CARSON CITY CRYSTAL — In a crowded conference room, with no chair empty and many residents standing, with those who were last to arrive poking their head through the entryway door, the Carson City-Crystal Area Schools Board of Education met Monday evening in what became a heated discussion over the district’s curriculum and reaction to several recent newspaper guest editorials and letters to the editor.
A public comment session to start the meeting lasted more than an hour at the Central Office building in downtown Carson City where more than 50 members of the community and faculty of the school district were in attendance for the monthly meeting.
The comments started from criticism and defense of the district’s curriculum from both members of the community and school board members alike. The issue was brought into the spotlight after opinion pieces were printed in The Carson City Gazette (owned by Stafford Media/The Daily News) by School Board President Tom Wilcox, board member Kriss Hummel and several members of the community.
More than 10 people voiced their opinions, beginning with Lawrence Hummel, who wrote a guest editorial printed in the Aug. 19 issue of The Gazette that was critical of the school’s curriculum.
In the piece, Lawrence Hummel admitted that he and his wife, board member Kriss Hummel, chose to move three of their four children out of the CC-C school district and into the Pewamo-Westphalia school district.
“For a year and half we talked about curriculum improvements and things that we hoped to see progress on, but nothing has happened,” Lawrence Hummel said. “We did move three of our kids to another district. We moved them there because they have opportunities that they are not going to get here, at least in the foreseeable future.”
Hummel said he was disappointed that it took a board member removing their own children from the CC-C school system for the board to make the district’s curriculum a “main focus.”
“It hasn’t gotten any better than when I left here 25 years ago,” he said. “We’re a year behind when we get out (of school), because we’re not getting what we need and kids are still having that problem today … I don’t know how you solve that. I do agree that the only way it’s going to work is to have a community that works together with the district and the kids, but right now that’s not happening.”
Lawrence Hummel said he believes many teachers in the district are “handcuffed” by the curriculum they have to teach, whether it be state or federally mandated.
“We have to help them figure out how to do it,” he said. “How do you take the shackles off and let them do what is best? I’m hoping that this is your catalyst to make this move forward.”
Local resident and former school board member Todd Butler voiced his concerns about children leaving the district becoming an unwanted trend.
“My biggest concern when I was participating with this board was I had friends, family, a lot of people in this community … I saw a trend of individuals pulling their kids out of the school district to go somewhere else,” he said. “When is the board going to take a real good look at this school district to find out what’s happening to force all of these parents to seek education for their kids somewhere else? This is something that all of you have been elected to do, and as a school board you have failed this community and the kids in this district. Something needs to be addressed publicly.”
Travis Wilcox, a 2001 CC-C graduate and the son of Board President Tom Wilcox, said he believes that the opinion that CC-C is lacking in the area of curriculum is a misperception.
“With being a graduate of Carson City-Crystal High School … from the minute I stepped onto the campus of Central Michigan University, I was prepared for everything that I faced in this life,” he said. “I never fell behind from a curriculum-based standpoint and everyone that I have graduated with and grown up with can tell you the exact same thing.”
Travis Wilcox pointed to successful CC-C alumni from Alma College and Grand Valley State University as examples of students who “have been prepared by Carson City-Crystal and are excelling.”
“I think we have a great district and a lot of great people here who work their buns off,” he said.
Local resident Anthony Brown said he doesn’t believe the school district is providing enough opportunities for the students in the district, citing the board’s decision last spring to table a vote on Montcalm Community College’s Early College program.
“I’m on both sides of the line here,” he said. “We had to make a choice in the last six months that I wasn’t really happy to do.”
Brown said he and his wife moved his daughter from CC-C to Greenville Public Schools so she could participate in the early college program.
“My sophomore daughter had to be pulled from this school, who was in AP classes, excelling in every one, in order to continue on with an early college degree, we had to move her to Greenville,” he said. “I was not happy, as this could have happened right here in Carson City. That, in my mind, is us holding our students back and not letting them excel.”
Superintendent Kevin Murphy said he understand’s people concerns, but believes the problems the district is facing are not unique to the CC-C district.
“Do we need room for improvement? Absolutely,” he said. “Do we have eight quality school districts that surround our borders? Absolutely. Do we need to look at our competition? Absolutely. We are learning from them.”
Murphy pointed toward areas such as a lack of a vocal extracurricular classes (such as choir) in the district, but opportunities such as an agricultural class offered for dual enrollment in the second semester.
“We are nowhere near complete,” he said. “But I’m glad people are here, this is exciting and this is a great thing, if we become unified. Being divisive will not get the job done.”
Murphy said he took issue with certain personnel being targeted in the recent editorials.
“What I get offended by, is when that stuff in the paper comes out, that you’re insulting the people who come in here and do their best,” he said. “If you want to criticize leadership, that’s fine. If you have particulars or examples, bring it to us. The bottom line is, we have room to improve, but we have a dedicated staff and I think we have a quality board.”
Tom Wilcox said to his knowledge the topic of curriculum has been discussed each of the 15 years that he has been on the board.
“This is nothing new. We’re always working on the curriculum to get better, meeting state guidelines,” he said.
Wilcox said he believes many of those expressing opinions have done so with misinformation.
“I get tired of the hearsay,” he said. “You need to get the facts. We’ve got great staff and administration that have been working hard year after year. Every year you get different challenges from the state. We do the best we can do with what we have to work with, and our staff does a remarkable job of doing that.”
Kriss Hummel, who was recently asked to step down from the school board by Tom Wilcox, said she doesn’t believe Wilcox’s view on the board’s handling of the district’s curriculum is correct.
“We haven’t worked on curriculum all the time,” she said. “I’ve tried for a year. I still want to try, but now I’m being asked to resign. It comes down to the curriculum and we need to work on it.”
Tom Wilcox said he believes Kriss Hummel’s actions and comments have created a negative image in the community.
“It was mentioned earlier that perception is a big thing, and when you go out publicly and continue to criticize the district, you’re creating that negative image in the community,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox’s comment was met by shouts of “it’s awareness!” and “free speech!” from members of the audience.
Murphy then stepped in to clarify that there is board policy that the board members must abide by.
“There are two spokespeople for the district. I’m the district spokesperson, and the official spokesperson for the board is the board president,” he said. “If another board member would like to say something, they cannot represent the board.”
“I did not represent the board,” Kriss Hummel interjected.
“If it’s implied or inferred that someone could perceive it as representing the board, you are supposed to, according to board policy, put in a disclaimer that you’re opinion does not represent the board,” Murphy said. “It’s different for the board, for me, and for our employees. We don’t talk about personnel matters or individuals and that line was crossed.”
Murphy said he doesn’t have have an issue with the concerns Kriss Hummel raised, but rather her perception of the board itself.
“I don’t have an issue with the editorial, the examples that you have given are concrete,” he said. “What I’ve heard internally is that you don’t believe in us. It’s very difficult for us to believe that you believe in us because you have taken your family elsewhere. As an individual, they are OK with that. But the lines are blurred with you being a decision and policy maker within this district.”
Murphy said he believes both the board and the community can move on together.
“It’s been a war of words, but we’re here now, let’s move forward,” he said. “This board has the opportunity for greatness.”
Butler spoke again in response a final time, stating that he believes what Kriss Hummel has done is defining of a good board member.
“It’s not bad practice to have somebody sitting on the board who has moved their kids somewhere else,” he said. “Obviously those are the people who care about their kids enough to do what’s best for them. That’s the personality that needs to be on this board, people who care more about their kids than their own personal agendas. It needs to be about the kids, but unfortunately with this board, it’s not about the kids.”
The public comment session finally came to a close.
Board members then voted unanimously to approve the consent agenda and two action items on the agenda.
The board also approved the purchase of the SDS WEB5 Finance System and approved a 2013 tax levy.