I have often wondered how I would have fared in the Milgram Experiment. Participants were told to push a button which supposedly would deliver an electrical shock to another "volunteer" when that volunteer gave an incorrect answer. Unerringly, the shocks became ever stronger, until the "volunteer" would cry out in pain. Participants were told they were administering pain for a good reason — not to question, just to proceed. And almost all of them would continue until the "volunteer" appeared to pass out.
I always wanted to believe that I would be one of the few who would refuse to proceed, but most of us will follow orders given by someone seemingly in authority. I also believe that there are a number of people who are, like myself, afraid to speak out, but are silently appalled by the social media and drama presented by a small but vocal faction. If you are reading this letter, you can know that I have passed my own test of moral conscience. I plan to celebrate quietly until the recriminations set in.
I moved here 40 years ago because I didn't want to raise my kids in the impersonal atmosphere of the big city. I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone else. You have to take responsibility for your actions if you're going to see and perhaps depend on these same people again and again.
Today, some staff, a few teachers, and even administration are modeling bullying and disrespect, and children are quick learners. They are learning how unkind humans can be to one another. Many in our school community seem to want not just to replace Michelle Hutchins, but to destroy her. In earlier times, these women (and a few men) would have called for a lynching or tar and feathering. I see no reason for it. Her leaving the district is no longer the issue: How it's done says more about us as a community than it does about her.
When Michelle was High School principal, she was celebrated for having brought the high school out of the Dark Ages. After only two years, she was asked to take on Superintendent in addition to her role as Principal. She consented, with one stipulation being that an outside agency prepare a report on the financial status of the District. Ryland School Business Consulting was chosen by the Board. They found 1.) deficit spending that would soon overtake the reserves, 2.) a major problem with regard to Food Service in that most schools make money on their programs while ours was projecting a deficit of $131,000, 3.) an untenably low ratio of students to teachers, especially considering 4.) declining enrollment. Michelle's detractors have attempted to lay these problems at the feet of the Superintendent, conveniently forgetting that they were pre-existing conditions. A bad case of the messenger being shot.
Moreover, when Michelle Hutchins became Superintendent, our district had problems that had not been solved or sometimes even addressed by the former administration and Boards. To wit: Our schools test below average in the County and the County is below average in the State. The Elementary School has been out of compliance with credentialing for the Spanish Literacy Program. The woman in charge of Food Service had been offered little or no guidance or training by the previous administration.
A lot of our community care about the District. This negativity and unpleasantness hurts the District. Raise your hand if you think that recent malicious speech and behavior by staff and a few teachers have made it easier to attract candidates for a new Superintendent! How about new teachers? Staff? Residents to the Valley? Or has it helped to convince the electorate to vote for a new school bond?
The biggest problem I see today is the lack of a positive goal. People seem to think that "disappearing" Michelle Hutchins will magically also make our problems disappear. These people are not living in my reality.
I honestly would like to see changes. Parents want changes. They want to see their children attending schools that prepare them for the world today.
Michelle made some grand changes as principal at the high school. At the recent senior projects presentations, seniors voiced appreciation for the senior seminars that Michelle had brought to the school. I was looking forward to her leading the whole district in the same direction, but she ran up against lack of support from the School Board on down. And eventually this pushback turned nasty.
I hope there are enough of us who see this attack on Ms. Hutchins for what it is: a case of fear — fear of change and fear of the unknown. A very wise man recently said that if a Superintendent were given a vote of no confidence, it was most likely a sign that she was doing her job.
If enough of us vote her in as County Superintendent we can still avail ourselves of her positive attributes for our District and positive changes. Otherwise, we can prepare for the same old funneling of State and County monies into Ukiah schools.
Every cloud has a silver lining. For me, that has been the recent interactions with far-sighted, strong, and rational women and a few men who care passionately about education. Some of these connections are the result of renewing old acquaintances and others have been forged with heretofore complete strangers. I would name them in appreciation, but for the fact that would risk retaliation on their heads from the small group lacking civility and professionalism.
I will say that Michelle Hutchins is one of those special women. And I feel morally obliged to stand up and say so even though I know it's going to cost me some people and relationships. Too many in this community have abandoned respect, courtesy, and good manners. They are willing to listen to and repeat gossip, rumors, and exaggerations, filled with malice and spite, partly because they are afraid of being ostracized themselves, as has happened. But the rest of us can vote for her in the privacy and anonymity of the voting booth.
Retired teacher, AVUSD and current School Board member