School leaders sound off on direction of district
June 22, 2012 · Jennifer Pandich
Led by outgoing middle school principal Noreen Bush, the Mount Vernon School Board meeting on Monday featured concerns about the direction of the district. Board members John Cochrane and Paul Morf also made their concerns known, with Cochrane asking for community members to get involved. About 20 people were in the audience.
Bush, who is leaving after three years for a position with the College Community District, said she "wanted to make clear her reasons for leaving."
"I have been blessed to have worked here for the past three years. Going back to College Community was the best fit for me professionally and for my family," she said. Several people spoke of the fine job Bush had done, including former school board member Dean Borg.
When pressed by board member Cochrane as to more specific reason for her leaving the district, she discussed the direction the district is taking.
"I like working from a child's strengths, not focusing on weakness or deficits," she said. "I feel the discussion in the schools should be about student successes, not adult complaints."
She added that she felt micromanaged. As an example, she discussed where cars could go to pick up students after school.
"I consulted with the people who knew the most about the situation, and I made a decision," she said. "Then I was told I couldn't do that, that we needed a community forum. We didn't need a forum; I needed to make sure kids were safe."
After Bush had finished her comments, Cochrane read a prepared statement that raised serious concerns he has about the current situation as a board member.
"For nine months now, I have been serving on a board which has been committed to undermining and removing the administration .... I believe (Bush's departure) is a direct result of the toxic relationship between the incredibly bright and talented administration and this board."
He went on to say that some members of the community "will stop at nothing" to get their way. "There is little or no civil disagreement. These people don't want leadership; they want acquiescence."
Board member Morf commented on Cochrane's speech, saying "That's a little stronger than anything I might say, but it resonates." He agreed with Cochrane on the issue of community involvement in the school: "There are a few community organizers who want to run this town, but when we're so uncompromising and so unwilling to see the humanity of the people we disagree with ...."
Morf said he has asked those community members if there is an issue that can be addressed, but was told "the issue is that these people need to be fired." He went on: "But when things get to be about personnel rather than issues, we can't communicate because we can't discuss personnel matters."
Cochrane went on to defend assistant high school principal and activities director Duane Orr.
"In the first three years," said Cochrane, "he singlehandedly, and I don't use that word lightly, changed the culture for all the students. He's never said anything but 'yes' when asked to do more." He went on to say that no one would be questioning Orr's performance if the football team had won more games. "He dared share publicly which (football) field would be best for students to play on."
At his conclusion, Cochrane said, "The broader Mount Vernon community can, at this point, continue to sit back and allow these forces to dictate the direction of the district, or they can stand up and be heard, and make the difference I am convinced I cannot make as a member of this board."
Board president Tom Wieseler thanked Cochrane and Morf for their comments. No other board members commented.