Mountain View Whisman School District officials are heading into the first board meeting of the year facing a big challenge: getting along.
The elementary and middle school district based in Mountain View is under extra scrutiny after an independent board audit found unprofessional behavior between board members is hindering student achievement.
Cambridge Education researchers determined in this November 2015 audit that "the board’s inability to function as a group of leaders and to work collaboratively with the District office has established barriers that directly impact the students, employees and families in Mt. View Whisman School District."
Taped board meetings broadcast bickering, speaking out of turn, personal attacks and other breakdowns in communication. Parents have described board meetings as "an absolute circus where nothing gets done," according to the audit.
Audit researches said the board’s inability to work as a team and focus on improving the learning outcomes of students leaves "district leaders…hindered in their abilities to make decisions and take the necessary actions to ensure that all students are highly successful in the district."
"It’s Difficult to work with people who aren't willing to work together," said board president Ellen Wheeler. "It’s a contentious environment."
As a 13-year board member, Wheeler is the longest-serving trustee on the current board. Wheeler identifies the lack of communication as starting three years ago, when "certain members" were elected to the board.
"Yes it's frustrating to me because there are a lot of people trying to do good things for the district and it's hard to do it," said Wheeler. "I'm sad that this is the reputation of our district."
Wheeler became board leader after former president Chris Chiang resigned June 2015. Chiang told the Mountain View voice in an email that his resignation was the result of a fellow board member who "insults and bullies fellow board members, staff, teachers and families.
Following his resignation, community members created this petition to recall trustee Steven Nelson, who was elected November 2012. That petition was eventually abandoned.
The school district now has a new board president and new district superintendent, who says the board’s lack of a strategic plan makes focusing on key issues difficult.
"Our biggest obstacles are ourselves and I think we really need to focus in on guiding ourselves to make sure that we have a laser focus on student achievement," said Superintendent Dr. Ayinde Rudolph.
During a December 2015 board meeting, Rudolph became audibly frustrated by the unbalanced amount of time the board focused on parcel tax instead of the district’s 60 percent achievement gap.
"I think we’re a work in progress. We have gotten better from what has occurred previously and I think we still have a ways to go," said Dr. Rudolph.
Board trustee Jose Gutierrez, Jr. believes attitudes need to change in order for the board to be most effective.
"What we have to do is reign back the personalities, reign back the behaviors that we have of trying to interrupt one another," said Gutierrez, the newest board member. "It goes back to basic governmental discourse. If I want to hear your idea, the best thing I can do is listen. I don’t want to interrupt."
Gutierrez says the way the board is functioning now is leaving students behind, particularly English language learners and special education students.
"In the middle of Silicon Valley in this school district, we’re at the heart and soul of the tech world, we should be doing better," said Gutierrez. "If we don’t do that as a board together collectively, we’ve lost perspective, we’ve lost focus. That’s what we need to get back."