After nearly four hours of interviews with 11 applicants, the Oakley school board selected two teachers and a retiree this week to fill the remaining three seats vacated by trustees who were caught in a hot-mic moment mocking parents.
Ann Corrdion, a Freedom High School teacher, Craig Pearson, an Antioch Unified School District teacher, and Paul DiDonato, a retired architect, will now join parent Sherry Seat who was named last week to fill the Area 1 seat, which also opened up when the entire school board resigned days after a Feb. 17 meeting.
The appointments came on the same day that an NBC Bay Area news investigation revealed that the four trustees poked fun in text messages about being caught making the disparaging remarks. The group text messages, which the news team obtained through a public records request, were made in private hours after the trustees publicly apologized for their comments, NBC has learned.
Former trustee Kim Beede encouraged the other to “suck it up and move on,” but Board President Lisa Brizendine said, “No, It’s so bad, did you watch the video?”
Before resigning, the trustees called the mounting scandal “ridiculous” and suggested the public would regret their resignations and soon wish they were still on the board, according to NBC.
The embattled trustees also shared profanity-laced memes making light of the comments the board members had apologized over. One that Beede sent included a Forest Gump-looking cartoon that said, “My mama always said, ‘People who tell you b*t*h, I’m gonna f*** you up are never really the ones who do.” Beede had earlier been under fire for her Feb. 17 profanity-laced tirade against a parent.
Superintendent Greg Hetrick declined to comment on the text messages, but several applicants on Tuesday expressed a desire to rebuild trust with the public and improve transparency.
Candidate Conan Moats said the board needs to reestablish a connection with the community.
“The circumstances that we’re talking about now are unfortunate because of the events that occurred, that led up to the board seeking new members,” he said. “I think that confidence-building efforts on the part of the board are really important and I think I have something to offer as an educator.”
Corridon, in her candidate statement, also suggested the district lacked transparency, noting there was a disconnect between the community, teachers, administration and board.
Other candidates talked about bringing students back safely to schools, which the district plans to do in stages this month.
Both Britnie Milam, a health care worker, and Brett Williams, said implementing safe practices and ensuring students are brought back safely when school reopen were important.
“I have lots of thoughts about safe practices like ones we implemented in the hospital,” Milam said.
Some of the most common candidate goals, though, were improving student achievements and equity among students.
“If you look on Zillow, some of the schools in Oakley are not rated very high so that’s a concern for me, that connects to home value, to people wanting to come to Oakley,” Pearson said. “And, as a new parent — and a parent of foster youth — I am really passionate that marginalized kids are getting their equal education.”
“I would like to see Oakley become the most desirable city for new families to want to move to,” DiDonato said, noting he would look for “new initiatives to improve the academic curriculum.”
Following interviews, interim board President Mike Maxwell said though all the candidates were able, the board must consider that in a day someone leadership positions will have to be filled and the board would need to quickly get up to speed on everything. With that said, he nonimated DiDonato, who was a longtime businessman.
“I’ve never experienced a board that is going to hit the ground sprinting while drinking from the proverbial fire hose, at the same time, with COVID,” he said. “So, you know, I want to make sure that everybody understands what pressures that we’re kind of under.”
Interim Trustee Annette Lewis agreed but cautioned that the board needs balance.
“And we have a lot of great candidates that are all coming from the Antioch School District,” Lewis said. “I’m not sure if we need to consider whether that’s whether we need to have a broader perspective, I guess, is what I’m saying.”
After a short discussion, the trustees nominated six of the top candidates, before narrowing the field to Corridon, Pearson and DiDonato all of whom were unanimously appointed.
The new at-large trustees will serve until 2022 at which point they will have to run in whatever district they reside in.
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Author: Judith Prieve
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