At Stake in the GPS Election: Controlling a Rogue Superintendent

Superintendent Christina M. Kishimoto, Ed.D.Citizens decry that their public school superintendent is lying to the board and to the public about one of her pet projects (again). Explosive discoveries in recent days show GPS superintendent Christina Kishimoto operating behind the backs of duly elected members of the governing board, while at the same time bamboozling the community in her zeal to destroy neighborhood schools as part of her *reforms.* We’ll share texts of public records that show exactly what citizens have reported as Kishimoto’s dishonest and unethical behavior.  As a citizen wrote, “This election is more important than most realize.”

This post will be long, but you can copy and paste the text of emails posted below and share with anyone! Also, there’s a nifty timeline with emails you can print.

Guide to emails shown below:

** Email from principal of Gilbert Elementary School: decision has been made to transition to a total dual language program.
** Email from board clerk Jill Humpherys confirming that decision has been made; the school will close otherwise.
** Email from community member stating parents and staff were not consulted before this decision was made.
** Email from board clerk Jill Humpherys reconfirming decision and stating that students who opt out will be bussed to Burk Elementary.
** Report of email from board member Julie Smith: decision was made outside of board discussion or approval.
** Email from board member Julie Smith to Kishimoto challenging her unilateral decision and asking questions about due diligence matters
** Email from Kishimoto saying she did not make the decision that the Gilbert Elementary School principal and Jill Humpherys already disseminated to the public.
** Email to board from a citizen who FOIAed public records and chastised board members for allowing Kishimoto to usurp their powers.
** Kishimoto’s email with educrat verbiage explaining that the community is too stupid to be trusted with making decisions, so she *empowered* the principal through a *board process* … so sit down and shut up, you fool!
** Citizen’s gutsy reply to board: you should answer my questions.
************************

Back to Guide of Emails

The story begins with an email principal Justin Sremba sent to parents of students at Gilbert Elementary School just before Fall Break, October 10-17, 2016:

Dear Gilbert Elementary families,

I want to thank you for your continued support of Gilbert Elementary. This is an absolutely wonderful school with a lot of meaningful traditions. One of the many traditions we have at Gilbert Elementary includes the dual language program, which has been in existence for nearly 20 years. Over the years, the program has had a huge impact on students and families at Gilbert Elementary.

Over the summer, Gilbert Elementary received a $15,000 school design grant from GPS to help propel our school with the transition to become a dual language school, beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. The money from this grant will be used to help market and promote dual language at Gilbert Elementary, send teachers and staff to receive professional development, meet with other dual language schools to learn best practices for implementation, and purchase a Spanish curriculum. The Spanish curriculum will make language learning a cultural adventure, explore language and culture through explicit presentation, supports all students from beginners to heritage speakers, from struggling to gifted, allows for differentiated instruction, embeds the culture within the world language, aligns with Arizona College and Career Readiness Standards, incorporate the Arizona World Language Standards, and contains assessments.

Currently the model that is being used at Gilbert Elementary is called a one-way model, where one teacher is teaching both languages. This model is not as effective as the two-model, where English learners and native English speakers together, provide high-quality language arts instruction in both languages, while integrating thematic units.

For the 2017-2018 school year, kindergarten and first grade (current kindergarten students) will transition to the two-way dual language model. For example, there will be four teachers in both kindergarten and first grade. Two teachers will be the Spanish teachers and other two teachers will be the English teachers. Students will receive English instruction for 50% of their day and Spanish instruction for 50% of their day. The students will spend the morning with the English teacher and the afternoon with the Spanish teacher (or vice versa). English instruction will include English language arts, writing, social studies, and reinforcement in science and math. Spanish instruction will include the majority of math, Spanish language development, and science. For each year after the 2017-2018 school year, we will add a grade level until we fully transition to a full PreK through 6th grade dual language school in the approximate year of 2022-2023.

There is a very exciting time at Gilbert Elementary where our students will have have an opportunity to be global leaders and compete for future jobs with others from around the world who are also Spanish-speaking. Along with the excitement, there will also be some questions. Throughout this process, we will hold informational meetings where you can ask questions and learn more about this exciting transition. We will also keep you informed on the transition through email, letters in backpacks, and through our our school’s webpage. Please feel free to call or email with any questions you may have. Also, see the back of this letter for more information about dual language. [Duh…this was an email…]

Yours in education,
Justin Sremba
Gilbert Elementary Principal

Back to Guide of Emails

Members of the public contacted board members and the school administrative office and got different stories about this letter from the principal of Gilbert Elementary School. Following is an email from Silly Jilly Humpherys, who obviously was operating without a prepared script:

I had a terrific discussion with [principal] Justin [Sremba] when I was at Gilbert El in September, and we did talk about changes to the Spanish Immersion program. The questions you are asking can be best answered by the principal.

The fact is that we have declining enrollment in our district and we have to take action to turn that around. We must find ways to bring students to our district. That means trying some things that we haven’t in the past.

Spanish Immersion at Gilbert El is one of the oldest emersion [sic] programs in the East Valley; until now the district has not put much effort into helping this program grow. Why would anyone have a problem with working to make a program with a track record for success more well known so that people are aware that they have that option for their children?

I am a big fan of neighborhood community schools! I want to keep schools open and available for our students. I would rather work hard and take some risks than watch schools continue to decline and then close.

If you private message me your phone number, I would be happy to talk with you about any concerns or suggestions you may have. Signed, Jill Humpherys.

Silly Jilly Humpherys wants to talk to people on the telephone because otherwise, people might share her ridiculous written attempts at  justifying anything and everything Christina Kishimoto is doing to destroy neighborhood schools in GPS. We’ll save you the trouble of googling.

Jill Humpherys phone number: 480-633-0792

Back to Guide of Emails

A parent continued trying to get information about the program at Gilbert Elementary School after learning that students who did not want to be immersed in the dual language set-up would be sent to Burk Elementary School.  The email to Silly Jilly Humpherys on October 28, 2016:

So were you not aware of this transition? This is kinda a big transition, I mean you’re talking about possibly moving some population to Burk. According to your other emails you said the board would discuss and vote on larger transitions. I’m seriously concerned that you had to call a principal to find out about this program change. I am hearing parents and staff were not brought into the decision making process. I am literally begging you to go to the campus and ask for the minutes from these meetings (as they are required by law). There will be an exodus of staff if this goes through let alone students. Please follow up on it. Don’t take someone’s word for it. Talk to parents at Gilbert Elementary.

Here’s a gem from the email above: citizens have been searching for minutes of the meeting where this decision was made. The people at the White Castle (GPS district offices) said they don’t have it, go ask at the campus. The folks at the campus claimed none existed. That’s why the parent asked Silly Jilly Humpherys to try and get those minutes herself … the minutes are public records, of course, and the parents stated keeping them is “required by law.” Later in this saga, you will see Kishimoto’s own words to a citizen who filed a formal request for those public records, justifying a decision her minions made to keep those public records secret until after the election.

Citizen: This makes me think it would be bad for Lily’s campaign if those were made public before the election. What is in those minutes? [full email appears below]

Back to Guide of Emails

Again operating without a script, Silly Jilly Humpherys replied, making a bigger mess than before. Notice the cognitive dissonance: “Enrollment at Gilbert El has continued to decline” contrasted with “Many families already seek out Gilbert El for this opportunity.” Then there’s the threat, again, that Gilbert Elementary School will be closed if Christina Kishimoto does not get her way.

I called and talked with Principal Justin Sremba. Gilbert El will be moving to a model of Spanish Language Emersion [sic]where the Kindergarten and First Grade students will have a Spanish-speaking teacher for half the day and an English-speaking teacher for half the day. Mr. Sremba said that he took some of his faculty to visit this type of a program, and they are every excitied [sic] about it. The program will expand by one grade level each year. It is true that those who do not want Spanish emersion [sic] in Kindergarten or First Grade will be bussed to Burk Elementary, and those at Burk who want Spanish emersion [sic] will be bussed to Gilbert El. Students currently at Gilbert El can finish their elementary experience there, regardless of whether they are involved in Spanish emersion [sic] or not. He said that his school site coucil [sic] and community have weighed in on this and are excited about the opportunities. They will also keep the Leader in Me program, as all materials are available in English and Spanish. Enrollment at Gilbert El has continued to decline, so he feels this is a good opportunity to boost enrollment.

I am not a person who likes change, but I also want to win students back to our district. Many families already seek out Gilbert El for this opportunity, so I think this is a logical step to building up a school that we may otherwise end up closing. If you are concerned, I would be happy to arrange an appointment for us to go visit with Mr. Sremba. Signed, Jill Humpherys.

Back to Guide of Emails

A parent emailed GPS governing board member Julie Smith and received quite a different story: 

Hold on to your hats, this is part of the response I got from Ms. Smith. …“This decision has been made outside of board discussion or approval therefore I am unable to answer any of your specific questions. I will be contacting the superintendent about this decision which skipped board approval. From the standpoint of school capacity, Burk has more availability than the other schools you listed which may be the reason for administration’s decision. I apologize that I do not have answers to your questions. Please keep me informed if you are not satisfied with administrative responses.”

Back to Guide of Emails

So Julie Smith emailed GPS superintendent Christina Kishimoto with some direct questions. Thank you, Birdies, for sharing these emails where we could find them!

I have been receiving phone calls, e-mails and individuals approaching me in public about the decision you made to apparently change Gilbert Elementary to a school-wide dual language immersion program.

Governing board members should not be finding out about school-wide changes from members of the community. I am requesting a report to the board completed by Friday, November 4th containing the following information:

** What changes are being made to Gilbert Elementary school as a whole and what is the target initiation date?
** How will this affect current staff at the school and their job status?
** Where are families who do not wish to participate in this program being told to enroll?
** Why were the steps of an application to administration and then the governing board skipped?
** What is the cost of initiating this program?

Provide any supporting documentation showing school committee meetings building to a consensus of this school program design decision.

Respectfully, Julie Smith

Showing that GPS administrators working for Christina Kishimoto have adopted her scofflaw attitude about providing public records on request, Westie has been informed that the minutes of the school committee meetings where these decisions supposedly were made will not be released until after the election. Recall that Christina Kishimoto’s secretary routinely tells parents that the superintendent will not speak to them. Apparently, no one in GPS wants to get caught answering questions from members of the public. Once in a while, though, someone gets some answers. Thank goodness they share!

Back to Guide of Emails

It’s obvious that when she sent this email to board members, Kishimoto was not aware that Silly Jilly Humpherys had gone directly to the Gilbert Elementary School principal for answers to questions. This is how arrogant public officers (that would be none other than Christina Kishimoto, in case you were wondering) are caught lying to elected officials charged with oversight of Gilbert Public Schools.

On Wed, Nov 2, 2016 at 1:53 PM, Christina Kishimoto <christina.kishimoto@gilbertschools.net> wrote:

Board Members,

In response to Julie’s request for clarification, I am sending a response to the entire Board so that we are all on the same page.

During the summer retreat I shared with the Board the process by which schools will submit requests for partial or full school design implementation models. School Principals and their Councils were highly encouraged to explore this process and to use the School Design application to document and investigate their ideas. We had a discussion at the retreat that anywhere from 5 to 7 schools would explore this process and there likely would be three to four submitted applications. Most of the questions posed by Julie in her email are part of the application that will come to the Board. The question regarding “skipping the Governing Board” approval is not accurate – since draft applications to me are due in December and then they go to the Board if they reflect substantive programmatic/design changes.

Gilbert Elementary School is exploring taking their model of dual language to a full school design rather than continuing with an on-again, off-again partial model with incomplete curriculum. While the school is completing their exploratory work, I have received one question about neighborhood district lines, but all of the other comments that I have received have been excitement for a renewed emphasis on language learning.

By allowing Principals the time to share and explore ideas, and engage in research, we can push our thinking around designing schools around students and effective models. I have not approved anything, but I have supported Gilbert El in exploring and documenting this design. In addition, several of our schools presented ideas to one another at the October Principal’s Conference so that they could get peer feedback. Out of this discussion and collaborative, Gilbert El and several other area schools have shared ideas about shared communities.

The board will receive a school design presentation in December or January when the school-based teams have completed their research work. Please let me know if you have any further process questions.

Christina Kishimoto believed she could tell board members this was just another *school design* as if it were just an exploration rather than a done deal. Notice that Kishimoto ignored Julie Smith’s questions.

It’s clear that Kishimoto did not know about the letter to parents sent by the principal — the *done deal* was already set in stone at that point. Silly Jilly Humpherys confirmed not only the *done deal,* but also the fact that students would be pushed out of Gilbert Elementary School if they chose not to be immersed in the dual language program and those students would be bussed to Burk Elementary School.

The GPS community is really, really dissatisfied with this situation: it exposed Kishimoto as operating solo, making decisions and usurping the powers that Arizona law reserves to elected officials, the members of the GPS governing board. The effects on GPS students, parents and taxpayers will be long lasting and expensive … probably long after Kishimoto and her carpetbagger administration high-tail it out of Gilbert, Arizona.

Back to Guide of Emails

Here’s an email sent from a constituent to the GPS governing board:

I have been investigating the Gilbert Elementary decision and have come across some disturbing facts that I want to make you aware of.

As you know, the Principal of Gilbert El already announced to families and staff that the school will begin transitioning to a full dual language school next year. This decision is final and they already have the $15,000 from the grant in the bank.

You are supposed to be voting to decide who receives these grants in December. The principal is scheduled to present to you for approval then even though he already has the money in the bank. Why does he already have the money if there hasn’t been a vote yet? Why have families and staff been notified if there hasn’t been a vote yet?

I sent a FOIA request for the site council minutes. I was told by Gilbert El that they are sitting on the Principal’s desk but that they are not turning them in until Election Day. Why would it take until Tuesday for them to go next door? Couldn’t they also be emailed? This makes me think it would be bad for Lily’s campaign if those were made public before the election. What is in those minutes?

I spoke to someone at the school who serves on the site council. She said they have been discussing it for some time and they did vote to go ahead with it. She also confirmed that nobody outside of that site council of six people had any input; not staff, not parents, and not the board.

Dr. Kishimoto works for you, not the other way around. She cannot make these decisions without your approval.

There are only two explanations that make sense:
1. She is colluding with some board members and not all board members to get this pushed through in December.
2. She is lying to all of you and going behind your backs.

Either of those is unacceptable and extremely unethical.

I have called Dr. Kishimoto’s office to try and get the facts straight from her but Michelle [Coen, Kishimoto’s secretary] told me that she [Kishimoto] wouldn’t talk to me.

I would like a response from each of you explaining your understanding of this matter.

Back to Guide of Emails

Kishimoto talks only to GPS board president Lily Tram, or so we’ve been told, and as the email above implies. Hold on to your hats — this situation has become such a mess that Christina Kishimoto actually answered that email from a member of the public! Gasp!

On Fri, Nov 4, 2016 at 12:33 PM, Christina Kishimoto <christina.kishimoto@gilbertschools.net> wrote:
Please note that your FOIA request was received by district office. FOIA is a district matter, not a school matter. As is our best practice, we will be responding as quickly as possible within our legally required time frame.
[Keyboard: We all know how GPS responds *as quickly as possible* to public records requests. Sheeeeesh.]

The Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board adopted a new Theory of Action codified in GPS Policy Manual BA in 2014 that places greater autonomy on schools, which states in part, “Empowerment and autonomy place decision-making authority at the school level which is closest to the students for effectiveness and efficiency.” When the Board went into retreat to discuss, and at a later Board meeting approve, this policy, there was consensus Board support for this new empowerment approach. In fact, the Board members discussed the GCA and Neely Tradition models as examples of this empowerment approach.

Gilbert El is going through a school design conversation that will be documented and brought to the board for discussion and consideration when they have completed their work. The Board does not pre-approve whether a school community is allowed to have a discussion and complete their research on an instructional model. The time frame for the school design process was discussed in detail with the entire Board at their August 2016 retreat, including the notice that Gilbert El was exploring a whole school Dual Language design. The school will be supported in completing their due diligence in this process and will be allowed to get their work done.

The school did receive a $15,000 planning grant to support their existing Dual Language Program and to explore an expansion into a full school design. Planning grants were also provided to other schools to prepare their research and materials for future Board presentations: Mesquite Jr, Gilbert Jr., Patterson Elementary. The Dual Language School design suggestion came from parents, teachers and community members in the Gilbert El community who cited existing full school design models in neighborhood districts where fidelity to the Dual Language program is stronger and more consistent. I applaud the Gilbert El teachers for wanting the quality and consistency in program that is best for students.

Back to Guide of Emails

Refusing to be buffaloed by a superintendent who is not even licensed in Arizona, the citizen responded to Kishimoto:

To: Christina Kishimoto <christina.kishimoto@gilbertschools.net>

Why then is Gilbert El saying it’s a done deal and that it is happening next year for sure? The principal already sent out an email to families. You are saying one thing they are “having a conversation” and they are saying the decision has been made. Which is it?

Also, I addressed this to the governing board and would like to hear from them.

[Keyboard’s response to courageous citizen: Don’t hold your breath waiting to hear from Kishimoto’s BFF, Lily Tram, or Dr. Charles Santa Cruz who suddenly became missing in action when the heat got too hot.]

Soon all this election excitement will be over. Westie is voting for Frank Underwood this year. FU 2016.   #SAVEourNeighborhoodSchools 


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