May 24 2017

Bird Calling Contest Conflict of Interest Amid Other Complaints at Highly Charged Meeting

Reports on May 10, 2017 School Board meeting –

by Joseph Chu, Piedmont High School Senior –

The Piedmont Board of Education convened on the evening of May 10, 2017. The meeting commenced at 7:00 p.m. The general purpose of board meetings is to make decisions regarding the School District and include public input as a part of their decisions such as: the budget, education policies, setting District goals, and forming a local education vision. Participating members of the Board for this meeting were Andrea Swenson, Cory Smegal, Amal Smith, and Doug Ireland along with Superintendent Randall Booker and Finance Manager Song-Chin Bendib.

This meeting’s agenda included presenting the 2017 Arthur Hecht Volunteer of the Year Award to Hillary Cooper, hearing about the recent reports of anti-semitic, racist and other forms of hateful speech and conduct at Piedmont High School, and the assembly that was held at the high school to initiate student discussion and awareness about these issues. Other items included on the agenda included conducting a second hearing for approving the proposed levy of current School Support Tax Measure A, conducting a second hearing for approving 2017-18 Contract Openers between the District and Classified School Employees Association, a presentation for new math courses that are being proposed to meet the Secondary Math Pathways’ requirements: Integrated Math 3 and Honors Math Analysis, and finally reviewing and discussing the recommended concept designs for Piedmont High School’s new STEAM facilities, auditorium changes, and its projected costs and other concerns regarding its construction.

Announcements of the graduation dates for Millennium High School, Piedmont High School, and 8th Grade Graduation. The Millennium High School Graduation will take place on May 31st at 1:00 p.m. in the Veteran’s Hall. The Piedmont High School Graduation will be held on June 1st at 5:00 p.m. in Witter Field. The 8th Grade Celebration Ceremony will be held on May 31st at 5:30 p.m. at Witter Field.

The most heated items of discussion during this meeting surrounded topics that were not on the agenda of the meeting.  These topics were the recent events of anti-semitic, racist and other forms of hateful speech and actions, the newly appointed Athletic Director, Vic Acuna, and the firing of the former coach of the PHS Men’s Basketball Team, coach Lavdiotis.

Dr. Kalamas, a Piedmont resident, expressed concern for incidents of racism and anti-semitism at Piedmont High School and discontent at what she said was a “delayed and anemic response” on the part of the school board regarding these issues. Kalamas also addressed her own concerns about nepotism and cronyism in the school administration. Board Member Swenson responded with a statement that she was “horrified by the systematic assassination of [the current] Athletic Director, Vic Acuna”.

Among the other members of the Piedmont community who offered their own concerns and questions regarding the incidents of hateful speech and actions at Piedmont High School, Piedmont Police Chief Jeremy Bowers said that the Piedmont Police Department is committed to working closely with the community to address this problem and to continue investigating these incidents.

Several coaches and athletic professionals voiced their support for reinstating coach Lavdiotis and some expressed their disapproval of Athletic Director Vic Acuna.

Piedmont High School students Victoria Hou and Shannon Yan gave their opinions on non-agenda topics, as well.

Hou addressed the high school assembly that was held to initiate discussion and awareness for high school students regarding the incidents of hate speech and actions. Hou said that she hoped that the School Board would provide more clear and specific information regarding those incidents because she felt there was a general sense of confusion in the student body regarding this topic.

As a senior at Piedmont High School this year, I agree with Victoria Hou in terms of the feeling that the information that was given to students about those serious incidents was not clear and I have heard various stories about what actually happened. I would appreciate it if the school gave out an official statement about what exactly happened so that students and other members of the community can be on the same page about their understanding of these issues.

Yan proposed that the School Board allow high school students to be able to take more classes in  economics and government, since there is currently only one class offered for each of these subjects, both being only a semester long and strictly offered to seniors. Yan said that there are other students who hope to be able to pursue these subjects more fully through additional classes.

After the session for addressing non-agenda topics had closed, the Board moved to its agenda topics.

Hilary Cooper gave her acceptance speech for the 2017 Arthur Hecht Volunteer of the Year Award. Piedmont High School AP Art student Tong Zhou presented a ceramic tree that she made to Mrs. Cooper for her service.

Next, the Board approved the tax level increase of 2% for the School Support Tax Measure A, and 2017-18 Contract Openers between the District and Classified School Employees Association.

Following these actions, a presentation was given to the Board about new math classes that would fulfill the Secondary Math Pathways’ requirements: Integrated Math 3 and Honors Math Analysis. Integrated Math 3 would replace the Algebra II class of the traditional math pathway. Honors Math Analysis would cover the topics of Math Analysis as well as AP Calculus, AB’s first semester’s worth of coursework. This class would be part of the accelerated math pathway. A second reading for these new classes will be held on May 24, 2017.

Following this presentation, the board held a discussion about the cost and other logistic details for Option 2B of the series of concept designs for new Piedmont High School STEAM facilities. Cost estimates were based on compiled data from other local related school construction projects that have been happening within the past three years. The Board also discussed potential uses for any surplus from the budget they have for the STEAM facilities construction and the need to demolish and rebuild the current Alan Harvey Theatre, due to it’s multiple safety hazards, structural degradation and need for more seating and restrooms. The Board’s general consensus was that while estimates of cost must be carefully and accurately calculated to avoid overstepping the budget, construction must begin as soon as possible to reduce costs of the project, which are expected to increase as more time passes.

Mrs. Conn was at the Board meeting this evening to congratulate Hillary Cooper for receiving the Hecht Volunteer of the Year Award for 2017. She nominated Mrs. Cooper for this award. Mrs. Conn was also attending the meeting because she heard someone would come to the meeting to complain about the new PHS Men’s Soccer Coach. She had written a letter in support of the new coach and came to this Board meeting to express her support for the new coach. But it turned out that this person with complaints about the new soccer coach never showed up so she didn’t have to say much. She was impressed by how intense the beginning of the Board meeting was, especially around the topics of the new Athletic Director Vic Acuna and also the anti-semitic, racist and hateful speech/actions that happened recently at PHS. Mrs. Conn said that she will continue to write letters and do what she can to support the new soccer coach if more complaints are brought against him.


          by Trang Le, Piedmont High School Senior

    The School Board meeting held on the night of May 10th was incredibly crowded. Small groups of concerned parents, coaches, and PHS staff spoke in hurried, hushed voices over plastic cups of wine and complimentary cheese outside the City Hall. The small chamber in which the meeting was held only could accommodate a mere 48 people. The small room adjacent to it provided a livestream of the events unfolding, and all the seats in both chambers were taken. Even so, crowds of Piedmont residents stood outside the chamber or sat on the carpet within, looking for answers from the Board of Education concerning the recent occurrences of anti-semitism within PHS and PMS.

    The Board opened with a statement acknowledging the hate speech, informing the audience of the assembly held at PHS that Monday. The Superintendent stressed to the critical audience that the School board prioritized students emotional state above everything else, and that these recent incidents do not define Piedmont. However, this and the complimentary cheese did little to sate the critical audience.

   Quickly moving on, the Board addressed the recently dismissed Basketball Coach and emails about annual coaching positions. With this, the atmosphere of the room changed to a restless one and it was obvious that their actions roused resentment among the residents. The speaker cards were then gathered, read aloud, and the podium opened to whoever wanted to speak out on the topic of hate-speech and fired coaches.

   The first and most controversial speaker, Alicia Kalamas, addressed both of these and more. She accused the School Board of their “anemic and delayed reaction” to the anti-semitism and racism on the school campuses as well as her emails. She also accused the Board of being racist themselves, briefly bringing up last years’ Bird Calling Contest and claiming it was rigged to knock an African American student from their rightful third place. Her speech was very briefly interrupted to tell her that she was rapidly approaching her five minute speaking limit. Kalamas then finished her speech by addressing a potential firing of the Athletic Director, claiming that she had sent an email some time ago questioning his credentials and employment in the Piedmont Unified School District.  Quickly wrapping up, she finished with a thinly veiled threat of legal action against the School Board if they did not properly address her concerns.

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.

One Response to “Bird Calling Contest Conflict of Interest Amid Other Complaints at Highly Charged Meeting”

  1. These disgraceful incidents of bigotry at PHS cannot be allowed to be swept under the rug through polite discussion and ultimate benign neglect.

    As I said in a recent letter to the Post: To paraphrase then Senator Howard Baker in 1973: What did the powers-that-be know and when did they know it?

    More importantly, it is critical that the school administration, the parents and, most importantly, the students themselves understand that this is much more than a result of the times and current atmosphere in this country. In a school of privilege, there needs to be a high degree of accountability and expectation. The citizens and taxpayers of Piedmont have a right and a need to keep this topic in the cold light of day.

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