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Upheaval in schools brings community together

My Turn

Debra Moore
Staff Writer
4/25/2012

At 10:26 p.m. I breathed a sigh of relief. The school board members, who had been in closed session for more than two hours, were filing into the room. Finally, they would make an announcement, probably that “no action was taken,” and we would move on to the second meeting planned for the night.

But I was wrong. Instead, the board approved a motion to extend the meeting past its mandated 10:30 end time, and exited the room to return to closed session. I looked around the Portola High School library, where only a few people remained last Tuesday night — former school board member Jonathan Kusel, a couple from Indian Valley, Portola High School principal Kristy Warren and a handful of school district employees.

Five hours prior the library had been packed, but as the hours wore on, the numbers dwindled. Nothing clears a room like a closed session. I don’t always wait around myself, preferring to call the next day to determine if any action was taken, but this night was different. There was a different flow of personnel in and out of closed session. Even the district employees seemed a little confused by it. People who typically went in right away were told to wait.

The closed session agenda items included the topics: expulsion case; negotiations; public employment; and employee performance evaluation: superintendent. Fairly standard stuff typically, but these weren’t typical times.

Sometime during the closed session Glenn Harris wandered out and we visited — nothing school related — second marriages, children, houses, life philosophies — then it was time for him to return to closed session and I returned to reviewing my notes and deciding what stories to write. Nothing in his demeanor suggested the inner turmoil he must have been experiencing, knowing that soon it would be announced that his resignation would be negotiated.

I covered the school board for more than a dozen years during my last stint at Feather Publishing and worked with many superintendents including Paul Hewitt, Frank Brunetti, Mike Chelotti and Joe Hagwood. In every tenure there was some sort of crisis — there was even a period when the state stepped in; a time when Greenville High School was slated for closure; and a time when everybody was so unhappy they wanted to go their separate ways and form four independent school districts. Those issues were eventually resolved.

But this time seems different — perhaps, because it’s not happening in isolation. Most government institutions and municipalities are struggling, as well as individuals, families and private business. There is a sense that this might not be as cyclical as past crises, that this time we won’t overcome it.

I don’t know Glenn Harris. I returned to Plumas County just two months ago after a five-year hiatus, and last Tuesday was only the second time I met the man. The first being the night he received his recall notice. But I had certainly heard about him. Very few people had nice things to say. While I always prefer to make up my own mind, it was hard to ignore the almost universal criticism.

Two brief exchanges are not enough to form an opinion, but I have to admire his grace under pressure. By all accounts — from the superintendent himself to the school board members I interviewed the next day — what happened behind closed doors may not have been pleasant, but it was cordial. School board member Bob Tuerck said he was “thoroughly impressed by how he (Harris) has handled himself.”

As board member Sonja Anderson noted, the superintendent may be going away, but the district’s problems are not. Lean times and tough decisions remain.

Despite the upheaval, some good has emerged. The 7-11 committees have brought individuals together in each community, and, in turn, the communities have begun working together, realizing that they all want what’s best for the children of this county, their schools and their towns. Even people who aren’t on a committee are showing up and sharing their opinions. Gone are the days of empty boardrooms — well, at least before 10:30 p.m.

 


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