Community Divided in Support of Mammoth Unified School District Superintendent

Last week, Eastern Sierra NOW reported on this story from the perspective of Dr. Wildman’s supporters. After publishing, we were approached by a concerned teacher who was present at the staff vote meeting referenced in the article and wanted to provide clarity and another perspective. Their opinions on the issue, like those of the other individuals quoted, are their own and don’t represent any position held by Eastern Sierra NOW.

Mammoth School District

At its June 14 meeting, the Mammoth Unified School District Board of Education voted 4-to-1 against extending the contract of Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Wildman. The decision was the latest development in a weeks-long community discourse after the Mammoth Education Association presented a vote of no confidence against Dr. Wildman to the board on May 26.

The vote originated with a group of roughly 40 staff from the district’s four schools, who met to discuss complaints against Dr. Wildman and take a vote of no confidence. Acting as a representative of the MEA, Mammoth High School teacher Erin LeFrancois submitted the vote and read the signed statement to the board at its May 26 meeting.

Erin LeFrancois
Erin LeFrancois
may 26 board LeFrancois
Erin LeFrancois presents the vote of no confidence to the MUSD board on May 26.

Sierra High School teacher Ruth Hensley concluded the presentation after LeFrancois’s allotted three minutes elapsed and she was required to step down from the podium.

Ruth Hensley
Ruth Hensley
may 26 board hensley
Ruth Hensley presents the vote of no confidence to the MUSD board on May 26.

The vote of no confidence was read to the board as follows. (Sections marked by ellipses were unclear on the meeting’s video recording and could not be transcribed.)

“Whereas Dr. Wildman is employed as the current superintendent of the Mammoth Unified School District and is tasked by the Board of Education with the oversight and management of all aspects and functions of the school district, including direct authority over internal and external district communications and bargaining with employees and associations.

Dr. Wildman is additionally responsible for the oversight and management of the policies related to hiring, retaining, and the morale of the employees directly and indirectly under her charge. However, Dr. Wildman has been negligent in her responsibilities and is not collaborative with all stakeholders across the district, therefore damaging morale.

And this is proven by surveys, which are created to perceive opportunity for input from staff, students, and parents, in which information was ignored, edited, or even in some cases deleted. The school calendar, which once a collaborative process with all stakeholders, became a top-down decision-making process. Her monthly disposition has lack of input from stakeholders. Professional development has lack of input from stakeholders.

Dr. Wildman over the past three years has engaged in a series of behaviors and actions which has left her employees deflated, broken, and divided. She has engaged in the foregoing behaviors and actions during a time of a nationwide teacher shortage. She has failed in her responsibility to create a positive and rewarding work environment in order to attract and retain highly qualified teachers. The behaviors and actions leading to the current state of relations and low morale between employees and management have included:

1. Arbitrary changes in hiring practices without consultation or prior communication with staff.

2. Lack of positive representation of all students and staff to the board and to the community in general.

3. Misappropriation of resources. All MUSD sites lack proper coverage of substitute teachers. Outsourcing of professional development and hiring of high school principal, and reducing FTE positions and adding HR administrative positions.

Whereas Dr. Jennifer Wildman is not doing what is best for students or the community, has… a disregard for the professional input from staff, lack of input for academic direction from teachers and instruction staff, and… a misappropriation of funds…

Whereas Dr. Jennifer Wildman is not trusted by the staff to make decisions that are in the best interest of the district. We are citing transparency, trust, dishonesty, manipulation, lack of accountability, and inequities such as the HR department, parent advisory meetings with no translated documents, lack of presence on all campuses, and [in] the Latino community…

Therefore, be it resolved, the members of the Mammoth Education Association and undersigned employees have no confidence and no trust in the superintendent to effectively lead the Mammoth Unified School District.

And therefore, be it further resolved that the members of the Mammoth Education Association and undersigned employees respectfully and willingly submit this vote of no confidence to the Board of Education of the Mammoth Unified School District.

And therefore, be it finally resolved that the Mammoth Education Association members and undersigned employees urge the Board of Education of Mammoth Unified School to reconsider the terms of the contract of the superintendent, because the students, staff, and parents deserve better.”

At Hensley’s conclusion, one attendee could be heard to say, “That’s right,” and a number of attendees gave a standing ovation.

Other complaints brought forward independently during the meeting by parents and district teachers—including a lack of support for families struggling with the transition to distance learning during pandemic school closures, lack of a collaborative work environment between teachers and administration, and staffing shortages remaining unaddressed by administration—underscored the grievances listed in the MEA’s statement.

In the aftermath, divisions over the issue grew. Those not in attendance at the initial staff meeting when the vote was decided and who support Dr. Wildman as superintendent responded with their own statements.

jillofficiant
Jill Orozco

Mammoth Middle School teacher Jill Orozco wrote a letter questioning the circumstances of the vote meeting and calling for another evaluation through different channels.

Dear MUSD Stakeholders,

There is a letter of “support” for the superintendent circulating that I have heard many of you won’t sign because you are under the impression that the teachers are unified. We are not. I am a 23-year veteran teacher of MUSD, and I can assure you that MEA (our union) never actually held an official union vote. The teachers that signed the document in question that supposedly has over 60% of teacher support, was signed in secret with fewer than 100% of teachers asked to participate. There was no official union meeting. Instead, a few teachers and staff met in a secret, unpublicized location. After which those present went to their school sites to secure select signatures against Ms. Wildman. No one asked me to review or sign anything! I was appalled that the title of the document says it comes from the MEA. It is inappropriate for the public to believe that all teachers were given the opportunity to participate in this vote of no confidence. My biggest request is that all stakeholders be given an opportunity to evaluate the facts.

Parents, the teachers know you support us! If there are valid claims, let’s take the time to evaluate them. If you essentially felt like your superintendent provided the services you expected, then please sign the letter which would allow the union to formalize a real vote based on due process. It would also send a clear message to the school board that grievances should be addressed and opportunities for improvement should be identified so that growth is encouraged and valued. As stakeholders, it is our responsibility to use evidence before we determine the fate of our district’s future. Signing the letter doesn’t undermine the teachers – it sends a message that you support slowing down and opening an evidence-based discussion that provides opportunities to practice what we preach – a growth mindset.

Another letter written by an unknown author in advance of the June 14 district board meeting gathered signatures in support of Dr. Wildman and expressed concerns with the potential termination of her contract.

This letter serves to advocate and show support for Superintendent Jennifer Wildman. These past 3 school years have been extremely difficult and divisive. Just as we begin to see a light at the end of this dark tunnel, a new issue regarding terminating Dr. Wildman’s contract has the potential to not only divide our community further but also cause great harm to our students, staff, and MUSD as a whole. The notion that the school board will submit a vote of no confidence and terminate her employment at the school board meeting this Tuesday is very distressing. While the MUSD community may not agree on specific decisions made over the last few years, we can all agree that our children deserve us coming together to find a solution that is in their best interest and not add to the problems that we already face.

Terminating Dr. Wildman’s contract two years early would be crippling to our district. Firstly, the next school year for the high school is already set up to be challenging. The school will have no principal, or at best a newly hired one, at the same time as the building will be undergoing major reconstruction. Adding the loss of the superintendent on top of that would be disastrous.

Secondly, assuming there are no grounds to fire Dr. Wildman, the district would have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars from our district’s budget to buy out the remainder of Dr. Wildman’s contract. Our district is already suffering from financial hardship, and adding this would set us back even further.

Finally, after terminating her contract, we, as a district, would then be open to the possibility of litigation which is extremely expensive and taxing on those involved. We need to be focusing on what will help our children succeed, not on spending our tax dollars and staff’s energy on a lawsuit that we could have easily avoided.

Now is the time to work together and open up an opportunity for an improvement process relating to the superintendent position. We should be spending this time having discussions with our school’s staff members, the school board, and the superintendent to find our path forward as a whole. Firing Dr. Wildman does not solve any of the issues that we are currently facing, but it will cause unnecessary harm to our students, staff, schools, and community.

Sixty-eight names, including Jill Orozco’s, were attached to that letter.

The current contract employing Dr. Wildman as superintendent was ratified by the district board in July 2021 to extend through June 2024. The contract agreement also stipulates a yearly performance evaluation and establishes contingencies for termination of the agreement, including clauses for non-renewal, termination with cause, and termination without cause. Despite some public concerns, the board did not terminate Dr. Wildman’s contract, instead voting not to extend it through June 2025 as proposed in the June 14 meeting agenda.

As it stands, the vote of no confidence amounts to a symbolic gesture, and despite her contract extension being voted down, without further action by the board or her own resignation, Dr. Wildman will remain in her position for another two years.

jennifer wildman
Dr. Jennifer Wildman

Eastern Sierra NOW reached out to Dr. Wildman for a comment and she gave the following statement:

The board voted in open session not to extend my contract, however my current contract remains in place till June 2024. I remain committed to working on behalf of all of the students in our district. Although there has been some division in the community, I believe we can work together to make things great for our kids.

After reading Eastern Sierra NOW’s first story on this issue, a Mammoth teacher who was involved with the initial staff meeting and vote of no confidence reached out to add their perspective and contribute details they felt were unrepresented. They requested to be quoted anonymously, as they believe they risk retaliation by speaking openly.

So we had a meeting. It was stitched together in haste because basically the union president didn’t want to touch it. She has a lot of issues that’s going on right now. Those of us that were involved were upset that she wouldn’t do it. And so we had a meeting where we tried to get as many people as we could to show up… And so we had teachers from all sites, all four sites: Mammoth High School, Mammoth Middle School, Mammoth Elementary School, and Sierra High School. I’d say about 40 teachers in a room… And so we discussed proposing a vote of no confidence, and two of the staff members wrote it. And then the understanding was that the next day, those of us at the meeting were going to go and approach at out individual sites our teachers, asking them – respecting their opinion, whether they wanted to sign or not – if they wanted to participate in this vote of no confidence…

It was signed by a majority, over 50% of the staff and 63% of the classified… I want to say all but three of the high school teachers signed the vote of no confidence…

One of the leads in this did not submit that signature list to the board because Jennifer Wildman has a history of retaliation. And this person was advised by the California Teacher’s Association to not submit the list of signatures for that exact same reason…

Small town politics, education, is tough… And then when you have to deal with this extracurricular [business]… on top of it, it drains you… Being a part of submitting a vote of no confidence and no trust isn’t grounds to release a teacher, but she can make my life more difficult if she wants to, and I don’t want that. I’d rather use my energy trying to educate.

With both administration and teaching staff expressing their determination to continue serving the community, and facing the unknowns of the upcoming school year, time will tell how the state of education in the Mammoth Unified School District proceeds.

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Kayla Barton

Kayla is a writer and historian from the Eastern Sierra. - TIP JAR
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