Full Transcripts: Board Candidates on Tension at WBHS

What do you see as a possible solution for the recent tension between high school students and administration?

SchoolBoardElection_LogoTherese Sizer

That’s kind of multi-faceted too, isn’t it? I don’t think from the standpoint of administrators, that there is any obstacle that cannot be overcome. And at the same time, I’ve lived awhile. Students became dissatisfied with things when I was a kid. Our responses were not dissimilar. I remember “protests” out in the parking lot. I remember those things happening. They become scarier to us now because of what happens in other communities. But those reactions of students to rebel against authority or against rules, that isn’t actually new. Our worries are very real to us about not wanting it to escalate to something that is just absolutely not acceptable.

But the sentiments, the feelings that all of you students have, that’s not new, and frankly it’s not unreasonable to be frustrated. It is unreasonable to not express that in a productive way. And I’m not attacking just students there, adults too sometimes forget that the best way to persuade is not to shout. If you really are trying to persuade someone of something, then you first must find a way to speak so that they want to listen. Pretty much screaming down the hall isn’t the way to go if you’re trying to persuade anyone of anything.

So there’s not a quick answer to that.  A quick answer might be to disallow that frustration, which you can’t do. A quick answer might be, well, don’t make the rules, which you can’t do. And sometimes rules are made for adults that we don’t like but we need to pick and choose which issues we want to bring up and want to try to argue against. When you’re in the workplace, you will have decisions made by people who supervise you, or by vice presidents of a company, or by your manager, your boss that you don’t necessarily agree with. And learning to be able to address those disagreements in a productive way and perhaps having the opportunity to persuade your boss, your vice president, or whomever, that there is a better way to go, that’s a skill. And that’s something students are learning how to do. That’s a skill y’all need to learn a little bit. And I needed to learn it, and I continue to try to learn it. So none of that is bad. People overreact because Channel 6 likes to fly their helicopters up here, but to be honest, those emotions and those reactions to rules, to treatments, that’s not uncommon and it really isn’t wrong. The way they tried to persuade somebody of their views, that was not productive.

So my answer to you is, I don’t have a quick answer for that. Because I don’t necessarily want to discourage students from disagreeing. They just should find a better way to persuade.

Monte Schmiege

I’m not terribly familiar with all of the ins and outs of that particular experience. I think from what I’ve heard there was more to it than just hall passes. I know there’s a mural situation and I guess I can be sympathetic to that mural situation.  I don’t think there was any intention to do harm in removing it. I think that must have been some kind of snafu because I saw it on your website and it looked very, very nice. I don’t think there was anything objectionable about it or anything so I think it was just some mistake somewhere along the line.

I think the student protest that arose is probably more related to change. Changes that were coming down the line and the students reacting, maybe you know more and you could tell me, but that’s the only thing I can see right now. Now, was it handled appropriately or was it handled best?  I don’t think anybody expected it to happen and therefore without expecting it, without a plan it’s hard to deal with that type of a situation and mistakes can be made on both sides. So there were something like 100 students who were punished in some way. Well, I guess the video tells the story on that. I know a lot of time was spent looking it over so I’m going to have to side with the administration on that.

On the students side, I think the students need to project their feelings through whatever means are available that are already in place. Not through protests like that. I mean you do have a student council, presumably, something like that could be mentioned there. There must be other vehicles for citing objections.

Vinney Pheng

Again, that’s a great question. First of all, the reality is, as it should be, there should be a certain amount of tension. All tension is not bad. There should be a certain amount of tension. Just like between the school board and the superintendent. There should be a certain amount of, maybe tension is the wrong word, but there should be a certain amount of friction. Because that’s good, it keeps everybody on their toes. If you go to a meeting, and everybody’s in agreement, somebody’s not thinking. I mean that’s the reality. So, a certain level of tension is good because it keeps everybody honest, it keeps everybody on their toes.

Having said that, if I was to identify a root cause, or an area that we can really, really address, and we’ve heard this over and over again, it’s communication. And this is what I mean: What I say and what you hear, even if we use the same words, are not necessarily the same. For instance, I can say, I get this at work all the time, “I want this as soon as possible.” Okay, well, what does that mean? What does as soon as possible mean? What if you have a hundred things before it? Does this person who told you to have it as soon as possible, are they intending that you bump all these other people and then put them ahead? So, to me that’s a classic example and having heard what the administration was trying to accomplish, and then having heard what actually got to the students, there seemed to be a gap.

And the key element in communication is trust. And this is what I mean. If I tell you I’m going to do something, even if I communicate it by a nod or wink or whatever the case may be, if you trust me, you’re going to believe that that’s going to happen. And I’m not justifying or trying to give any excuses, but it seems to me, again from where we’re sitting, you have a new principal, you have some new administrators, and there hadn’t been that level of trust yet developed between the students and the administration. And so when the administration put out these changes, it probably wasn’t the clearest way to put it out. Without the high level of trust, and for want of a better phrase, garbled communication, you’re going to have potential for what happened.

And ideally, and I have spoken very briefly to Principal Greymont about this, just judging by his actions and the words he speaks, teachers and administrators show the flag. What does that mean? They’re walking around the school, in the hallways, it shouldn’t be a huge shock if the principal sticks his head in a classroom and says “hi,” or another administrator or whatever the case may be. And when you show the flag and students see you, after a while, they feel comfortable with you, and then maybe after awhile they’re coming out and start asking you questions or having conversations with you. And then that will reduce tensions greatly.

Not to beat the horse to death, the overused analogy, it’s kind of like with your parents. If you never see your dad or you never see your mom, and all of the sudden they start saying, “Okay, I want you to go to UC Berkley,” or, “Guess what? You’re not driving the car anymore.” But if they’re always touching base with you, “Hey, how was your school day? I saw you had your history book in your bag, did you have a history test?,” or something along those lines, it develops not just communication but trust. And once you’ve established a certain level of trust, no matter how garbled that communication is, you fall back on trust and say, “Well wait a minute. Is that what was really meant?”

I don’t want to get too personal, but when I first got married, this is a great example, I’d go shopping with Carmen, my wife. And I’d show her a shirt, and she’d go, “Oh that’s nice.” So I bought it. Next time we go out, “You gonna wear that shirt?”  What do you mean? You just said it was nice when we were shopping! “Well, I said it was nice, but that’s not what I meant.” Over the years I’ve learned to trust her judgment, I’ve learned we’ve established communication. So if she says something that doesn’t sound right to me, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. And then when there’s a more opportune time to kind of go into more detail about it, you can. But in the meantime, I trust her, I give her the benefit of the doubt, and we just move on.

– Interviews and transcriptions by Alyssa Birkeland, Current Staff

Read more about Vinney Pheng, Monte Schmiege, and Therese Sizer at The Current, including their full responses regarding Common Core and testing.

The school board election is Tuesday, April 7.


Filed under Community

2 responses to “Full Transcripts: Board Candidates on Tension at WBHS

  1. Jason Penterman

    Common theme: There is a trust issue. Trust requires working relationships. Working relationships require time. Is there adequate time for administrators to form working relationships with the students and student organizations that would benefit from them?

  2. Tim Stepanski

    Thanks for posting the full transcripts. It is certainly helping me make up my mind as to vote – or just oversleep that day. I am looking at the latter.

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