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How Not to Win Friends and Influence People

Mudslinging and arguing who has right on their side. Taking the worst from the playbooks of politicians.

This is a post that I’ve had in my head for a couple of days. It has morphed as more information comes out and more public statements are made and more blustering threats, implied or spoken outright, come out of the mouths and keyboards of folks.

I must be talking about the political campaigns, right?

Wrong.

I’m talking about the swirling passions and emotions and, let’s face it, the intimidation that is happening all around the proposed new charter school in Novato.

Oh, and I completely understand that my mere mentioning it on a forum such as this opens up Pandora’s box of anger and hatred and venom. If you try to walk a neutral line, you’re either flat-out uninformed, hiding your true feelings, childless, or just too chicken to say how you really feel publicly and, quite possibly, privately.

I won’t even get into what you are if you’re for the charter school or against it, but if you think the “undecided” get grief, heaven help you if you make your choice known to those not on the same side.

Don’t leap to the conclusion that I’m accusing any one side of intimidation. I’m saying intimidation works both ways. Or three ways, in this case.

The opponents? They post (and sometimes then delete) comments on the Patch that can really only be interpreted as threats to name petition signers, approach the signers at their kids’ schools, and conduct “exit interviews” with them. And while the organized folks opposing the charter might have no intention of bringing it closer to home, who knows what lunatics are out there and what they might do with the information?

The proponents? The North Bay Educational Foundation has sent emails advising that the names have been released “to an individual and to a Marin IJ reporter” and they ask signees to get in touch with NBEF if they “believe your name is used inappropriately as a result of NUSD’s decision to publicly disclose petition signees’ printed names.” If that doesn’t make you think twice about going to have a look-see, I’m not sure what would. And if that doesn’t sound like a veiled threat to the district — a putting-on-notice, if you will — I’m not sure what is.

And the district? Even before the charter application was submitted, the district's superintendent told the IJ a school would close because of the charter. The district-retained lawyer at the board workshop publicly stated the names would be released. And just a day or two ago, the district tells the public that the signature document will not be posted or released, and in the very next sentence tells everyone that “if a Public Records Act request is received, only the petitioner signature and name will be released.” When I walked into the superintendent’s office to view the petition in its entirety this morning, the name of every single person who signed the petition — parent and teacher — was right there in the binder, no Public Records Act request required.

I get it. I really get it. We’re talking not only about children but our children. I understand how visceral the reaction is when we’re talking about the well-being of children in general and of our own children in particular.

I am also that moron who can truly see the two sides. (No, I can’t see the district’s side. But you already know I’m biased on that score.) I am Janus on this score. On one side is a person who fears the reverberations the charter school will have on the schools that, for better or worse, my kids will and do attend. That side also looks with such sadness at the vast number of kids currently in my son’s grade at Rancho who won’t go on with him to one of the two middle schools.

The other side says, you know, if there weren’t issues — real issues — that affect many parents’ dealings with the district and the schools, there wouldn’t be this movement. If true choice had been accepted — nay, embraced and promoted — as so many have tried to through the years, there wouldn’t be this movement. This is the side of someone who thought about just going virtual charter to escape the district rather than continue condoning the actions that include, but are in no way limited to, closing Hill Middle School without a plan, wreaking havoc throughout, and then calling the whole damn closure a “merger” of staff and students of Hill and San Jose middle schools in order to remove it from Program Improvement status; repeatedly refusing to hear out parents at Rancho who wanted to differentiate the curriculum but stay within the NUSD “family”; and refusing to deal with its own personnel matters.

On a personal level, I beat myself up for not being able to make a stand because I know, in my heart, that I remain conflicted. I really do. If my youngest were a couple of years younger, I can’t say that my husband and I wouldn’t be all over this. That makes me a traitor to some. My perception that the charter is dividing this community beyond repair makes me a traitor to others.

There’s no end in sight. There’s no fixing the rift. But can’t any of us just agree that we can be reasonable people who happen to disagree? Do we all have to keep pounding the crap out of each other? If you’re never going to change someone’s mind — and you’re never going to change those minds because they are made up — then can’t we at least just be civil?

I’m sorry that I already know the answer to that question.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Roger October 26, 2012 at 12:41 AM
I think the people against the Charter are validly upset because the law is such that it just takes a certain number of parents signing up tentatively and approval is almost automatic...if not by the district, then by the State. That is why there are so many charters in the county north of us. Most Americans were raised to feel such local school decisions should be decided locally and by a simple majority vote. But not the case in Charter law. So the opponents seem real upset because they are and for good reason.
Andrew R October 26, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Patty, why did you want to see the names? Was it a test for the district? Were you curious who actually signed? What will you do with that info? Seems pretty ridiculous this is some sort of secret since its a public school.
Patty Maher October 26, 2012 at 01:08 PM
My initial interest weeks ago was not seeing the names but seeing where geographically (in addition to current school) the students came from and the grade levels to analyze it. When the district's attorney at the board workshop said it was all public information, I never thought about it again, although I did wonder at the time what impact that would have in garnering signatures as the vitriol was already so great. When it became such an issue, sure, then it was absolutely a test. What would be visible? What process would I have to go through? Was I curious? Sure. But I knew many who were intending to sign because I'd had conversations with them over the last four or five months. As for what I'm doing with that information? Nothing. The names certainly don't help me from an analytic point. For example, the kids listed as being in 6th grade next year on the NUSD-provided summary show current elementary school. I wanted to know what their assigned middle school is. As for seeming ridiculous, I can see it both ways. The names of students attending the elementary schools don't fall into the realm of public information. If you asked the district to give you a list of all the San Ramon students with their parents, addresses and grades, they'd rightfully tell you to take a hike. On the other side, signing a petition puts that information into the public realm.
Tina McMillan October 26, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Thank you Patty. Whether you are for or against public charter, this discussion can't continue with the present hostilities. The fact that there is even a preprinted parent list worries me having seen the deleted posts and knowing how strong the feelings are about families interested in this option.
LP October 26, 2012 at 02:39 PM
I don't know if there ever is a really good time to start a charter, and perhaps that is also an underlying problem. If every year the district wasn't threatening to close a school more people might be open to it. With a threat that your neighborhood school is at risk people are more vocal. Even the thought of a closer without a charter to replace it pits school sites against each other. I always wondered what a year would be like without the closer threat, life might be a bit calmer.
Starling Sapphire October 26, 2012 at 03:45 PM
I've been forward the list twice over the last few days from people I know. I am sure any parent with kids in the district has seen the signatures at this point. It's not really the big deal you make it out to be. It is interesting to see the names.
Bill October 26, 2012 at 04:34 PM
The school district should provide access the the complete petition, including names. That is the law and part of charter procedure, which makes perfect sense. It is a public entity. Are these people going to wear masks if the school opens? Are they going to lie to people what school they goto? What "threats" (other than the imaginary hyperbole of a certain serial poster) have been made? It seems Novto needs to have an honest conversation with itself.....And where is the PTA in all this?....
Cathy October 26, 2012 at 09:44 PM
Patty: I think Patch -- by it's very nature -- is part of the problem; which is sad because community blogs like these are intended to bring us together. The blog posters, and to a lesser degree Brent and his "reporters", are posting what they believe are the relevant facts with minimal fact checking and various levels of professional journalism skills. People respond to these stories with their own set of facts and others respond to those with theirs. Our elected officials and their publicly employed staff, refuse to post or blog to set the official record straight: both initially (public meeting rules, bureaucratic policies, etc.) and even more so once the s... hits the fan. Brent does his best to police the site but if he gets too restrictive it's no longer a blog. The technology has gotten ahead of the culture. I'm saddened because when the internet was first spawned it was supposed to improve communications and level the playing field. By removing filters (professional journalists to sift the wheat from the chaff <and my wheat might be someone else's chaff>, the time/space constraints of printing letters to the editors, the common decency and protocol that occurs in person interactions, the protection and lack of inhibitions provided by anonymous postings,...) we've created a breeding ground for all sorts: Chicken Little's to disturb the hen yard and for Peter's to cry wolf.
Patty Maher October 26, 2012 at 10:45 PM
I agree with everything you say, Cathy. I accept that I'm a contributing factor, particularly because I believe more information is empowering. You know, an educated citizenry and all that. Alas, I only get to decide for me what is true and accurate and fair.
Dexter Kaziff October 26, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Actually, I think you have been extremely fair in your posts. I've never thought that you were trying to sway your readers in any direction. So, kudos to you for that.
Patty Maher October 27, 2012 at 02:32 AM
Thanks, Dexter. I appreciate you saying that.
Tina McMillan October 28, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Roger, Sonoma County has 71,000 students (compared to Novato's 8000). Here is a link to Sonoma County Office of Education SCOE: http://www.scoe.org/pub/htdocs/charterschools.html Charter Schools "Charter schools are independent, nonsectarian public schools that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. Created, designed, and operated by a group of teachers, parents, and community leaders, charter schools are authorized by a local public school district board or county board of education. They are paid for with tax dollars and open to all who wish to attend them. The charter establishing each school is a performance contract detailing the school’s program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success. Charter schools are accountable to their sponsor to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract. The length of time for which charters are granted in California is five years. At the end of the initial term, the school may obtain a five-year renewal by petitioning the school board that originally granted the charter." At last count there were 51 charter schools in the district.
Tina McMillan October 28, 2012 at 09:55 PM
It is my understanding that some districts move to charter conversions because of the additional federal funding that becomes available. Other districts have seen the success of charters based on the petition, the MOU and the ability to close any charter not performing up to state standards. Standards for charters are stricter than those for neighborhood schools. This was a way of making certain that charters would fulfill their promise of finding curriculum that can be effectively implemented.
Amy Oclassen October 29, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Well stated, Patty. I agree with everything you have said here.
Ross Ingels October 29, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Since its launch, www.saveournovatoschools.com has received approximately 2000 visits with over 16,000 page views. We have received over 200 parent signatures representing nearly 500 students from all of our schools. There is clearly a growing concern among NUSD families about the effects the proposed charter school will have on our district. Please take a moment and visit www.saveournovatoschools.com to learn more about the opposition effort and sign the online petition. It is also important to write the NUSD Board at charter@nusd.org AND attend the public hearing on November 8th from 6-8PM at the District Office.
Tina McMillan October 29, 2012 at 10:08 PM
The real tragedy here is the misinformation posted on SONS has generated a climate of fear, hatred and division in our community. Though your site allows for public comment you erase anything that does not support your opinion. The most important fact being that the fiscal impact of the charter is unclear because there is not sufficient data to create accurate numbers. On your website the level of incongruity with facts is astounding. You could at least make an attempt to get some of the charter history and law correct. Instead you delete any posts to the contrary. What is most disheartening is that rather than let the district be the one to negotiate with the charter you have taken it upon yourselves to make this a contentious issue. There are more than 8000 students in our district. If you manage to frighten even a fraction of those interested then you have created a lynch mob mentality that will prevent reasonable discourse. If you decide to continue to post misinformation, links that go nowhere and suppositions not supported by the facts, the damage that you do will be devastating. The families interested in charter are only a fraction of the district. You would think there is room for a PreK through 8 charter, as well as all the other options NUSD has to offer. Please consider how long-lasting this kind of hatred can be to our community and let the district post their own information regarding the charter option here in Novato.
Marys Mama October 29, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Zip it already, McMillan. So tired of slogging my way through your endless regurgitation of YOUR equally one-sided, slanted fantasy land posts. Because, yes, I read each and every word you type. I especially like the latest entry which reeks of hypocrisy: "The families interested in charter ARE ONLY A FRACTION OF THE DISTRICT" (emphasis added). You have REPEATEDLY suggested displacing the special needs students who are using the Hill campus, arguing that so few students (paraphrasing here) use the facility ... but today you acknowledge that "ONLY A FRACTION OF THE DISTRICT" would be a part of the charter ... hence, you are displacing special needs students for a thin slice of district students. Oh, also ... if you don't like the "lynch mob mentality" then stop contributing it with such hateful rhetoric yourself: The real tragedy here is the misinformation posted on SONS has generated a climate of fear, hatred and division in our community. Though your site allows for public comment you erase anything that does not support your opinion. The most important fact being that the fiscal impact of the charter is unclear because there is not sufficient data to create accurate numbers. On your website the level of incongruity with facts is astounding. You could at least make an attempt to get some of the charter history and law correct. Instead you delete any posts to the contrary. You are blaming SONS for everything. Knock it off, lady.
Tina McMillan October 29, 2012 at 10:42 PM
We have 8000 students in the district. 256 verified NUSD students have applied for the charter. SONS has stated that the charter will serve too many and too few. In addition to the 256 current NUSD students there are 8 non Novato, 28 grades 7-8, 71 in private school and 1 in preschool. http://www.nusd.org/pages/Novato_Unified_School_District/Newsletters/Proposed_Charter_School All this information is made available on the NUSD website. SONS has taken information and distorted it to the point of it becoming a trigger for fear and anger rather than a dialogue about facts. What happens if/when the charter opens regardless of the opinions of SONS founders? Will they continue on their path to destroy the charter? Will they work with the district to help it succeed? What happens if the charter has more students than spaces? Will they be allowed to exist on a campus that can expand? Why is it that SONS founding members have continued the personal attacks on individuals associated with the charter? When will it end? I blame SONS for not letting the district handle this themselves. SONS has made it far more difficult for accurate information to reach the public. You don't have to like what I say but you can't control my saying it. When you are willing to post under your real name then we can have a reasonable discussion. Otherwise how am I to know that you are not simply another incarnation of the founding SONS group.
Dexter Kaziff October 29, 2012 at 10:42 PM
It's awesome that when someone disagrees with Tina she thinks it's just one person using 10 different names....She'll now accuse you of being Educate the Community, Answer Me, Ex Principal, and that you are an agent of the "SONS propaganda machine". So funny. It's like a train wreck. I hate to read it, but I just can't stop. I think Oliver Stone should make a movie about it....
Marys Mama October 29, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Dexter (or whoever you are .... dum dum dum dum ... cue the scary music, are you REALLY Dexter?!?!) ... you are absolutely spot on. Train wreck, car crash, gruesome scene ... but you can't help yourself and gotta take a peek. And then you wish you hadn't, right? :) Tina, flattery will get you nowhere with me. I don't know the SONS dudes but am humored by your suggestion that I could simply be another incarnation of the founding group. What do you think the SONS dudes are - two bunnies that just multiply like crazy?! AGAIN ... you are criticizing a couple of volunteer parents for creating mayhem ... and then YOU type some pretty strong things yourself: "SONS has taken information and distorted it to the point of it becoming a trigger for fear and anger rather than a dialogue about facts." Please don't blame them. I haven't even BEEN to the SONS website (cross my heart, I haven't). I just know that I have kids in public schools and I am not pleased with this diversion. So stop with your assumptions, stop with YOUR misinformation and DEFINITELY STOP with your strong language/habit of hurling some pretty massive accusations at SONS. Thanks, Tina ... assuming that's who YOU really are .... of course :)
ConcernedNovatoan November 01, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Wow, I just wish there was a more reasonable level of reading comprehension with some posters. Furthermore, they seem not to have anything more to add to the DISCUSSION other than fanning the flames.

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