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Dublin school board rejects proposal to investigate if staff ignored its direction on grading practices

Trustee Cherrier walks out of meeting after 3-2 vote defeats possible six-figure internal probe
Stock photo.

Dublin Unified School District trustees narrowly decided against initiating an investigation into the district's leadership staff to see if they have been fully implementing the board's directive earlier this summer to halt any standards-based grading.

At the end of another contentious debate stemming from teacher grading practices, the board voted 3-2 last week to defeat the proposal to hire a private firm to lead an extensive investigation of staff and district records leading Trustee Dan Cherrier, who called for the probe and wanted it to cover adherence to other board decisions too, to walk out of the meeting after his motion failed.

"I will be voting no on this. I don't see the value in this," Trustee Kristin Speck said at the Sept. 12 meeting. "One of my roles as a trustee is to be conscious of our taxpayer dollars, and I do not think this is a good use of that money."

In July, after several months of debate, the board majority in support of the traditional grading system voted to discontinue standards-based grading trial cohorts from moving forward officially within the district. Standards-based grading is known as a type of education assessment that tests students on "mastery of content" and typically offers multiple opportunities for success.

"This continues to be an issue with the general public," Cherrier said during last week's meeting. "And in my personal opinion, there's been a few times now where board direction has not been implemented to the best of its ability by leadership staff. I think it would be good to have an outside agency to look into what I'm alleging to see if that is the case, without any biases."

"I'm proposing an investigation into seeing if board direction is being followed by leadership staff, but not just limited to equity based grading," Cherrier added. "We need to get to the bottom of this and find out what's going on, because this is tearing this district apart."

According to the staff report, the investigation would see an outside firm review documents, communications and correspondence, and interview staff members. The probe would not exceed between $25,000 and $100,000, Cherrier stated.

Keoki Yee, DUSD computer technician and president of the local chapter of the California School Employees Association, shared concerns during the meeting's public comment portion.

"We cannot have an investigation going on now. This needs to stop because this is harassment," Yee told the board. "We are here for the students; they should be the No. 1 priority on every level."

"With this money, we can have another campus supervisor to help out securing our campuses, we could have another food service worker, we could have another secretary in the office," Yee said. "This would be a waste of taxpayer money."

Monica Lewis, a seventh-grade English teacher at Fallon Middle School, also spoke against the motion.

"The board of education vows to work proactively to identify practices, policies and institutional barriers that negatively impact student learning and perpetuate achievement gaps standards-based grading does just that," Lewis said.

"Board policy states that board members will ensure that stakeholders are provided opportunities to challenge practices that deny equitable instruction without fear of retribution. I want to remind you that staff are stakeholders too, teachers are stakeholders," she added. "If we can't challenge the traditional grading system that we are part of without fear of an investigation, you are breaking board policy. Board policy also says that employees' skills and knowledge are valued. We are not feeling that."

Board President Gabi Blackman expressed support for the investigation.

"Obviously this is upsetting to have to come back to this item time and time again," Blackman said. "As much as I want to support staff and what they're trying to do, I do think there are grading issues. I do find that I'm a little bit concerned with how this grading committee has morphed into something different."

"I would like to find out how it got to where it did. I think an investigation would help us understand where we came from, how we got here and maybe how we lost sight of what we were supposed to be focused on," Blackman said. "$25,000 or $100,000 is not a lot of money when you think about 13,000 students ... this is a drop in the bucket."

"The money and investment may reveal some truths and help us recalibrate," she added.

Student Trustee Anika Yu, a senior at Dublin High School, shared her opposition to the investigation.

"As a district we should make decisions that help students," said Yu, who holds a non-voting position on the board. "On our campus there are alot of things that could be done with that money, rather than this motion."

Board members Speck, Kristin Pelham and William Kuo gave comments that did not support Cherrier's proposed investigation.

"We're not going to find anything useful there. This investigation won't find anything that isn't already out there. I think the community still needs to hear more about it," said Kuo, who was part of the board majority to discontinue standards-based grading in July.

Prior to the vote, Cherrier made an announcement to his fellow board members and the public that he was dissatisfied with the way the conversation and discussion had been handled.

"After we take the vote and see what it's all going to be, I'm going to be leaving. I don't understand our role in being here if leadership doesn't follow anything we decide. It seems like we are wasting time," said Cherrier, who left the boardroom without returning for the rest of the business on the agenda that night.

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