinting and criminal background check required for employment, Martinez has resigned.  That he resigned because his upcoming trial in Colorado on child sexual abuse charges may have been revealed in the vetting process is easier to believe than leaving for “personal and family commitments.”  

In the wake of Martinez’s resignation, several questions remain.  

First and foremost, why was Martinez’s background check placed on the back burner?  What role did Superintendent Valentino play in helping Martinez delay or evade a required criminal background check?  What role did Human Resources director Karen Rudys play?  A teacher cannot even set foot in a classroom until he or she has been fully vetted and a criminal background check completed. 

Who is Toni Córdova, Valentino's chief of staff, and what were the circumstances surrounding her hiring?  There is evidence she was instrumental in the hiring of the superintendent and had close ties to the firm that was paid $25,000 by the board to conduct a nationwide search to replace interim superintendent Brad Winter.  

And what of the hiring of associate superintendent Dr. Gabriella Blakey?  She was appointed to her new post just days after Valentino assumed his role as superintendent.  Coincidentally—or not—Blakey is the daughter of the president of the Board of Education, Dr. Don Durán, who supported Valentino’s candidacy.  

What did Skandera and Governor Susana Martinez know about Jason Martinez? How well did they know him? And just what is the nature of the relationship between Skandera and Valentino such that the superintendent feels comfortable texting "Mrng Hanna" to her private cell phone first thing in the morning to discuss serious personnel matters that he apparently was not going to discuss with the Board?

Finally, what does the future hold for Superintendent Valentino, who came so promisingly to our district this summer?  Will he survive a series of scandals that has essentially spoiled any honeymoon period he may have hoped for?  Or will the enormity of the responsibilities he carries and the serious errors he commits continue to run roughshod over his rookie year?

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Mrng, Ms. Secretary!"

On May 26 of this year, several members of the Board of Education and I joined nearly one hundred other community members at a meeting at Central Office with the incoming Superintendent.  The meeting was sponsored by Families United for Education (FUE).  

At the time of the meeting, I was still in a state of disbelief.  Just a few weeks before, the Board had actually chosen a native Spanish speaking person of color, and the number one choice of teachers, as the next Superintendent.  

During the meeting, I was impressed not only with the testimonials addressed to the Superintendent—in English and in Spanish—but with his responses to them.  He seemed compassionate, intelligent, insightful, and conscious of the education context and climate he was entering.  I was also intrigued to learn he was the father of an kindergarten student.   

I left the meeting feeling hopeful. But because I have been teaching in the district for nearly thirty years, I tempered my hope with a healthy dose of reserve.  I have felt good about many past superintendents as well only to be sorely disappointed with their governance or their behavior. 

My hopeful outlook was partially validated on Monday, August 10, when I read the Superintendent's column in the daily newspaper.  He began by stating that his administration would be “vision-driven and data-informed,” instead of the other way around.  This I liked.  

He went on to say, however, that students "need to know that our interest is to afford them meaningful opportunities here in [the state], whether it’s in STEM, finance, manufacturing, the film industry or in a corporate setting.”  No mention of Art, History, Literature, Music, Dance, Theater, the Social Sciences, or any number of other occupations or non fiscal pursuits that do not rise out of a STEM-based national curriculum bent on an “education” whose sole purpose is to prepare students for college and career. That is, no mention of education for education’s sake.  It was clear the new Superintendent aligns himself with the “reformers” who believe education is little more than job training.

Near the end of his column the Superintendent mentioned the fact that he was interested in “re-imagining” the relationship between the district and the Public Education Department.  Little did we know how well that relationship had already been re-imagined.  In Tuesday’s paper we learned that the Superintendent not only has the state Secretary of Education's personal cell phone number on speed dial, but he uses his access to her phone to plot the professional demise of those in his own administration; in this case, the Chief Financial Officer who apparently was blowing the whistle on the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent regarding what appears to be, at least initially, a potentially shady IT business deal between the district and an individual recently fired from the Denver Public Schools for corruption and unethical behavior. 

The former Superintendent's means of expressing his displeasure of the Secretary of Education left much to be desired.  But at least he got the sentiment right:  the Secretary of Education is public enemy #1 of public education in our state.  The rapidly formed and apparent cozy relationship between the new Superintendent and the Secretary is disturbing.  It threatens to undermine and even destroy the trust teachers, parents, and students have established with him during his short tenure in our district.

I urge the Board to call an emergency meeting to look into this matter.  While convened, the Board might also look into the Superintendent's decision to promote the daughter of the President of the Board to the position of Assistant Superintendent.  This questionable action is especially suspect now that we have evidence the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent may have been encouraging a business relationship with an individual who was fired from DPS in part because of kickbacks and favors granted him by private enterprises—favors that apparently included a choice job for his father.  

Please do your best to restore or establish transparency, trust, respect, and professionalism to our district.  Your constituents deserve at least as much.