Lagunitas teachers press Carroll over hiring practice

06/13/2019

At an emotional Lagunitas School District board meeting, teachers criticized the administration’s failure to follow a school policy of assembling a committee to screen candidates for interviews when hiring instructors.

Superintendent John Carroll said his administration has not been following the policy because the procedure is outdated and unwieldy. “It hasn’t been followed with fidelity for a very long time,” he said last Thursday. “There’s things in it that just don’t work anymore.”

The policy, adopted in 2007 and reviewed in 2011, calls for a committee made up of parents, teachers, board members, staff and administrators to screen applications. Yet the Lagunitas Teachers Association wrote to the board last month that the administration was hand selecting candidates to interview. 

They specifically pointed to the screening process for a new Montessori teacher, when the principal and superintendent alone reviewed 33 applications and offered four interviews.

“The involvement of the whole school, which includes classified staff, parents, teachers, board members and administrators, in both the screening and interviewing process is a hallmark of our community-based district and well-established precedent,” the letter states.

Two parents, two board members, two certificated staff and one classified staff member should have been involved in choosing whom to interview for the teacher position, according to Board Policy 4001.

In a memo, Mr. Carroll said the teachers’ letter drew attention to the “many problematic elements of the policy” and that the board would undertake a full review of the policy in the fall.

Larry Nigro, a longtime teacher in the district’s Open Classroom program—which makes all its decisions through a consensus process—called Mr. Carroll’s memo misleading, saying the teachers association is in full support of the policy and would like to see it followed. If the policy is outdated, he said, Mr. Carroll should have come to the board to change it, instead of disregarding it.

Anita Collison, who also teaches in the Open Classroom program, agreed. “It’s disappointing that we are slowly eroding this policy. It’s what makes our district unique—that everybody is involved,” she said at the meeting.

Mr. Carroll responded that he was not intentionally eroding anything. “The world has changed,” he said. The number of candidates applying for positions in the district has increased since they’ve been able to do so online, he said, making the review process cumbersome. Twelve people screening 80 applications is time consuming, though he conceded that it was doable. 

“If [hiring committees] are willing to put our time and energy into looking at all applicants, that’s a positive that we’re willing to do that, and I think we need to continue that practice,” Ms. Collison said.

After being asked by the teachers, Mr. Carroll and principal Laura Shain agreed they would not advocate for removing the screening process when the board reviews the hiring policy next fall.

During the discussion, the room got emotional, with trustees defending both sides. Board chair Steve Rebscher criticized the teachers for suggesting the administration was being dishonest, calling the accusation an encroachment on the district’s well-being. “How we communicate with each other is important,” he said.

The teachers said they were emotional because the inclusive hiring policy is a core principle of the community-based district, and they’d like to see it followed. “I think it’s okay for us to get excited and emotional about things we really care about,” trustee Richard Sloan, who helped write the policy, said in their defense. 

Board president Denise Bohman implored the teachers to be present when the policy is reviewed, so they don’t come back upset later on. “I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m hiding anything,” she said.

At the end of the discussion, Mr. Carroll said the administration would do its best to follow the hiring policy until the board reviews it. The district is fully staffed for next year, except for an open janitor position that calls for a much smaller committee. 

This isn’t the first time Mr. Carroll, who splits his time between Lagunitas and Bolinas-Stinson Union School Districts, has been criticized for his hiring practices. In May 2018, the two unions representing the classified and certificated staff at Bolinas-Stinson sent a joint letter calling for a more transparent and inclusive hiring process. Staff were primarily concerned about the superintendent making unilateral decisions. The board changed the hiring protocol to address the concerns.

Last week’s meeting concluded with the three present trustees unanimously agreeing to renew Mr. Carroll’s contract for the next two years, after Bolinas-Stinson agreed to do the same on a 3-2 vote.