Kevin Hoover: These People Aren’t Serious

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Dan Johnson has taken a dumb mistake and, with assistance by his cowering, gutless NHUHSD Board of Trustees colleagues, turned it into a full-blown ethical and leadership crisis.

The AHS Class of 2013 was sent on its way in life on a massively false note. A lengthy speech billed as a personal letter turned out to be written by someone else on the other end of the country one year ago.

Maybe you are comfortable with that. As you can see by the online comments and letters to the editor, many parents and students are not. They have been demanding an explanation, that Johnson apologize or resign from the board. In other words, it’s something of a scandal.

All I’ve ever asked for throughout this ordeal is that he give his side of the story. Now he has, and it’s worse than if he had said nothing.

The hubris is astounding. First Johnson hijacks what is supposed to be an event for the whole school into a personal event for his child. When caught giving a plagiarized speech, he waits six weeks to address the matter, then mixes a half-hearted non-apology with a spiteful lashout at critics – among them, the very students who sat through his fraudulent presentation.

Stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility, Dan Johnson-style. KLH | Eye

Stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility, Dan Johnson/NHUHSD-style. KLH | Eye

What kind of youth leader, by the way, is “comfortable” that students and others suffer from a “profound flaw?” Isn’t a “profound flaw” something a school board leader would want to help fix?

Blaming others is perfectly consistent with the tradition established at DANCO Builders. Following stories on Johnson’s various poorly-executed building projects such as Courtyards at Arcata, and during his ludicrous attempt to have LAFCO annex into Arcata a portion of the Arcata Bottom after the City Council voted against it, DANCO minions blamed the news media and neighboring residents for all the self-inflicted reversals of fortune.

Anything but take responsibility. This is just the latest instance. It’s the DANCO Way.

Complicated justifications by Johnson sympathizers aside, this is an all-around terrible example for students. It represents a double standard and, by their own testimony at the recent NHUHSD meeting, undermines the ability of Arcata High School teachers to teach ethics and take students to task for plagiarism with any credibility.

The students are keenly attuned to all this, including school board’s failure to respond in any kind of timely fashion. The board may have ignored its own by-laws as well, depending on your interpretation.

Those by-laws state that boardmembers speaking at public events make clear that their views are their own, and not those of the district. Johnson did that, in a weird way, by falsely claiming the David McCullough piece was a personal letter he had penned.

The district by-laws also state that the board president is the designated spokesperson. But President Mike Pigg evaded that responsibility by deferring all comment to Johnson, who refused until Friday to make any statement. A perfect closed loop of evasion.

Back in 2005, when Johnson was running against some very smart opponents for the NHUHSD board – including Shane Brinton and Becky Kurwitz – his performance at candidate fora was abysmal. He didn’t know anything about district issues. All he could say was that “if it helps the kids, I’m for it.” He quite deservedly lost.

A small but telling gauge of how much they really care about the core issue is that after having had a month and a half to come up with responses, both Johnson and the other boardmembers managed to misspell Wellesley teacher David McCullough’s name in their press releases. What kind of school board is this, anyway?

But ol’ Dan was the darling of the insiders at the NHUHSD. Before the forum at the Community Center, NHUHSD staffmembers in the audience boasted that they had run out on their lunch breaks to put up “Johnson for School Board” lawn signs in support of their buddy. “You didn’t hear that, Kevin,” they joked. But I did.

As documented by Media Maven Marcy Burstiner in the North Coast Journal, Johnson has never been elected, only appointed to fill vacancies.

Johnson and his old friend Mike Pigg are steeped in the culture of athletics. We’ve always been told that sports instills values of fair play, stepping up to the plate, taking it like a man, being a good loser and so forth.

Turns out, there’s nothing to any of that – it’s all BS. None of those supposed sports ethics have been in evidence in this crisis, when it really mattered. All we have gotten is cheating, evasion and recrimination.

This is being done by people who are responsible for spending millions of our tax dollars. It’s unnerving to see them take the low road as soon as a problem comes along.

It’s nonsense to say that over six weeks, the board couldn’t have gotten a quorum of three members together to hear out concerned citizens and deal with the crisis. If they were interested in the district’s integrity as much as protecting their inner circle, they wouldn’t have been missing in action all summer.

When they finally got around to reluctantly dealing with it, the boardmembers all advocated sweeping the matter under the rug. After their shameful, excuse-filled meeting, they spent an entire day crafting a press release drenched in desultory, boilerplate edu-speak.

Isn’t it more than a little bit pathetic that the NHUHSD board will have to “explicitly establish protocols for approved academic and ethical standards for all communications?” Thanks to Dan Johnson, they will have to specify, “Don’t plagiarize.”

A small but telling gauge of how much they really care about the  core issue is that after having had a month and a half to come up with responses, both Johnson and the other boardmembers managed to misspell Wellesley teacher David McCullough’s name in their press releases. What kind of school board is this, anyway?

And what kind of behavioral modeling for students is this supposed to be? Imagine the laughter in the classroom next time an Arcata or McKinleyville High teacher stresses the importance of taking responsibility, or cautions against copying homework.

The whole thing shrieks mediocrity. The district aspires to high ideals, we assume and hope. Giving a plagiarized speech, and then going into hiding when this is discovered doesn’t represent high standards, or any standards.

Surely there are more serious people we can put in charge of the NHUHSD. I can think of half a dozen without even trying.

For the sake of the community, the high school district and most importantly, for the presently leaderless students, qualified candidates should step forward and run for the three open seats. The filing period is open until Aug. 9.

As for the profoundly unqualified Dan Johnson, your continued presence will be an ongoing embarrassment and drag on the district. You must leave the NHUHSD board, “for the kids.” Resign.

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