Chandragiri responds to recent school board drama

Satya Chandragiri, chair of the Salem-Keizer Public School Board.

I believe despite what they say publicly or privately, every Board Director was aware of why they voted in a certain way. It appeared to me that they came prepared as they had ample time to review before the vote on the summary of the Superintendent evaluation. Even our attorney clarified when this matter was discussed that they were voting on the summary, they can not discuss anything about the evaluation as it is governed by confidentiality rules.

As a Board Chair I have tried to be inclusive, thoughtful, and done my due diligence in completing the superintendent evaluation. The evaluation process was thorough, constructive and went above and beyond the standard that I am told was the case by those who have served longer than me. This was the only time where the chair ensured the draft and the final version was shared and input sought from the board, sought the assistance of our attorney to complete the process, have been transparent in the process with the superintendent. 

We also followed the necessary policies and had two executive sessions where Board Directors had ample opportunity to share their input, disagreement, suggestions, and the reasons for their input. Superintendent’s input was sought as required by the policy and her preference of the process was considered within the extent of the policies and necessary statutes. In my opinion no opportunity was omitted in completing this process. It was fair, respectful and an opportunity to be constructive. 

Director Blasi voted no to the summary of the superintendent evaluation despite what she states publicly or in the media, sent the impression that the board lost its confidence in my superintendent. It is unfortunate especially when we have an award-winning Superintendent, she has just made announcement with regards to major changes in our schools.

We now have a major task of helping our district staff and students regain their trust and confidence in our public schools.

As a first-generation immigrant and first person of color to be the chair of Salem-Keizer school board, I am accustomed to attacks like this. I am prepared to face any such indignation so that our children or generations to come do not have to go through any such ordeal. I am not surprised. Sadly, this time the microphone was on. 

I was shocked when I learned that the Summary of Superintendent evaluation which expressed confidence in our superintendent failed by 4/3 votes and I did not in the moment notice that she uttered the expletive directed towards the chair and when pointed out appeared to justify and expressed regret that the mic was on and it was heard.

I went back and reviewed the tape to make sure and frankly it has been very hurtful, felt betrayed and wondering why her feelings directed towards me should end up humiliating our superintendent in the process who has dedicated her entire career towards our children. It appears duplicitous action to say the praise and yet vote against our superintendent.

I don’t want anyone misunderstanding Director Sherone Blasi’s use of a expletive directed towards the chair of the school board during the 3/15/2021 Salem Keizer School board meeting as coming from a place of privilege or her put down on persons of color because of such actions.  

I never said that dismantling structural racism is not a messy business. It is like performing a surgery where we must cut through layers of policies, prejudices, power differentials, implicit biases, politics, entrenched processes. We need courage, high ethical standards, and mindfulness in what we say or how we communicate. We can not walk away when we encounter such reactions and learn to practice true inclusivity and accept the observations made in the evaluations even when it comes from a person of color or someone who has different perspectives or lived experiences. 

I must thank many who have helped me process this including Oregon School Board Association, Color Caucus, Oregon School Board Association. Such statements does not represent our Board and does not dignify our elected public office. As an elected public official, we represent the community at large including my BIPOC community. My hope is that such statements should not hurt the sentiments of our community or deter future persons of color in aspiring for leadership positions in the public office.

I wanted to ensure that I wanted to follow the needed policies while addressing this matter and reached out to our attorney. Per the policy, I attempted to reach Director Blasi to discuss this matter and clarify but she refused to meet without the presence of an attorney. Yet I was surprised to read the report where it appears, she has made a statement on behalf of the Board. It is my understanding that per our board policies, she was not authorized by our board to speak on behalf of our board or discuss matter or employee evaluation which are governed by confidentiality.

I am sure there are different perspectives and ways to express disagreement but in the end we have to stay focused on all our children, students and our community. Together let’s keep our focus on addressing very important long neglected equity issues- overcoming digital divide, ensuring our students are safe and feel a sense of belonging especially with recent decisions made by Superintendent Perry, close the academic achievement gaps, ensure we use objective data and accountability measures, transparency in our system and bring our students back to school. Our community has suffered enough. 

As the chair I ask for the forgiveness of our community that our children and students had to witness one of our Director utter a sexual Expletive in the school Board meeting when we all had agreed to our recent policy on civility and not to use racially derogatory, sexually obscene public comments. Let us use this opportunity to reflect and learn what lead to this culture where we fail to recognize the diverse strengths each one of us bring to our community and stop dehumanizing each other.