Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Accidental Activist

Last September I did a foolish thing.  Having never attended a school board meeting before, I went with a burr under my saddle and I filled out a comment card and held onto my prepared speech with sweaty hands.  I had just become aware of some big and weird problems in the school district, and, too dumb to know it wouldn't help, I addressed the school board as a disgruntled taxpayer. 

I rode the ragged edge of the rules and complained about a specific employee before they realized what was happening.  I got hearty applause from an unhappy bunch of teachers looking for a hero.  I also got a very clear view of what they were unhappy about.  As I wrote then, at least some of the problems became very clear to me.

Over the next month I lost considerable sleep wondering if I was about to be sued and my family would lose our house.  I was sure that I should not have become involved.  At the same time, my sense of indignation was rising, and I just couldn't justify remaining silent.

My speech may have been a litte ill-advised (I would not have lost that sleep if I had bought liability insurance for $20 / year BEFORE making that speech instead of after), but it helped bring like-minded people together to actively engage in the cause.

But over a couple of months, things settled down. I began to miss a few board meetings and write less frequently, and even miss a couple of meetings with my rebel friends.  (Before there was Citizens for 13J Excellence I called our group the Rebel Alliance).

And then there was the 2 page complaint.  We started working on that last fall.  And then even while that was in process, in January Kathleen Stanley decided not to pass GO but to go immediately to a recall election.  I decided to grace them with my presence at the organization meeting, and was asked to conduct the meeting.  And then the big surprise: during the meeting I was nominated to be the chief petitioner on the recall petition drive.

And that's how I became the mascott for the recall, and for Citizens for 13J Excellence.  Sure - I'm on the steering committee, and as the chief petitioner my name actually appears on all the legal forms and on the ballot.  Kinda cool.  But really, I was the mascott - not the brains or the brawn.  I'm John Q Public, ticked off and enthusiastic.  Ready to go for blood without knowing what to do or how to do it.

With the help of friends and other volunteers, it got easier and better over time.  We got the job done, and sit here tonight having achieved victory.  The superintendent has resigned, and the chairwoman has been recalled by the voters.

The superintendent resigned last week with a payout because of a serious complaint filed by three female district employees.  A threatening and harrassing work environment made their lives miserable for years.  Without that complaint, it was going to be quite a challenge to get rid of the superintendent, even with a new school board.

So tonight, one of those complainants told me that without the background push of Citizens for 13J Excellence submitting complaints and filing for recall, she and her compatriots would not have had the confidence needed to stick their necks out and make that formal complaint.

And likewise, the teachers union, seeing there was movement afoot, was in the process of submitting a vote of no-confidence when the resignation occurred.  As it turned out, he was gone and the vote wasn't needed, but it could easily have been needed, and it would have been a very powerful tool toward getting rid of him or at least in limiting the damage he could do for the remaining 2 years of his contract.

So what I'm saying here is that because the public got involved in a highly visible way (Kathleen's Blog being the main pillar of that), the teachers and administrators were able to speak up and state the problems clearly for everyone to hear.  The felt we had their backs, and, as much as it is possible, we did.

Without us, this would have been much more difficult and painful for them than it already was, and so much more prolonged.

So now, as I look back at all those times when I wish I hadn't got involved, or when I seriously debated wither to continue, because of the great sacrifice it was to my time, I thank the Lord that he put me in this situation and gave me the power to help these people who were in need.  I didn't do much, but I was a figurehead.  I was a body in the community, and I cared enough to help.  That meant something to those who were in the trenches.  I am so glad I never quit.

I am glad this happened.  I could never have predicted that a mere eight months after that fateful speech, the district leadership has been removed due to the swift and vocal actions of an insignificant community group.  I would never have guessed that I would meet such wonderful people make good friends.  I worked with people whose tremendous sacrifice and commitment to education made big things happen.

Was it worth the trouble?  Absolutely!


Shar said...

congratulations! now tell the school district to hire another english teacher and you know a really good one :)

julenep said...

Kudos to you John for getting involved -- we need more quality people getting involved in our schools and making a difference.