Thursday, March 21, 2013

An Open Letter to John Pedicone: It Didn't Have to Be This Way

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 2:50 PM

Dear John,

Listening to you discuss your short time in the district during yesterday's press conference announcing your resignation as Tucson Unified School District Superintendent — the incredible challenges you and your staff faced; the wounds inflicted on them; the needless drama that slowed the district in dealing with real matters; the governing board that often seemed unwilling to work together — it's hard to feel more than a twinge of sympathy because, ultimately, it didn’t have to be that way, baby.

Folks like to say that this wasn't really a local issue, especially when pointing out the contentious public comments and protests that have taken place in the past. The argument runs something like this: People pouring their hearts into supporting Mexican-American Studies were going after the wrong folks, and not targeting the people really behind this issue: Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal.

“After all, this is Tucson,” the argument continues, “and Phoenix is trying to annex us to be Baja Crazyland — those are the bad people; we're the good people!” is how it's always been explained. But one of the lessons learned during the height of the fight for MAS is that it's really hard to distinguish between those in Crazyland and those who knew better, but couldn’t see the benefits to offering students choices in their literature, history and government perspectives classes.

They seemed to easily embrace other progressive causes in Tucson, but just as easily ignored the packs of students who showed up to meeting after meeting, begging for the school board and district to protect their classes from the Crazyland-ers.

Another lesson: When it comes to racially charged issues, it’s hard to find real leadership in Tucson. It didn't have to be that way, John. You could have guided us through that process with a gentle hand. You could have been that champion, inspiring a board to do the same, rather than wilt away or be taken in by local charlatans who passed them John Birch-type material on cults or were inspired by those who preached the Evils Of Pedicone.

No, those things didn’t have to happen. Look: I have no doubt that TUSD governing board president Adelita Grijalva was speaking her truth when she described the gains and achievements of your administration during yesterday's press conference, John. I've seen the good as a TUSD parent, and that means I've also seen the bad.

John, if it's true that you were finally driven to resign because of frustration with the board, I don't blame you. It is challenging to hear Grijalva lament about the difficultly in being a school board member, balancing its politics and figuring whether or not to support the work of the district's top administrator. In her 10 years with the district, she's gone through five superintendents. What does it take for a school board member to get it, too? What's it going to take for the current school board to get it?

Even my son, who has attended plenty of board meetings, lamented that it couldn't all be John Pedicone's fault. He's right, of course. But boy, what a lesson in hubris this has been. Sorry you and your staff were wounded John, but there are members of the community, members that you said are so special to you, still struggling with what's taken place the past two years — struggling with their own wounds.

Arrogance hasn't been a friend to TUSD. Remember May 3, when TUSD's administration building was surrounded by more than 100 Tucson Police Department cops? When a passionate crowd assembled inside the packed school board room to defend the MAS program, surrounded by a handful of police dressed in riot gear? Seven people were arrested and cited with disorderly conduct. The image of you, John, volleying glances with then-TUSD governing board president Mark Stegeman on whom and whom not to arrest remains with many there that night.

Then, of course, there's the image of watching activist and educator Guadalupe Castillo surrounded and escorted out by those same riot-geared police — the slow walk out of the board room because, remember, she needs a cane in each hand in order to walk.

It didn't have to be that way, John. It really didn't. But it wasn't until Huppenthal issued his final decision that made some scratch their heads and really wonder how things get done. You and your staff must have seen that final decision coming; you must have had some plan in place, right? But after the board voted to dismantle MAS and it was directed that the classes be turned into regular English, history and government classes, a steady plan must have been in place…right?

Of course not. Books were taken out of the classrooms in front of students — boxed, marked “banned,” and shipped to a warehouse, only to later be returned to libraries. The national attention hurt. Accusations of banned books hurt then, and still hurt today. Sure, this is hindsight, and sure, it was a challenge.

But really, it shouldn't surprise you that people came prepared to fight for their schools at the closure hearings. They came to fight for what they had left. They came to fight for a goodness that remained that didn't get completely taken away.

So, sure, tell the new administrator we're ready. Lessons have been learned. Confidence shaken. A new understanding.


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