I am writing as a concerned citizen and a former member of the Merced Union High School District Board of Trustees.
The district has made incredible strides over the past several years under the leadership of a sometimes divided board and Superintendent Scott Scambray. Our test scores, especially in the similar-schools rankings, are excellent and continue to improve. Attendance is up and disciplinary action is down. At 92.8 percent, the district graduation rate is an astounding 15 percent above the state average (78 percent).
We are well ahead of most districts in terms of the integration of technology and 21st century skills into the curriculum and our teachers are far ahead of their peers around the state in training for and implementation of the Common Core standards. We built a much-needed new high school at the perfect time, saving tens of millions of construction dollars, while keeping many local construction workers and subcontractors employed during the depths of the recession.
I am proud to have been part of a board that, though occasionally divided, put the needs of students first and was able to be civil about any disagreements that we might have had in the process.
Unfortunately that civility is gone and certain members of the board have worked to hamstring our superintendent, second-guessing his personnel decisions and micromanaging the district. These members seem to forget that their jobs are important but limited. A well-functioning board knows that their job is to set policy, approve the budget, and approve labor contracts. Well-informed board members understand that they are responsible for hiring, evaluating and holding accountable one employee – and that employee is the superintendent.
I’m not sure why Dave Honey, Sam Spangler and Will Snyder think they have more insight into the day-to-day operations of the district than the superintendent that two of them helped to hire. But a trio of part-timers trying to do the superintendent’s job by committee is a recipe for chasing away the very best top administrators responsible for supporting our teachers in the success that the district has enjoyed to date.
I encourage these three board members to recognize that the district is far better off today than it was before Scambray came on board. They should focus on the big picture and acknowledge that the superintendent has the authority (and the expertise) to make personnel decisions. I would further encourage the board to act on the superintendent’s recommendation to make Tammie Calzadillas’ appointment as assistant superintendent permanent and give her a much-deserved vote of confidence for her tireless work in preparing the district for the Common Core standards.
And I would encourage the Sun-Star to pay close attention to the deliberations and decisions of this board. We have an election coming up next year and our citizens deserve to know whether their board members are advancing – or obstructing – the progress that we need to make to continue to improve education outcomes for our high school students.
Tim O’Neill served on the Merced Union High School District board from 2004-2011.