School Board Meeting bades farewell to two school board members, greets two new members, encourages community to voice their concerns

The+audience+sits+and+listens+at+the+Board+Meeting.+Credit%3A+Jill+Vallance+%2F+The+Foothill+Dragon+Press
Back to Article
Back to Article

School Board Meeting bades farewell to two school board members, greets two new members, encourages community to voice their concerns

The audience sits and listens at the Board Meeting. Credit: Jill Vallance / The Foothill Dragon Press

The audience sits and listens at the Board Meeting. Credit: Jill Vallance / The Foothill Dragon Press

The audience sits and listens at the Board Meeting. Credit: Jill Vallance / The Foothill Dragon Press

The audience sits and listens at the Board Meeting. Credit: Jill Vallance / The Foothill Dragon Press

Jill Vallance

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






The first following the series of events that culminated in former superintendent David Creswell’s resignation, the school board meeting held on Dec. 11 was carried out with the main objective of providing a platform for commentary from members of a community recoiling from this sudden change. At the meeting, some community members expressed their support of Creswell’s resignation and others, their disappointment.

Creswell was not present at the meeting, and his attorney and outside counsel are currently finalizing the separation agreement between him and his position as superintendent.

The meeting commenced with the dismissal of School Board President John Walker and Vice President Mary Haffner.

In her final speech, Haffner thanked fellow Ventura Unified School District (Ventura Unified) employees for their dedication to the district.

“I’ve had the honor and privilege for the last 13 years to work alongside the best staff, and your contribution to our mission does not go unnoticed,” Haffner remarked. “No physical crisis can take away the passion and the commitment I see from all of you in this district.”

She also sought to address the controversy that “enveloped our district for the past 25 days.”

Haffner assured that Ventura Unified does “not discriminate in public education—we meet each child at the doors of our schools and we do all we can to support them, to believe in them and to celebrate them for who they are.”

“An injustice against any is an injustice to all,” Haffner remarked.

Haffner then zeroed in on the discrimination set against the LGBTQ+ community.

She expressed that she was disillusioned by the superintendent’s behavior, which suggested that he, who “holds a covenant leader position,” did not “strongly believe in each and every student.” She said that “if the superintendent had referred to African-American students or other groups that had experienced historical discrimination” like he did the LGBTQ+ community, “he would have been gone the next day.”

 

 

“Our students learn about social justice movements and social change,” Haffner continued. “This is the civil rights issue of our time and in education, [and] we need to be at the forefront..”

Haffner finished her speech by delivering confidential information that she has been trying to communicate to the district lawyer and independent counsel to the board; neither group responded to her, so she handed the documents to the board before leaving from her position.

School board member Velma Lomax then said a few words to the outgoing board members.

“25 years later, my good news is that I’ve been re-elected, but my sad news is that I’ve never gone to work without John,” Lomax said. “He’s been my mentor, my strength, my friend, and I thank you very much for that.”

In the shadow of the turn of events, Lomax said that she takes “it as an honor to know you both, because we are Ventura strong, and we will get through this and we will be like a phoenix.”

As these two board members went out, two came in; Jerry Dannenberg and Matt Almaraz joined the school board as its two newest members.

In regards to his vision for his term, one of the things that Dannenberg wants to do is “hear more from the students.”

“I want to make sure that all students have the same opportunities for the same periods,” he said. “Right now, not all of our high schools have the same opportunities.”

Almaraz agrees with Dannenberg, also adding on his goals of “looking at the safety of the infrastructure, making sure that we are safe for our students, especially in this day and time.”

 

 

Upon greeting the incoming members, the board elected Sabrena Rodriguez to take Walker’s place as the new board president and elected Jackie Moran to absorb Haffner’s former duties as vice president.

As the meeting proceeded to the portion reserved for public commentary, Rodriguez made an exception to the usual 20-minute limit, seeing this meeting concerned a pressing issue and that there were 40 speaker cards submitted to the board; all but one were regarding Creswell’s resignation.

Among the speakers to step forward was Brent Hisayaseu, Creswell’s pastor.

“Dave Creswell was first and foremost a follower of Jesus Christ, and he was a great superintendent because of this,” Hisayaseu said. “His passion was to provide an education for all students in safe and safe (sic) and healthy, high performing school district, and he was relentlessly for the future of every student.”

Hisayaseu accredited Creswell to “putting his heart and soul into his job” when faced with various emergencies, including the Thomas Fire, that have occurred in his career of the superintendent.

“You have watched Dave, for the last three weeks, walk in the footsteps of Jesus,” Hisayaseu said.

“On behalf of our church and Christians around Ventura, I want you to know that we are not your enemy and the gospel of Jesus Christ is not the problem,” Hisayaseu assured. “The gospel of Jesus Christ is our only hope and we, like Dave, want nothing but the safe, healthy, high performing school district and a great future for every student.”

Another community member, Sheila Winslow, took to the podium to share her one of the letters she had sent to Creswell, written after his announcement of resignation.

“I am relieved to hear your decision, I believe strongly in restorative justice, but I believe that so much damage has been done to our district, and most especially to our marginalized students,” read Winslow’s letter. “The division has grown so deep.”

“I have had such trouble with your words from your sermon of 2016. My child, my young adult, so easily could have been one of the students in the yearbook,” Winslow read, regarding the controversial sermon delivered by Creswell in 2016.

Winslow described two previous emails to the former superintendent. Both were sent prior to the discovery of the sermon, closer to the beginning of his career as superintendent, and both were commenting in support of the direction he was taking the district.

However, Winslow was disappointed that she “never received a response, yet I was patient and hopeful.”

“If you are as sincere in your sorrow as I have heard, I will be overjoyed to see you become an ally to the LGBTQ+ community,” Winslow continued.

After finishing her message to Creswell, Winslow addressed the audience and school board.

“I want you to know that I’ve written the letters, I’ve talked to him,” she said. “I have never had a response from him, and I think that’s important to know.”

Two Foothill students, Alexa Mellein ‘21 and Rachel Chang ‘19, spoke during the public comment period. Mellein, accompanied by her father, Jessie Barnet, begged Creswell to come back as superintendent.

Mellein began by giving credit to Creswell’s “character, leadership and dignity” in the midst of the Thomas Fire.

In regards to the sermon, Barnet quoted Mellein, saying that “as an openly LGBTQ+ sophomore student at Foothill Technology High School, this was a hard thing to listen to and hurt my heart.”

“But, Ventura Unified District Board of Educators, if we look at this situation with a closed mind, we are only making an example of normalizing that behavior,” Barnet said on behalf of Mellein. “There is more to this story.”

Mellein described the apology Creswell submitted, the responsibility he took for the situation and the steps he had taken to mend his mistakes.

“The weekend after the sermon was discovered, David Creswell opened himself up to anyone in the LGBTQ+ community who wanted to meet with him and then share, ask questions and talk about the future,” Mellien continued.

Mellein said that Creswell “hoped for meaningful change to come out of this bad situation. This was an amazing approach to it, and I am so proud to have him as my superintendent.”

“David Creswell has proven that he has no hate towards Ventura Unified School District’s LGBTQ+ community or anyone that is LGBTQ+. He has proven that he has an open mind and is willing to learn and grow; he has proven to do good in the past; he is exactly what Ventura needs as a superintendent, because of the integrity he has shown in this situation,” Mellein said.

“I beg you, David Creswell, to reconsider your resignation,” Mellein finished. “I say this on the behalf of Ventura and on behalf of my LGBTQ+ community, we need you.”

Students play instruments at the school board meeting. Credit: Jill Vallance / The Foothill Dragon Press

Students play instruments at the school board meeting. Credit: Jill Vallance / The Foothill Dragon Press

On the other hand, Chang characterized the attention towards Creswell’s situation as “myopic,” and said that it overshadowed the root of the issue at hand: administration’s “lack of transparency” at Foothill.

“It was Foothill’s administration that made the decision to detach our school’s name from Pride Week, an event that’s sole purpose was to educate—educate, not celebrate—our campus on why a certain group of people […] can exist without persecution,” Chang explained, recalling the debate arising from the handling of Pride Week.

“There is an alarming lack of transparency concerning issues that are of tremendous importance to us as students,” Chang said.

She further explained that it wasn’t the action of removing Foothill’s name from the Pride Week shirts, but the mere concept underlying it.

“If I’m on the basketball team, the baseball team, the debate team, [Design Technology], Bioscience, […] I can have a t-shirt that proudly says that I go to Foothill,” Chang said. “But if I’m gay, then I can’t? […] You don’t need to be gay to realize that it hurts, and it’s uncomfortable.”

In her comment, Chang acknowledged that “our principal’s job is complicated and that, like any public servant, he doesn’t want a disagreement, but you can’t make everyone happy.”

“So, it is a principal’s decision to either appease the anonymous parent that fears fierce politics or a group of people—your students—who face some of the most violent hate crimes and have one of the highest suicide rates in this country,” she said.

Chang requests for administration to not only issue a formal apology but also communicate more with the students and staff.

“I want Foothill’s principal to address this issue, take ownership of his decision, communicate with the students because we are the ones affected and lastly, to apologize to LGBTQ+ students,” she said. “If our administration can’t do this, then I urgently suggest it’s time for some new leadership at Foothill.

What do you think?