Antioch School Board interviews superintendent search consultants, hears more teacher complaints, Gibson-Gray new President

By Allen Payton

At their regular meeting on Wednesday night, December 9, 2015, the Antioch School Board interviewed the representatives of three search firms, vying for the contract to help the district hire a new superintendent, to replace Dr. Don Gill.

After being sworn in at an earlier, special session, new trustee Fernando Navarro took his seat on the dais. In addition, the trustees voted in Diane Gibson-Gray as President and Walter Ruehlig, the highest vote-getter in last year’s election, as Vice President, for the coming year. They will begin serving in their new roles at their next meeting, in January.

Superintendent Search Firm Interviews

The board members challenged the representatives of the three search firms with questions such as how they plan to engage the community and about a money-back guarantee.

The three groups included Educational Leadership, Leadership Associates and Ray & Associates, Inc.

In response to a question by Gibson-Gray, Jim Brown of Leadership Associates and who is a former superintendent, as are his partners Sally Frazier and Rich Fischer, said their money-back guarantee applied even if the board goes with someone they don’t recommend.

“We want the candidate to interview us,” Gibson-Gray stated.

“We do too,” Brown replied. “We suggest two rounds in the interview process.”

Trustee Debra Vinson wanted to know how the search firms plan to engage the community.

Each group committed to reaching out to as many people in the community as possible.

They spoke of online surveys for the public to provide input, using the district’s website.

“There’s different steps in the process,” Brown responded. “Up front it’s very important to reach out as widely as we can and we’ll need your help to identify individuals.”

“Everybody’s perspective is important,” he added.

Dr. Carmella Franco, a former superintendent and Lead Consultant for Ray & Associates, Inc., spoke of public and employee meetings for input and a “full report with every single word taken down.”

Her colleague Noel Gallo, who served on the Oakland Board of Education for 20 years, shared his experience as a selling point.

“I know all about California and the Ed Code,” he said. “And I know Antioch. We work for the board. We work for you.”

Ruehlig asked about the current field of potential applicants.

“We don’t get the numbers we did 40 years ago or 30 years ago,” Brown replied. “Now we deal with the spouse because you’re not just hiring one, but two. We’re optimistic about the candidate pool. “We’re hoping to get 12 to 25 applicants.”

“We have a website people are checking throughout the state,” Frazier added.

Franco responded to the same question when it was her group’s turn.

“In a recent search in California, we had 54 applicants, which is unheard of,” she stated. “Some from California, some who have worked in California and want to move back. There usually is a connection to California.”

Franco said they do “deep reference checking.”

Ruehlig then asked about diversity, which Gallo had mentioned.

Franco stated they get “candidates from all backgrounds. Some bilingual, if that’s desired.”

“We want to see the superintendent be successful and for you to have a good relationship with the superintendent,” she added.

Gibson-Gray asked Franco about the money-back guarantee, as well, asking if the superintendent left within the a year would they do the search for free.

“We have the same money-back guarantee,” Franco stated. Then said they have had “less than five” superintendents that have done so.

“We have a very successful record,” she added.

Gibson-Gray then suggested the board members “mull over” their selection “individually, then come back January 20th” at the next board meeting to take a vote.

Vinson and Ruehlig agreed. Navarro did, as well.

“Of course, I’m on board,” he said.

Public Comments, More Teacher Complaints

Resident and regular board meeting attendee, Julie Young spoke about the new federal education bill, that recently passed Congress.

“We are going to still be teaching to the test,” she stated. “It requires state that they have adopted standards that comply with 11 federal requirements. We are stuck in this Common Core that is being run by a bunch of corporations and not in the interest of the children.”

She mentioned the “21st century initiatives making schools the sweeping influence in a child’s life.”

Deer Valley High teacher Joan Setka complained about class sizes.

“My largest class size is 37,” she stated. “But I have colleagues that have up to 44. This is more child care than teaching.”

Kenneth Kent, who teaches fifth grade at Kimball Elementary, spoke about special education.

“We have a history of placing students in special ed,” he said, then shared two concerns, including the hiring and support of special education staff.

“One left after less than a month,” Kent shared. “One who’s only there until 10 AM and another only going to be there one hour a day.”

He said the qualifying process is “laborious. It has to be streamlined.”

“We have a larger population of students who have needs,” Kent continued. “Let’s stop ignoring them.”

Deer Valley High teacher Scott Benedict shared his concerns about the teachers’ contract with the district.

“This contract we’re negotiating is not just about current teachers,” he said. “This district always seems fit to do the negotiating in the contract year. We’re doing it backwards.”

“You’re going to be faced with a huge deficit of teachers this next year, due to fewer coming out of schools,” Benedict stated.

Antioch Middle School teacher Trish Campbell complained about the lack of heat in her classroom.

“I dress in multiple layers to teach in my classroom,” she stated. “The heat wasn’t going to be turned on until the calendar said so, instead of the weather. It’s set at 61 degrees.”

“When we hit a heat wave, the air conditioning goes off and we have no windows open,” Campbell continued. “We should be able to control it in the classroom and make them [the students] comfortable.”

Pamela Fisher, a kindergarten teacher at Carmen Dragon Elementary also shared concerns about class sizes.

“Our students deserve to learn in a smaller class,” she stated. “Districts are being funded to be 24 to 1. But our district is only willing to lower to 27 to 1 at the elementary level. You’re telling us you don’t care.”

Fisher spoke of the need for “better relationships to address student needs and disciplines.”

“Now all I do is trying to keep them under control,” she added.

Robert Strickler, President of the Antioch Education Assocation (AEA), the local teachers’ union, congratulated Navarro, then directed his thoughts to Interim Superintendent Stephanie Anello, saying “If I was in charge of the search, it would be over.”

“We’re here to present Christmas cards from teachers,” Strickler said, then spoke of class sizes, especially in special education being over the legally maximum size.

“Eight teachers have filed grievances,” he stated. “Several aren’t returning next year.”

He also mentioned that there are “no computer education classes in elementary and middle schools.”

Sharon Weaver, a teacher at Turner Elementary, asked that the district would “please send your team, tomorrow,” then stated that the “special ed staff shortage is real and must be addressed to retain current employees.”

“Our students with disabilities deserve the best and that will never happen with a string of subs,” she added.

Antioch Middle School teacher Deb Hubbard offered her thoughts on the teachers’ contract discussions with the district.

“Let’s settle the contract early, instead of May,” she said. “It would be great for me and my colleagues to feel valued.”

“Pittsburg is in settlement,” Hubbard continued. “They just got a 7% raise, total. Almost 20% in two years.”

“Let’s get decent pay and let’s get this contract settled,” she added.

Antioch High French teacher Sara Svacool, Political Chair of Antioch Education Association, continued her efforts on the issue of substitute teachers, that she spoke about at length, at the previous board meeting, saying they’ve “got the ball rolling.”

“Thank you for passing on my message with regards to substitutes,” she told the board.

Synitha Walker shared her concerns about challenges with college application of high school students in the district.

“Transcripts of our students are incorrect,” she stated. “They’re not updating their GPA when classes affecting the college application process.”

“They need to be aware they need to send their transcripts from the colleges where they’ve taken classes,” Board President Claire Smith responded.

“They’re doing that,” Walker replied.

Board Actions

The board chose not to vote to endorse the proposed “Funding Kindergarten Through Community College Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2016” after Julie Young questioned the need for it.

“Do we need to have more taxes in Antioch?” she asked. “I’m certainly done.”

In a vote that should help alleviate the concerns of not enough teachers, the board voted 4-0-1, with Navarro abstaining, to approve a Provisional Intern Permit. That allowed the hiring of someone obtaining their credential by next May, for one classroom at Jack London Elementary, to replace a teacher who left.

“I don’t want to just rubber stamp the vote,” Navarro stated as his reason for abstaining.

Smith said she had told him it would be acceptable to not vote on issues that night, as he just took his seat on the board, earlier that afternoon.

“But, next meeting, he needs to be ready,” she added with a smile.

The Antioch Unified School District Board of Education meets twice a month, usually the second and fourth Wednesdays, at 7:00 p.m. at the School Services Building, 510 G Street, Antioch. For more information visit

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