At the beginning of the public comment section of the Burton School Board meeting on January 21, 2020, in the packed cafeteria at Jim Maples Academy, with standing room only; school district parents, grandparents, and students, and community members spoke about their concerns with the school district and their handling of the principals transfers in the middle of the school year, as well as a lack of transparency, openness, or trust.
“Good evening and thank you to the school board for allowing us to speak our concerns, frustrations and hopes with you tonight,” said parent Desiree Black, as she represented three PTA’s of the affected schools, and read a statement to the district.
“Representatives from the schools impacted have collaboratively written and expressed our thoughts regarding the administrative changes that took place on January 3, 2020. We thank you in advance for keeping an open mind and heart as we share with you this evening,”
“As we have had the opportunity to reflect on the changes that have taken place with our administrations and have witnessed the effects of these changes, we have determined that not only do we have several immediate concerns, but we also recognize that you, as the school board, as well as Superintendent Mr. Mendoza, have a significant responsibility to our students as well as our community.
“You, as elected officials, have been voted into the position as a board member because of the investment you have made in this community, in this district and in the relationships you have developed with many people over the years. You know the heartbeat of our community, the importance of trust and the value of integrity as the fabric and success of the Burton School District. Your responsibility to uphold your position and represent the voters is of utmost importance as it reflects directly on your reputation within the district and community.
“We have been told several times that students are the priority of our district - even more specifically that student safety and student achievement are of the utmost importance, per Mr. Mendoza’s written statements. If this is in fact the case, it is the distinct responsibility of you, the board, to provide a sense of security, trust and consistency for all students and staff.
“Unfortunately, this has not been the case considering the decisions of our current superintendent, Mr. Mendoza. Sadly, his decisions over the past year have resulted in distrust district-wide, a blatant disregard for the desires of parents and students and fear deep in the hearts of the staff, administrators and teachers in our district.
“His actions not only affect Oak Grove, Burton Elementary and Summit Charter Lombardi; they affect each and every family, staff member, administrator and teacher in our district.
“People are fearful, they are just waiting for more shocking and unfounded changes to be made without being allowed the opportunity to voice their opinions. Is this how we want our district to be run?
“Decisions being made out of fear?
“You, our elected school board, have the power, and more importantly, the responsibility to not only hear our concerns, but also to act in the best interest of our students, their families and the district, as a whole.
“We plead with you to consider our children, to think about what will truly drive their successes, their safety, and their achievements — which cannot be unequivocally dependent on test scores alone.”
“Tonight we request a Call to Action,” said Jacqueline Stanley, when she stepped up to the Podium and spoke at the school district meeting.
(1) We boldly ask that you would remove Mr. Mendoza from his position as District Superintendent; a position where it seems as though he wields a wand of fear across the district as a whole without concern for the lives impacted by his actions.
(2) We boldly ask that you reverse the decisions that were made by Mr. Mendoza on January 2, 2020, and immediately return the three administrators directly impacted by Mr. Mendoza’s rash decision, back to the campuses who know, love and trust their leadership: Mrs. Stacie Fleischman, Mr. Troy Hayes, and Mrs. Lori Phillips.
While we understand the boldness and gravity of these two requests, we wholeheartedly concur that both decisions will dramatically positively impact the overall health and well-being of not only our affected school sites, but also the district as a whole.
You may not be aware that students across all three schools sites have been asking questions. They are seeking answers as to why their schools have been so drastically shaken up in the middle of the year. They are looking to teachers, peers and parents to answer these questions, but no one has any answers to give them because the district has not given any reasons for these decisions.
In response to our emails expressing our concern, we have received a stock statement from a couple of you board members that your responsibility is to protect the rights and privacy of the employees.
“You are, in effect, protecting yourself - your own privacy - in a situation shrouded by fear, distrust, and confusion. How can we ensure that our administrators are continually bettering themselves if they are not given answers when a change is made in their own employment? If they need to make changes to how they lead or how they do their job in order to better themselves, then at the very least, give them the tools, information, and direction to make these changes in the future.
“We ask that you would carefully consider the concerns we have brought before you tonight. We ask that you would truthfully ask yourself this question: is this the “safe” decision for someone in your position? Is this the decision that protects the board and its leadership?
“Or is this a decision that puts the needs and well being of our students first – ahead of pride and fear? Our children - your students - deserve the very best we can give them and we believe that removing our current superintendent, Mr. Mendoza, and reversing the changes he made to the administration of three schools is the best way to begin to better accomplish that goal.
“We request that you consider our concerns and address this call to action in a closed session before adjournment of tonight’s meeting.
“Thank you very much.”
“All the wonderful things that Mr. Hayes does for our school,” said an Oak Grove student. “He protected me. He was my friendly advisor. When I went back to school he wasn’t there, I was angry and disappointed, and sad, because this is my last year at Oak Grove.”
“Mr. Hayes is a giving, generous individual,” said Marna Miller, “My kids wanted to go to the Harvest Festival. Mr. Hayes was there for us. My granddaughter says, “Where is Mr. Hayes?” For all the children he took the time to say “Good Morning,” everyday, and took time for everyone. “He made me feel like a whole individual. He opened doors for me and my family. Mr. Hayes, God Bless You.”
“I’d like to point out that Mr. Mendoza needs to be replaced,” said a community member. “Was it ethical to remove these people in the middle of the school year? Administrative transfer must be done at the end of the year. For special needs students it affects their IEPs. Mr. Hayes worked directly with each and every school. We lost an extremely qualified principal. We are not being included in any of these decisions, and we are owed an explanation.”
Maria Cabron shyly spoke about Mr. Hayes, and said her children were crying. “Mr. Hayes not being at school will hurt the kids, and the parents,” she said, “And I’m saying this from the bottom of my heart.”
A student in 6th grade at Oak Grove, said, “Mr. Hayes would help students. He is one of the most genuine people I’ve met. He would be there, and give you a handshake. He would come into the classroom, and we knew he really cared.
Dennis Wilson said, “Mr. Hayes is wonderful and he has support from the staff and the community. Employees of the district live in a state of fear for their jobs. They are fearful that “that man” (meaning Mendoza) will retaliate against employees.
Martin Stafford spoke about “Grandma G” who is at Oak Grove often. He said, “Our granddaughers are very upset about Mr. Hayes losing his job. He deserves to be back at that school.”
Mr. Hayes has done a wonderful job, and I have a personal relationship with him, said a parent in the audience. He has put us on a National Level.” (speaking about wrestling.) They should have let Mr. Hayes finish the year.”
“You are doing a wonderful job,” he said to the board, “Mr. Hayes is level headed. He is not only a principal to the kids, he’s a father, and an uncle. I’d like it if he could finish off the year at Oak Grove.”
“My kids love Mr. Hayes,” said an Oak Grove parent, “and they are devastated. I love Mr Hayes, and I know my kids are taken care of with him. Why did you have to take him away?
Ethan Black, a teenager at SCCA, said, “I was surprised to hear that Mr. Hayes wasn’t at Oak Grove. He has been a big impact on my life, and my family’s life.”
A woman questioned changing the leadership at Lombardi, saying, “Mrs. Fleischman has impacted my child, why change principals in the middle of the year?”
“When my second grader learned Mrs. Fleischman wasn’t going to be there she was distressed. This doesn’t make me question Mrs. Fleischman, but the Burton administration and the board.”
“My son is a student at Buckley, said Jennifer Hunter, and I have two nephews and a niece that attend Oak Grove. What the district has done to the Burton School Community is wrong. Three administrators have been taken from their schools and over 1500 students were affected.
They want students to show leadership skills, but how can they when every time they turn around their leaders are being ripped from them. They want us to teach our children to be safe.
Students and administrators do not feel safe.
The only way the people will be able to make a change is to stand up at voting time, do their homework, and elect new district members that are in there to do what is best for our children. I am afraid that these members are not there to make a safe place for our children to go to school. They are not doing what the community wants, they are only doing what is in their best interest.
I think they all should be taken out of office and get some people we can count on to make the best choice for us.
At the end of the school year, I will be moving my son to Porterville district. I have been a parent volunteer at Buckley for seven years. I love our teachers and administration. But I can no longer be a part of the Burton School Community based on decisions the Superintendent and the Board has made. I feel that they are no longer in the best interest of my family and we must move on.”
Statements from the School Board of Trustees and Superintendent Sergio Mendoza were received on Wednesday, January 22, and follow:
“On behalf of the Burton School Board of Trustees I would like for you to know that your voice and your presence does matter. We acknowledge and respect your concerns. Thank you for advocating for your children and your continuous support in helping us to make a difference in your child’s well-being and their education. We all have one thing in common, the children, and each one of us has a role to play in their life. I invite everyone to continue to attend your district’s board meetings, it is a place to learn and have your concerns addressed,” said Obdulia Guzman Alvarado, Burton School District Board of Education President.
“Our focus is always students first. We are unable to go into specific details about the move, but we understand how difficult this is for all affected. We will continue to support our administration, staff, students and parents to make this transition as seamless as possible,” said Sergio Mendoza, Superintendent.