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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.

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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