Gilbert Public Schools Admins: Still Stirring Up Trouble

The Good Old Boys who have been running Gilbert Public Schools seem to have thought nothing about destroying the careers of good people on a whim. Sometimes, even less than a whim.  All it took was one principal to get a burr under her saddle, and then nothing could stop the juggernaut crushing a hapless GPS employee victim. Such travesties became repetitive during the Allison superintendency.

The current Governing Board is sorting out damage done under the watch of previous boards and secretive administrators. The community should applaud the course corrections now taking place, but unfortunately, the hardest work is done in the background. Results are beginning to show, and opportunities for further improvements are opening, beginning with GPS administrative leadership at all levels. (Bye-bye Highland High School principal Dominic Salce and GPS Athletic Director [and double-dipper] Mark Cisterna.)

A situation the East Valley NAACP is watching began while GPS was under a monitoring agreement imposed by the U.S. Department of Justice for past civil rights violations. The DOJ monitoring agreement required training for administrators, which was treated like a joke. Former superintendent Dave Allison acknowledged that GPS “has a reputation” with respect to incidents of discrimination, “but it’s been embellished and enhanced by the media.” Allison said he believes there was no basis for the DOJ monitoring and that it was political.

It appears that the GOBs worried about passing a state audit of a new English Language Learners program when they decided to destroy an ELL teacher’s career. The GOBs came up with a plan – create a single scapegoat for all the expected failures in GPS! As best-laid plans sometimes do, this went awry. Badly. Too many cooks spoil the broth; too many principals engaging in nefarious deeds trip themselves up. Kids were being bullied, no one in GPS administration was doing anything about it. Business as usual in GPS.

Gladis worked in GPS’s ELL department from 2004-2010.  She speaks seven languages.  She has decades of experience as a teacher and multiple degrees from around the world, including two from ASU.  She earned a 3.74 GPA for her B.A. and a 3.96 for her M.Ed.  Arizona determined Gladis was a qualified teacher based on her scores on the Arizona Educator Proficiency Assessment test (AEPA). None of the defendants in the civil rights lawsuit had an educational background in Linguistics.  Only one defendant (Bye-bye Cheryl Lira-Layne) was fluent in a second language.  She was also the only defendant with an endorsement or significant knowledge of ELL.  None of the defendants knew about Gladis’s stellar grades at ASU or her high scores on AEPA.

Singleton began the school year with the plan of firing Gladis, who rotated between three schools that year.  She communicated with HR director George Bowers about it within days of the school year starting on August 10.  On August 18, 2009 Singleton emailed the other two principals, Hester and Kelly, of her research on how to document “concerns” about Gladis.

So the GOBs set their plan in action, and went from 0 to 60 in 3 months. That’s all it took for two principals, Debbie Singleton and Vicki Hester, to do a bunch of observations, write a dozen or so drafts of a Performance Improvement Plan in collaboration with attorney Denise Lowell-Britt, and get Good Old Dave to sign the intent to terminate letter. The run-up to this was an intense coordinated campaign to paper the file to support Singleton’s preordained conclusion that Gladis suddenly didn’t understand English. The plan was for three principals doing the dirty deeds, but one guy wrote up a good observation. The Terrible Two ignored his input.

The PIP required teaching ELL students grammar in their native language. No other ELL teachers are required to learn the grammar of the native language of their students; other ELL teachers teach English grammar. Many times, ELL teachers don’t speak the native language of their students. In GPS, that has happened with Russian, Tagalog and Mandarin Chinese, to name a few languages not spoken by all ELL teachers. The PIP required videotaping lessons to be reviewed by the ELL director, coach, principals, and probably anyone else they could rope in.  Given that ELL is a push-in program, requiring lessons be videoed would be a simple matter, right? And videoing all the students in a classroom with a few (or even just one) ELLs would never upset other parents, would it? What could wrong with this intricate plan? After all, they had legal advice every step of the way!

Former Associate Superintendent Nikki Blanchard tricked Gladis into resigning from GPS.  Gladis applied to GPS for open positions for the next school year, thinking this was how department transfers were done.  She was never called about a job.  GPS claims they can’t find any of Gladis’s applications. GPS marked her file “not eligible for rehire,” which affected her ability to get a job in other districts.  Then GPS opposed Gladis’s application for unemployment benefits.

An Administrative Law Judge issued findings of discrimination against Gladis and constructive discharge.  The ALJ found that Gladis’s daughter was bullied and the school (Meridian Elementary School) did not address the situation.  The ALJ found thatNikki Blanchard tricked Gladis into resigning from GPS when she meant to transfer.  The ALJ wrote that GPS’s story it accidentally marked Gladis’s file “not eligible for rehire” was “not persuasive.”

Good Old Dave said he never did anything about the judicial determination that GPS discriminated against Gladis because he “didn’t believe it was true.” GPS missed an opportunity to do the right thing and correct a grievous error the GOBs had made, but apparently no one in GPS knew how to do that. They were expert at the nefarious stuff, though! They were expert at treating serious subjects as a joke, laughing, winking, nudging, and loosening their zippers. This was one group of experienced carousers!

Now that the East Valley Arizona National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is watching administrative actions following this civil rights lawsuit, perhaps good people can breathe easier in GPS. It must be incredibly embarrassing for the good people to be lumped in with people who intentionally discriminate against others based on race, national origin, or any other illegal reason. We’ll save the question of why good people looked the other way for another post.

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