We’re All Only Human…Including the Board of Education

I haven’t been to a School Board meeting for longer than I haven’t written a blog post. But tonight I’ve done and am doing both. You may know (if you read the Sag Harbor Express) that the Board of Education of the Sag Harbor School District announced a special meeting for this evening for the sole purpose of appointing a new Superintendent of Schools. This came as a bit of a shock to most of the community, as there have been no public meetings, discussions, meet & greets, or other opportunities for the public to follow along and participate in the process of making this very important selection.

So, at 7:30 p.m. tonight the Board held and “executive session,” which is a way for them to meet out of the public eye to discuss things that require a degree of privacy such as personnel issues, negotiations, legal issues and the like. Then, at 8:00 p.m. they went into public session to vote on hiring Dr. John Gratto as the District’s new Superintendent, which they did. They did not allow any public input at this meeting. When some members of the public spoke anyway, voicing their displeasure at the Board’s lack of openness during the process of selecting the new Super, the Board did its best to ignore what was being said. Eventually, Theresa Samot, the Board President, asked for a motion to go into executive session again “to discuss personnel issues.” The motion was made, seconded and voted on, and the Board walked out, leaving behind not only the public, but a somewhat stunned looking Dr. John Gratto, who had been expecting a cookies and punch reception.

That’s the bare bones of what happened tonight. There was much more, but I’ll leave it to the local papers to report and speculate about all that. What I would like to draw your attention to in this space, is the very sad fact that our friends and neighbors who serve on the School Board seem to have forgotten that they are also members of the very same community that they ignored and stonewalled tonight. How did that happen? I’ve known one of the Board Members for many years, having served on the Board with her decades ago, and maintained a passing friendship with her every since. I’ve served on committees with two of the other Board Members, and my wife also knows and/or has worked with a couple more. By and large, we like and respect these people, and believe they feel similarly about us. Yet tonight, they were able to build a wall between themselves, in their roles as board members, and their friends and neighbors who were sitting in the audience asking for a chance to be heard. That they were able to create this imaginary wall, and sustain it in the face of public outcry was much more disturbing to me than the fact that these normally caring, concerned and thoughtful people made a bad choice in how they handled the hiring process.

At tonight’s meeting one community member stood up and pleaded with the Board to recognize the many errors they were making by sticking doggedly to the path they had chosen. He asked them, “Is this really how you want to start Dr. Gratto’s tenure in Sag Harbor?” He appealed to their common sense and their humanity. But the Board had apparently checked their humanity at the door.

But why? It didn’t have to be that way. Even in the face of having already committed to Dr. Gratto, the Board could still have listened to what the public had to say. Perhaps it was too late for them to change course, but they could have opted to remember that they are also community members, and listen to what their fellow Sag Harborites had to say. It would have taken so little effort just to listen. Nothing else was necessary. Perhaps they would have heard a comment or two that would lead to a better decision, or at least a better decision making process, but we’ll never know. That’s a loss for everyone; but the people who lost the most tonight were the members of the Sag Harbor Board of Education — they lost their humanity. Not permanently, I’m sure, but for long enough to do damage both to their standing in the community and their own psyches.

Sometimes we just identify too much with the role we are playing at a given moment, and forget that underneath that role, we’re all just human beings. The Board of Education had a collective forgetting tonight. I’m guessing that somewhere along the way they fooled themselves into thinking that because they get to vote on the decisions, that the decisions are really theirs to make. Though they tried mightily to hold onto that illusion, they were reminded tonight, that that’s not how it works. In the end, the community makes the decisions; the Board just implements them.

It’s my hope that the Board wakes up soon from this dream of ‘being in charge’ and remembers that they are us.

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9 Responses to We’re All Only Human…Including the Board of Education

  1. Anonymous says:

    The board’s lack of respect for the community is disgraceful. As a school employee I am sad and disheartened by their behavior.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I went to the meeting last night and was horrified by the Board’s behavior. And I just looked on the District’s website and saw a letter from the Board which attempts to ‘apologize’ for their process but doesn’t address the arrogance they displayed last night. It’s obvious they are clueless. They continue to do us all–and themselves–a disservice.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I agree, the Board’s “explanation” explains nothing at all about their behavior either during the selection process or at the June 5th meeting. I think this sentence in the last paragraph pretty much sums up the problem:
    Perhaps we could have handled this differently, and we apologize for any mistakes that you feel we made.
    This is the sort of statement that one expects from politicians or large impersonal bureaucracies, not from a small town school board.
    Also problematic is the final sentence of the Board’s letter:
    We hope you will come to see Dr. Gratto as we do, and join us in moving this district forward, beginning in 2008-09.
    It is clear that the Board is still caught up in their own version of reality if they think they will be able to “move the district forward” without the support of the community, or that they can regain the trust and cooperation they’ve squandered with a condescending request to “join us” completely ignoring the fact that many in the community think that the Board’s actions in this matter are not moving the district forward at all, but rather, putting it into reverse.
    You can read the Board’s letter about the June 5th meeting here: http://www.sagharbor.k12.ny.us/?q=node/386

  4. Anonymous says:

    I agree that the Board seems to have forgotten who they are. Their behavior Thursday night was beyond arrogant and disrespectful. Their letter of explanation on the website told me the five districts he has been in, but did not tell me why three of his terminations from this district are suspect. Am I unhappy with the process? Absolutely. Was the Board’s behavior Thursday night disrespectful to the community, arrogant and rude?Yes. However, now that he is hired, and at a still secret salary might I add, I am concerned about his three questionable terminations and want to know why one district “involuntarily” terminated him, another refused to extend his contract after less than three years in the position and, finally, why he resigned from his current position back in December of 2007, (effective June 30 2008) less than two years after being appointed. Administrators leave positions in the middle of their contracts either when they are asked to leave or because they have another job lined up already. Can he really be the best of the best?

  5. Anonymous says:

    The School Board at Thursday nights meeting sent their message loud and clear. The hiring process of Dr. John Grato disregarded the community, administration, teachers, parents and students. The message they have sent is we are in charge and don’t and won’t entertain your comments, insights or questions.
    Their behavior lacks decency and respect for everyone who help elect them. It is my understanding that an inhouse administration who had applied for the job learned only through a district email that the new superintendent would be hired. How can a School Board that spouts open communication totally disregard a hard working, professional, dedicated administrator who currently works for the district? It seen just plain rude.
    I would urge the community to go to board meetings. Watching the interaction between the members it is evident who is running the show. The smug smile and nods to the President and other members clearly emitts arrgonance.
    One would have to wonder if Dr. John Gratto made a deal with the devil or is he the devil. Time will tell as the School District tries to move forward without the respect of the community they represent.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure why you would say that about Dr. Gratto. He is really an unknown quantity to us at this time, in spite of all the “information” that has been gleaned from the internet. It is always wise to remember that the internet has its own reputation as a not-always-so-reliable source.
    Also, in spite of everything I and others have said about the School Board’s misguided actions with regard to the way they went about hiring Dr. Gratto, I still have respect for them as a Board and as individuals. Yes, they made some mistakes, and they owe the community an accounting, but we must be careful not to over-generalize their faults. Let’s give them a chance to redeem themselves in how they handle this (and other) situations going forward.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hi Sag Harbor…I hate to break this to Eric but unfortunately the internet does not just make up things to post about people. The news and unseemly record of John Gratto is real. Having taught in a district under Gratto’s tenure I can say that indeed he is arrogant, uninformed, and in no way was his parting a ‘mutual parting of ways’. His leadership was so poor that no leadership at all would’ve done less damage. I watched as he pulled aside newly hired teachers in the hallways demanding they wear shoes with covered toes (in mid-June sandals weather), cut all arts funding to develop a higher level athletics programs (are all kids meant to wish for athletics scholarships?) and basically ran the district into the ground. His departure agreement was hastened by the largest letter writing campaign (with specific objectionable issues stated) by parents and teachers in the history of the school district. I do not believe that John Gratto is the devil but of one thing I am certain – he is a horrible administrator and the record DOES show that his flaws and failures spill into the classification of ‘criminal’!! Sounds like the Board made a big mistake and before this guy ends up with yet another severence package I hope you can all step in….it took us way too long!!

  8. Anonymous says:

    “…and the record DOES show that his flaws and failures spill into the classification of ‘criminal’”
    Anonymous, can you please validate the above comment with documented information so that we are able to substantiate your comment or at least rest on more than hearsay? I’ve explored back issues of the Saratogian and the Albany Times and the Comptroller audits and can’t get anything close to the word “criminal” eventhough I suspect that something has gone terribly wrong during one of his tenures and it’s probably been sealed. Can you help us connect a few of the obscure Googlian dots? Those we’ve found have already outlined a temptuous and ominous picture of his leadership.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I would be very interested in getting more information about Dr. Gratto if there is anything more you or some of your acquaintances can add. We’re having a meeting about him this coming Tuesday and we (and the School Board) can use all the background available.
    The same goes for other readers of this blog. What do you know?

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