Parents, students continue to press CUSD to reinstate Michael Halt at San Clemente High School

Principal Michael Halt speaks with Trustee John Alpay following the June 4 CUSD meeting. Halt was reinstated as a district principal, but was not offered his former position at San Clemente High School. Photo: Allison Jarrell
Principal Michael Halt speaks with Trustee John Alpay following the June 4 CUSD meeting. Halt was reinstated as a district principal, but was not offered his former position at San Clemente High School. Photo: Allison Jarrell

By Allison Jarrell

For many San Clemente High School students, parents and faculty, it was a bittersweet reunion June 4.

Hundreds of Michael Halt supporters—many sporting red and black “I Like Mike” buttons— showed up to the special Thursday night meeting of the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees, some planning to speak in favor of the board authorizing an independent investigation into the facts surrounding Halt’s dismissal in May—the sole item on the agenda.

Many were surprised and elated to see that—for the first time since his removal from the school—Halt was in attendance with his family by his side. There wasn’t a minute during the hour-long closed session when the grinning Colonel wasn’t embracing or speaking with supporters. Dozens of students waited in line to take selfies with him. Some just wanted to say, “We miss you.”

The surprises continued following the board’s closed session, during which the trustees voted unanimously to reelect Halt as a CUSD principal. A roar of applause broke out before the board was able to finish relaying the verdict. It wasn’t until after the cheers died down that Halt supporters received the kicker—his reelection wasn’t to San Clemente High School.

“Now that we are at the end of this deliberative process, I am certain that we have learned from this extraordinarily challenging experience,” Board President Lynn Hatton-Hodson said during a prepared statement. “Based on extensive review of the available records and information, as well as candid in-person discussions in closed session, and after careful and thoughtful deliberation, the board unanimously voted 7-0 in favor to adopt the superintendent’s recommendation to offer Michael Halt reelection for the 2015-2016 school year, subject to his acceptance of an alternate administrative assignment within his area’s credential … Under the terms of the superintendent’s recommendation adopted by the board, if the offer is accepted, the probationary certificated employee may return to an administrative position at a different work site.”

Hatton-Hodson added that Halt will be invited to the San Clemente High School graduation ceremony. Later in the meeting, it was clarified that the seniors’ diplomas will have Halt’s signature on them.

Halt said after the meeting that he’s “excited to be there and see them off.”

Following the announcement, Trustee John Alpay, San Clemente’s representative on the board, spoke during his open session agenda item to authorize an independent investigation into the facts surrounding Halt’s personnel matters. If Halt were to accept the board’s offer, Alpay asked instead that the district focus on moving forward.

Principal Michael Halt speaks with Trustee John Alpay following the June 4 CUSD meeting. Photo: Allison Jarrell
Principal Michael Halt speaks with Trustee John Alpay following the June 4 CUSD meeting. Photo: Allison Jarrell

“We need to restore the faith and trust in this district,” Alpay said. “One thing that I would like to see is a review or an evaluation of … processes regarding termination or nonrenewal of our employees.”

Trustee Jim Reardon’s motion to indefinitely postpone Alpay’s original item for an independent investigation received a second, and the board’s legal counsel advised that public comments would not have to be heard if the item was dismissed. Alpay asked that the comments be heard anyway “in the spirit of openness and transparency.”

Not Enough

One by one, 21 public speakers were called up to the podium, making last minute adjustments to their prepared comments. The impromptu speeches shared a common theme: thanks for listening, but it’s not enough.

“This announcement actually makes me mad,” resident Wendy Shrove said. “We had this little glimmer of hope that you all were hearing us. And I feel like tonight, you just bested us with some legal maneuver to offer him an equivalent position, but you’ll be darned if you’re going to give him back to the school where we want him to be … I think you’ll win, because I think you’ve covered yourselves legally. But morally, you missed it.”

Senior Grant Meyer presented the board with a petition signed by over 400 SCHS seniors. Meyer said the petition, which originally asked that a U.S. Marine Corps Commandant replace Halt at their graduation, was also a symbol of the impact he had on the class.

“Tonight’s decision has helped, but these students and I speak for our senior class and we want him back, not for us, but for the underclassmen who have not learned from him as we have,” Meyer said.

Despite the sour note struck by the decision to assign Halt elsewhere within the district, a massive group of supporters gathered outside the board room following the meeting to cheer for the reinstated principal, who said he was left speechless by the overwhelming community support.

“Throughout this entire process, I’ve been overwhelmed and amazed by all the support that I’ve received from the entire community—parents, teachers, students, even people who don’t have kids at San Clemente High School,” Halt told the San Clemente Times. “They’ve rallied to support me.”

Halt received numerous tearful hugs following the meeting, including one from World and U.S. History teacher Jennifer Toler, who said she was happy to have Halt back as a district principal.

“He’s a wonderful principal and any school—San Clemente especially—but any school in the district would be lucky to have him,” Toler said. “I’m a first year teacher, and he has been fantastic and wonderfully supportive. He’s a member of the team that really looks out for teachers and students.”

SCHS parent Amy Vilardo was one of many to speak with Halt last Thursday night. Halt commended Vilardo’s daughter, SCHS freshman Kaitlyn, for the speech she made during the meeting. Vilardo assured Halt they would continue fighting to get him back to San Clemente High School.

“We’re not going to stop until we get what we want,” Vilardo said. “When you do something wrong, you need to put it back the way it was.”

Halt smiled back at the Vilardos.

“I think everybody knows what my greatest hope is,” he said.

What Comes Next

Following the June 4 meeting, Halt said he’s looking “forward to the opportunity of really having a dialogue with the superintendent and being able to see what might be next.”

Julie Hatchel, CUSD Assistant Superintendent of Communications and Public Relations, said Tuesday “the district is working with Mr. Halt regarding placement for next year.” No further comment was provided, as the subject falls within Halt’s “personnel matters.”

The SC Times filed a Public Records Act Request June 1 in order to obtain records, emails and other documents pertaining to Halt’s employment in the district, beginning with his initial hire in May 2013. The district had not yet responded to that request by press time.

Since June 4, supporters of Halt have taken action by requesting that Superintendent Kirsten Vital agendize “discussion of CUSD practices used when evaluating principals” during a future open session. According to an email the SC Times received from the group Kids Working to Bring Mike Back, the response they received from Vital stated that “because the board has already considered and voted on the matter, there is no legal basis for placing an item to reconsider the board’s action on the agenda upon a request from a member of the public.”

According to the board’s bylaws listed on the CUSD website, “Any member of the public may request that a matter within the jurisdiction of the board be placed on the agenda of a regular meeting … The superintendent shall place the matter on a future regular board meeting agenda within 45 days of receipt of the request, taking into account orderly conduct of the district’s business … There is no requirement in state law that the board take action on, or even deliberate about such an item. It must, however, be placed on the agenda …” (BB 9322-(a)).

Alpay said Wednesday he thought the response was “going in the wrong direction.”

“The district office needs to understand San Clemente,” Alpay said. “We rally around our own.”

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comments (14)

  • Please don’t take this the wrong way, because I want Halt back… but I just can’t see how he would want to be back with Vital at the helm. Does Halt even want to come back and report to Vital after all she tried to do to his reputation, livelihood, and career? I can’t imagine he’d want to stay in CUSD at all unless Vital is gone.

  • I agree with SC Dad about Halt not wanting to return if Vital is at the Helm. I’ll go one step further – let’s change the person at the Helm.

  • Kimberly Suda-Blake Reply

    I believe that Mike *would* come back with Vital at the helm because he is dedicated, committed, and SCHS is where he’d like to be and where he belongs. Given Vital’s handling of the reinstatement of Principal Halt – and its clear message that she is not viewing this colossal mistake as the opportunity for a positive career-defining moment – I can’t think of a situation in which it’s even remotely *possible* for him to return with her at the helm, due to the proverbial house of cards on which her hiring and retention is built: The CUSD has decades’- long history of corruption; the Board hired Vital knowing *exactly* what they were getting; they’re going to stick by their hiring decision; Vital is the only person who can recommend that Halt be reinstated as principal of SCHS; Vital is not going to make this recommendation and rather give him a position that checks the “legal” box; and the community is left with a corrupt district, with hundreds of thousands of dollars stolen from our children’s education to pay for lawyers and lawsuits/damages, security, PR firms, political strategists, other (I don’t even want to know).

    Perhaps a comprehensive investigation into the district administration’s incompetent and potentially fraudulent handling of Principal Halt’s and others’ personnel matters is the unappreciated element that collapses the CUSD’s feeble foundation? I am encouraged by the SC Times’ and other media’s, the CUSD community’s, taxpayers’, and possibly Mike’s legal counsel’s, if such has been retained, push for such an investigation. The CUSD’s house of cards needs to be abolished quickly – once and for all – so that we can stop this cycle of corruption from robbing our children, and can begin to rebuild. Let’s make this *our* positive-defining moment, CUSD community.

  • I agree with SC Dad, SchoolHouseRock and Kimberly Suda- Blake. Vital has to go.

    John Alpay was correct in that CUSD needs to restore the faith and trust in this district. Faith and trust need to be “restored” because in less than 9 months Superintendent Kirsten Vital has seriously damaged CUSD. Vital not only supported, but promoted Le Patner and Bretlinger.

    Vital failed miserably when it was announced in a press release on February 25, 2015, http://capousd.ca.schoolloop.com/file/1218998864154/6860589867447102516.pdf “Under the new management structure, Dr. Michelle Le Patner, who presently oversees the District’s sixth through twelfth grade programs and Adult Education as Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education, will have her role expanded to include all pre-Kindergarten through Adult Education programs as Assistant Superintendent of Education Services. “

    It is confusing to many of us how Le Patner, who had NO high school experience to begin with and had accomplished little to nothing in her previous position, was promoted to such and important position.

    Many of us were also saddened to learn in this same press release that “Dr. Julie Hatchel, who presently oversees the District’s pre-Kindergarten through fifth grade programs as Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education, will become the District’s new Assistant Superintendent of Communications and Public Relations.” Dr. Hatchel was greatly respected throughout the district for “almost 20 years” and this “reassignment” was seen by many as a demotion. Perhaps this is why the district is unfortunately losing this fine educator to another district.

    That brings me to the Assistant Superintendent of Personell who also got a recent promotion. In a press release dated April 22, 2015, it was stated that “The District is pleased to announce Jodee Brentlinger as the Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services/Community Relations. Ms. Brentlinger will transition from her role as Assistant Superintendent, Personnel Services to her new assignment July 1, 2015.” It was noted that Bretlinger, ” is a leader who is collaborative, engages stakeholders, and approaches work as a systems thinker.”

    Many of us in CUSD have not seen any evidence of these attributes in Bretlinger. We have, however, seen mismanagement, system failures and negligence. I find it ironic that the person who did not engage stakeholders in making these important decisions, including the hiring and firing of principals, is now in charge of Administrative Services and Community Relations.

    In the February 25, 2015 press release, Lynn Hatton-Hodden, President of the Board of Trustees, sated that “ Superintendent Vital has done an excellent job keeping us apprised of evolving needs that could impact our students and our schools over time and she has provided a solution to address these needs for which the Board agrees and supports.” In light of the mess that the district is in, I am hoping that Ms. Hatton-Hodden seriously considers the extent to which the Superintendent understands the needs of our schools and students.

    It has not be articulated on the CUSD website the standards by which Superintendent Vital is being evaluated nor the process or data that will be used to measure her effectiveness. A third party should be employed to guide the Board of Trustees and advise them through the process. The superintendent is the only employee in the entire CUSD organization who is supervised by multiple evaluators, all of whom, I am assuming are untrained in the evaluation of professional educators.

    “Evaluating the Superintendent” from the American Association of School Administrators ,provides a practical reference for both novice and veteran superintendents, as well as the boards that employ them. http://www.aasa.org/uploadedFiles/Resources/AASA_White_Paper_on_Superintendent_Evaluation.pdf

    As noted in this document, “ The need to effectively evaluate the superintendents of schools annually is not only a fundamental responsibility of the boards that employ them, but it is also legally required.”

    Many of us are confident that after a comprehensive evaluation, based on clearly established standards using multiple data sources, and a clear rating scale, it will be evident and confirmed that Superintendent Vital’s performance is unsatisfactory or at the very most, performance that requires improvement.

  • CUSD’s policy for evaluating the Superintendent is 20 YEARS OLD. A lot has changed in the field of education since 1995. Nevertheless, looking forward to seeing the following:
    1. Superintendent’s job description
    2. Performance Factors
    3. Vital’s Written Report (by July 15, 2015)
    4. Completed Superintendent’s Review Forms

    Questions:
    Who is the private law firm that will “type the formal evaluation”?
    How will the evaluation be shared with community?
    When will the Board update this antiquated policy?

    The CUSD Board Policy for the Evaluation of the District Superintendent Adopted August 21, 1995
    http://capousd.ca.schoolloop.com/file/1218998864154/6054324877671709486.pdf

    The Governing Board shall complete a written evaluation of the Superintendent. The
    evaluation shall be completed each summer.

    The Superintendent’s evaluation shall be based upon the Superintendent’s job description,
    mutually agreed upon major District objectives for the evaluative period, and a set of
    performance factors contained in the Superintendent’s Review Form.

    The Superintendent is responsible for submitting to the Board annually, on or before July
    15, a written report setting forth the extent to which each management objective has been
    met. The report shall also include a copy of the Superintendent’s Review Form to be
    completed by each Board member.

    Upon receipt of the Superintendent’s report, the Board shall meet in closed session with the
    Superintendent in some cases and without the Superintendent in others, as appropriate, to
    discuss the Superintendent’s report and to permit Board members to evaluate the
    Superintendent’s performance.

    The Board President shall be responsible for compiling and summarizing the Board’s
    comments relating to the attainment of the major District objectives by the Superintendent
    and completion of the performance factors evaluation form. The Board President shall also
    be responsible for compiling the Board’s collective reports to the Superintendent.

    The typing of the formal evaluation of the Superintendent shall be done by the private law
    firm which serves the District.

    The completed evaluation shall be transmitted to the Superintendent wither by a conference
    between the Board President and the Superintendent or by the Board collectively. The
    method to be used shall be determined annually.

  • I am so impressed with all these comments. This is great information. Please send these great leads to leads@bringmikeback.org.

  • Secrecy continues… What was the outcome of the closed session of the last board meeting?

    Also, what happened to LePatner? I’ve heard that she had falsified her employment record. Has anyone looked into this? I’ve heard there is a mom out there that did the research and public records requests to prove this. This needs to be made public.

  • More on the administrator changes. Vital and LePatner pushed out the lady in charge of the ROP. They hired a new Executive Director to run the ROP program. Her name is Pati Romo and she does not have a bachelors degree. All of the other Executive Directors have bachelors and masters degrees, even the ones who were demoted. How do Vital and the school board justify hiring someone without a bachelors degree???

  • For a more detailed look at a wide range of problems surrounding Superintendent Vital visit the Facebook Page – Trouble at CUSD

  • Nice new website and I hope others will follow.

    I have seen the two resumes presented by Ms. LePatner to Santa Ana and CUSD and am thoroughly baffled by the glaring discrepancies between them. In one she’s a department chair of three subjects while a sophomore, junior and senior at University of Arizona (talk about prodigies) and in another there is no mention of that experience in the same time span. And that’s just one line-item that doesn’t jive. There are other fabrications much more germane to the position she was granted.

    That is what brings me to my point which is: Why is Michelle LePatner out on PAID leave? Shouldn’t her misrepresentation (a polite word for falsifying) warrant an immediate contract termination? It seems so to me.

    And why didn’t personnel conduct a background check?

    And while we’re talking about money leaving the district for Ms. LePatner’s salary, how much is the district paying for the security detail for her and Superintendent Vital? I know that this question has been asked. I’ve never heard a response.

    No pay for LePatner!

  • In June 2013, it was reported in Alameda that “School Superintendent Falls Short of Performance Goals”

    http://www.action-alameda-news.com/2013/06/20/school-superintendent-falls-short-of-performance-goals/

    It is not surprising then that she negotiated her contract with CUSD to read

    “ Superintendent’s evaluation and assessment of performance, including evaluation criteria and performance goals and objectives, will be private and confidential. Unless specifically prohibited by law or otherwise requested by Superintendent, all discussions regarding these matters shall be held in closed session of the Board.” (Section 6)

    Section 17 B of Vital’s CUSD contract states that “ This agreement and the services of the Superintendent may be terminated by the Board at any time for cause.”

    Cause includes material dishonesty and conduct by the Superintendent that is demonstrably and materially injurious to the District, monetarily or otherwise.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/k19996hysm1r4c0/VitalContract.pdf?dl=0

  • Hey SC Times-
    Have you gotten a response to your June 1st Public Records Act Request? Just curious as to how long that usually takes and would love to see what you get! Keep digging and keep us posted!

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