Analysis: In Antioch School Board race it’s the ostriches versus the camels

By Allen Payton, Publisher & Editor

After observing the actions of the Antioch School Board and now the election for three seats on the Board, this past year, here’s what I see is really going on in the Antioch Unified School District. It’s a story of the proverbial ostriches versus camels, of those in the status quo establishment who want to keep their heads in the sand, ignore the facts and keep the public in the dark, versus those with their “nose under the tent” finding out what’s really going on and letting the public know, and wanting to actually do something about it.

There’s an effort to keep control of the Board in the hands of the status quo establishment, which believes things are going pretty well in the district, by electing three of their own and opposing two appointed Board members and another candidate, who are learning the facts and have been letting the public know. That isn’t sitting well with the establishment – made up of one current Board member, three candidates, the leaders of the local teachers’ union, management employees and the certified employees. They say the three change agent candidates and their supporters are being negative.

Now, the establishment is going after one of the current Board members who isn’t up for re-election, this year, to get their fourth candidate on the Board, by recalling Trustee Debra Vinson, because they can’t seem to control her or get her to fall in line, either.

First, the new Board majority, who speak of wanting to improve things in the district, forced out Dr. Don Gill as Superintendent. But, then they appointed two new members to the Board who, like the proverbial camel with his nose under the tent, discovered that things aren’t going as well as the establishment has led the public to believe.

Alarming District Facts Being Learned, Shared

Appointed Trustees Fernando Navarro and Alonzo Terry have learned that the students in the District are in fact not doing so well, nor are the District’s finances. They learned and have pointed out to the public that an average of 67% of children in Kindergarten through Fifth grades are not proficient in English and an average of 81% are not proficient in math. In fact, in one elementary school in Antioch only 8% of the students are proficient in math.

Trustee Debra Vinson, who is not facing re-election this year, has also been pushing for the facts and having them shared publicly. Following her request of staff for a report on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) scores, a presentation was made during a recent workshop.

“The scores are horrific,” she said. “They didn’t want them out to the public.”

The appointed school board members also learned about the problem of truancy in the District, meaning students are not showing up for school.

Under Goal 3 in the District’s state required Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) it states “During the 2014-15 school year, 34% of AUSD students were truant. 13.4% were severely or chronically truant. Chronic truancy is especially high (16.1%) in the primary grades (k-3)…Students who don’t read proficiently by 3rd grade are 4 times more likely to drop out of school. 19.4% (941) of African American students were chronically truant… 40% of the students at Antioch High School were chronically truant.”

During the campaign, Navarro, Terry and the third candidate offering a different approach to the status quo, Crystal Sawyer-White, have been speaking out about these challenges, as well as the practice of promoting students prematurely.

In addition, enrollment in the District has been declining for the past decade, with 4,000 fewer students in the schools. The three candidates are saying part of the decline is due to parents choosing other schools for their students, both private and in other, better districts. The establishment’s narrative is that it’s due to the natural aging of the population in Antioch. But demographic statistics don’t support their argument.

In fact student-age population figures have been increasing in the district, at the same time enrollment has been declining by over 400 students per year. The establishment is concerned because the money the District receives from the state is based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA). Fewer students in the classrooms results in less money for the district.

But, Navarro and the others are more concerned about the academic achievement of the students, and if that changes, it will result in fewer students being removed by their parents for greener pastures.

District finances are another challenge, as they were facing a budget deficit, this year of $1.2 million and is facing deficits of over $2 million per year for the following two fiscal years. But, some one-time money was received by the District since the budget was approved in June, which produced a budget surplus, for this year.

Yet, it’s still not a pretty picture and the reserves are not at the level the District needs, and are only one month of staff salaries.

Immediately, the establishment candidates – backed by the teachers union, management and certified staff – are wanting to spend the surplus and get the reserves down to as low as 3% the minimum required by state law, as stated by Gibson-Gray at a candidates forum. But, according to AUSD Chief Business Officer Chris Learned, that “doesn’t even cover one payroll for the district. We want to keep reserves at 7%, preferably 10%.”

Those are alarming statistics and if they were happening in say, Walnut Creek, Lafayette or San Ramon, there would be an insurrection by parents, and the entire school board would be recalled and the top staff fired and replaced.

Negative Information Criticized, But Correct

Now that the facts are being shared, while the establishment is not denying all of them, they’ve turned their tactics to attacking those who are informing the public of them.

Navarro was criticized by status quo candidate Mike Burkholder, for giving the District a grade of F-minus-minus in a private conversation with Antioch Mayor Wade Harper, after Harper shared Navarro’s comment with Burkholder.

But, Navarro is correct. On an A through F grading scale, with an A having a score of 90 to 100 and an F being anything less than a score of 60, then scoring a 20 in math and a 30 in English is an F-minus-minus.

Burkholder and the rest of the establishment and their three other candidates don’t want that information out there. Why? Because it’s too negative, makes the District look bad, and is being critical of the teachers, and hurts Antioch’s reputation. They think the public somehow either doesn’t have a right to know what’s going on with our students, our government and our tax dollars the District is spending, or they don’t think we can handle knowing, which is rather elitist if they do.

One of the new superintendent’s goals is to “rebrand the District.” But, what’s the purpose of that? If the vast majority of K-5 students are failing in English and math, what’s there to re-brand, until they aren’t? Besides to whom are they wanting to market the District, which is the purpose of a branding campaign?

New Superintendent

Then the Board majority, on a split vote, hired a Superintendent from within the District staff sending a message that things are doing just fine in the district. Navarro voted against the contract because he thought it was too rich, at a time enrollment is declining and the District facing deficits for the next three years. He also said he preferred hiring someone from outside of the District with a different perspective, preferably with more successful schools.

While I believe Stephanie Anello wants to and can be an agent of change for the better for our students, it’s going to require a new Board majority to offer a new direction for her and the District. Because as the hired CEO of the organization, she has to do what the Board majority wants her to, if she wants to keep her job.

White Candidates vs. Candidates of Color

The agents of change in this election happen to be the one Hispanic man and an African-American man and woman. The status quo establishment candidates all happen to be white. That fact hasn’t gone unnoticed by some in the Antioch community and has some, who have chosen to remain silent, upset.

This is at a time students in the district are 41% Hispanic, 26% African-American and only 17% white. That doesn’t reflect the population of the city, which is 31.7% Hispanic, 30.7% white, and 21.9% African-American, which is a possible indicator that the white parents are removing their students from district schools and placing them in either private schools or those in other districts, or homeschooling them.

Yet, it’s the students of color in the district who have been suffering more under the establishment’s leadership, and they don’t want the three candidates of color or the other, current African-American Trustee to be on the Board, who will more likely be motivated to do something about it.

The establishment is hoping to get three of the white candidates elected, and their fourth one on the board by replacing Vinson with whomever doesn’t win, next Tuesday.

“It has not been easy because I’m not the status quo,” Vinson said. “I’ve been told Burkholder or one of them wants my seat.”

“When I asked the staff for the SBAC scores is when they stepped up the attack,” she explained. “They are not happy that all of this is coming out because the previous board didn’t do a good job and they don’t like it.”

Asked about the racial aspect of the current election, Antioch resident and former NAACP East County Branch President Odessa Lefrancois shared her concerns.

“I don’t like what is happening,” she said. “When I saw what happened at the school board meeting, last week. That shouldn’t have happened. They let that happen.”

“I have a belief the voters know what is happening and they will get elected,” Lefrancois continued. “I would love to have all three elected because they reflect the make-up of the school district.”

Charter School Battle

Antioch currently has two public charters schools, Antioch Charter Academy and Antioch Charter Academy II. Of the students at Antioch Charter Academy 41.3% are white. Even though the AUSD Hispanic students make up 40% of the population, but only 28% of the students at Antioch Charter Academy. African-American students make up 26% of the population in AUSD schools but only 9.7% of the students at Antioch Charter.

Yet, teachers in the district say they like the district’s current charter schools while berating the effort of the private, non-profit Rocketship Education to bring one of their public charter schools in Antioch.

But, Rocketship’s model is one of taking the least performing students in a district, most of whom are Hispanic and African-American children, and helping them advance in their education, like a “rocketship.” In fact, Rocketship’s lowest English and math proficiency statistics are at the same level or better than any of the elementary schools in the AUSD.

The fact the District has been performing so poorly is the reason Rocketship has chosen Antioch for one of their schools, as AUSD observer and former teacher Willie Mims pointed out at the October 12th Board meeting.

The organization is trying to get one of their schools approved in Antioch and the public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Wednesday, November 9th and a meeting for the final vote will be held on December 7th.

That would mean more students being removed from the regular schools and even though Rocketship pays their teachers more than AUSD teachers get paid, AUSD teachers’ union leadership doesn’t want one of their charter schools in Antioch.

Yet, even Antioch’s own Tom Torlakson, a former AUSD teacher and cross country coach, Antioch Councilman, County Supervisor, State Assemblyman, State Senator and now State Superintendent of Public Instruction is supportive of charter schools, specifically Rocketship. He along with the State School Board majority, voted in favor of the one in the Mt. Diablo School District, earlier this year even in the face of opposition from that district’s teachers and no votes by that Board and the County School Board.

Campaign Support, Battle Lines Drawn

The California Charter Schools Assocation has been backing the agents of change, by paying for three mailers with their names and photos on them. The Antioch Education Association, which is the local teachers’ union, as well as the certified employees’ union and Antioch Management Association, representing the District’s management staff are backing the status quo establishment candidates, both with endorsements and paying for mailers to support them. The AMA actually endorsed all four of the status quo establishment candidates for the three seats, indicating they want Vinson gone and replaced with one of theirs.

Unfortunately, it’s gotten a little nasty. But desperate people do desperate things. In fact the establishment went so far as to illegally shut down Navarro and prevent him from making a lawful motion to have an urgency item placed on the last school board meeting’s agenda, to nail down the schedule of the meetings for Rocketship’s charter school petition. Then they criticized him on social media for attempting to do so.

So, the battle lines are drawn. On one side we have the status quo candidates, the ostriches with their heads in the sand who want the public to do the same and not know the facts of how bad things are in the district, and who will keep doing the same things over and over again hoping things will improve – which is one definition of insanity – and are backed by those who have been embarrassed by the revelations of the facts by the other side.

On that side are the candidates of change, the proverbial camels with their noses under the tent, who have learned the truth and are exposing it, and who want to represent the best interests of the students, their parents, the taxpayers and the Antioch community in general, which will benefit by improved schools with better property values and attracting employers to our City.

That’s what’s really going on in the Antioch school district and school board race. Now it’s up to the voters to decide which direction they want for our students and community.

17 Comments to “Analysis: In Antioch School Board race it’s the ostriches versus the camels”

  1. Nancy Fernandez says:

    Probably the best you have ever written Allen. Thank you!

  2. Jonny P. says:

    That is a bulls*%t article that unnecessarily brings race into a topic and just took swipes at everyone not endorsed by the Herald….how does Burkholder and the rest handle this? Is it a crushing blow to Vinson saying “no dunce I don’t want your seat I will win my own”. Is it a question of unendorsed characters loaded up like a missile and aimed at the over sized head on Allen Peyton’s shoulders. Or does Burkholder and candidates take the high road?…..No I am going option D…massive bomb drop! In a clean swoop level the competition of Navarro by stating pure facts of idiocrasy displayed by the appointed candidate. Next dropping holy hell fire on Alonzo Terry causing him mass confusion and he throws his yellow referee flag purely in self protection. Next lifting the skirt of Crystal Sawyer White and exposing Allen Peyton hidden in the folds of her undergarments trying to navigate her campaign and somehow convince people she really is a teacher…..these questions and more will be answered in the next edition of ECT VS Antioch Herald…..narrated by Alfred E. Newman ESQ.

  3. RJB says:

    Allen, you have done a fine, fine job on this article. I am so impressed I have it hanging on my wall. Calling out the facts is how we can change Antioch for the better. Thank you Allen.

  4. Dave Roberts says:

    An excellent analysis. The following exchange at the Black Diamond Middle School says a lot about the difference between the ostriches and camels.

    The leading camel is Fernando Navarro. Here’s what he said:

    “Since we are taking taxpayer money, the board is an oversight body. My job to oversee the superintendent and ensure his her plan is leading the students to effective outcomes and truly preparing them for college or career.

    “The number one goal is to substantially improve the academic outcome for our students. Since coming on the board and looking at the numbers and our books, AUSD is among the poorest performing school districts in the state. Folks, I’m not making this up. Even I was in shock.

    “The numbers are 81% of students are failing to achieve basic proficiency in math. 70% of our students are failing to achieve basic proficiency in English. Only 32% upon graduation have completed the minimum course requirements to get into California state schools and universities.

    “We might as well start printing GEDs if we don’t get our act together. We need to work honestly and look at ourselves in the mirror and grab this by the horns to give a quality experience for our students upon graduation.

    “The numbers are even worse for students of color. Only 10 percent of African-Americans and 16 percent of Hispanics are achieving basic proficiency in math. Folks, this is the majority of our student body. This is immoral.

    “At the school board we have the power to set the bar for how we will measure the superintendent, which in turn will drive the direction of the district. I will be pushing for substantial improvement for our students, student outcomes across the board, but particularly for disadvantaged students.”

    But although all of the candidates said they support student achievement, none shared Navarro’s outrage at the district’s poor academic performance.

    Amazingly, one candidate — lead ostrich Mike Burkholder — criticized Navarro for even raising the issue of the district’s abysmal academic performance. Apparently he prefers to keep the wool pulled over parents’ eyes about how poorly their children are being educated.

    “We can focus on all the statistics of what the district is or is not,” said Burkholder. “I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to go negative. I don’t want to compare the district to the DMV. That kind of language is so negative, that is not my style. Our job is to promote the district, talk good about the district and find ways to engage the community in a positive light.”

  5. PDF says:

    I’m so glad that Allen labeled this as an “editorial” instead of “reporting” like he normally tries to do with his opinions.

    • Publisher says:

      Thank you for reading the Herald.

      I’m careful to not allow editorializing in our reporting, either mine or our reporters. That is only allowed on the Opinion page in the paper or under the Opinion label on our websites.

      If you find something that either I or one of our reporters has written that contains editorializing, please feel free to point it to me out so that it can be corrected. None of us are beyond correction or learning.

      But, one thing that’s for sure, I at least put my name on things I write and publish. I suggest you do the same instead of acting cowardly and taking a cheap shot from your anonymity. SMH.

      This is America where we have freedom of speech. Don’t be afraid to exercise yours.

      Allen Payton, Publisher & Editor

      • Dylan Howell says:

        So “RJB” anonymously leaves you a compliment and receives a thanks.

        PDF disagrees with your editorial bias and gets called a coward.

        If this isn’t the perfect example of your bias and the way it influences everything in the Antioch Herald, I don’t know what is, Allen.

        • Publisher says:

          First, thanks for reading. Second, thanks for using your real name.
          Third, it’s fine with me if someone offering a compliment to me or someone else wants to remain anonymous.
          That’s not an act of cowardice, as when someone is being critical. So, it’s not the same thing.
          If RJB was being critical of me or someone else, I believe he/she should reveal who they are.
          Frankly, I think everyone should use their real name when commenting and not be afraid of being known.
          Why live in fear? As I wrote in my previous comment, this is America where we have freedom of speech.
          Don’t be afraid to exercise it.
          Allen Payton, Publisher

          • Dylan Howell says:

            Again, you are merely proving your bias. RJB has posted numerous comments that are critical. I can’t think that you’ve ever called him out before… (I guess because they weren’t critical of you. Or were critical of things you agreed upon.)

          • Publisher says:

            I don’t remember everything someone has written in their comments in the past.
            Perhaps he’s been critical of me or the Herald, in the past. I really don’t recall.
            But, if so, I have the same message for him. Don’t be afraid. Come out of the shadows – which he just did – and don’t take anonymous shots at people.
            Although, I believe Mr. Brown has used his full name, when making a comment in the past because I recognize it.
            Allen Payton, Publisher

  6. Nancy Fernandez says:

    I could have sworn the job of the school board was to educate our children. Nice perspective by one candidate. Thanks Mr. Roberts.

  7. Eric A. says:

    & none of you 4 knuckleheads cared to point out:

    “Trustee Debra Vinson, who is “””not””” facing re-election this year, “

  8. Veronica Dyson says:

    As a teacher and resident in Antioch, I find all of this rhetoric extremely disheartening. I can only speak to what happens in my classroom where last year my student scores were 2.5 times higher than the district average for math and 1.5 times higher for English. Numbers which I am still not pleased with.

    Our brains are like muscles, and they need to be worked to grow. Students who don’t do their homework, have poor test scores. Students who don’t learn their basic facts fluently, have poor test scores. Students who don’t read regularly, have poor test scores. These are things that can’t just happen in the classroom; they need to happen at home as well.

    “Chronic truancy is especially high (16.1%) in the primary grades (k-3)…Students who don’t read proficiently by 3rd grade are 4 times more likely to drop out of school.” These children are five – nine years old. Who is responsible for ensuring their timely arrival to school? Naturally, their caregivers.

    Unfortunately, we can’t legislate parents, so we target the system. The numbers say that we have teachers in Antioch who need to up their game or be removed. Teachers who perhaps aren’t reflective of their practice and think what they are doing is good enough. Our district strategy for improvement has been to lump all teachers together and give them the same training, but I don’t think it’s working. The teachers who have their act together are bored and feel like their training time is wasted. The teachers who really need the training don’t “get” that it’s for them. We target our lowest performing students and work out strategies to help them improve. Antioch needs to do the same thing with its teachers. Yes, that will make some teachers angry and the union probably would not approve. Thus, I will continue to encourage my own students to be their best, continue to keep my classroom standards and expectations high and teach to the standards, because really that’s all I can do.

  9. RJB says:

    @Dylan Howell

    To correct your assumption: My name is Reginald Jamal Brown. Most people who have been reading and posting for the last 5 or so years here, know my full name and know that I go by RJB for short.

    More often than not I AM critical of Allen’s articles AND posts. In fact, I can be incredibly critical. I’m sure several people can attest to that. Allen is a good publisher, despite our often differing opinions, but when someone does a good job I applaud them.

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Don’t get so butt hurt or assume favoritism when it’s clearly uncalled for.

  10. Michael Dupray says:

    There’s nothing wrong with opposing opinions. Even strong ones. But there is no place for personal attacks. That is what this is. That is what is disgusting. This is a deep rooted societal implicit bias on the part of several against one.

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