SKPS board chair responds to recent turmoil

Satya Chandragiri

I believe despite what they say publicly or privately, every board director was aware of why they voted in a certain way regarding the performance review of the superintendent. 

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. 

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. The 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 Sheronne 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 our superintendent. 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, the microphone was on. 

I was shocked when I learned that the summary of superintendent evaluation which expressed confidence in our superintendent failed by a 4-3 vote 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 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 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 directors utter an 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 led to this culture where we fail to recognize the diverse strengths each one of us bring to our community and stop dehumanizing each other.