SCSQUARED halfJim Sigafoos, San Clemente

It is my understanding that you are bringing an employment lawyer in to review the files as an “impartial” third party. The question is not whether the termination was legal—of which I have no doubt—it is my understanding that Mr. Halt was an at-will employee. When I asked for a “third party,” I asked for a respected retired Superintendent who could evaluate this matter from the perspective of good District level management. It is still my hope that the district management and the Board of Trustees will at learn something from this fiasco.

The questions you should be asking are as follows:

  1. Are the reasons supporting Mike Halt’s termination sufficient to offset his obviously stellar performance at SCHS? It is easy to find a person who can play political games but very hard to find a leader who can move a school. Did you trade a leader for a Yes Man? Did the district management blow this very important call?
  2. Is there any reason justifying Mr. Halt’s early removal, other than a clumsy, politically expedient, attempt to try to avoid the public mess that ensued? This decision was incompetent, as it greatly magnified rather than minimized the public outcry. It was inhumane, in that it needlessly damaged the reputation of a man who rendered great service in his primary job—educating students—whatever his failures were in navigating the Byzantine corridors of the district office. And finally, it was particularly hurtful to the students of San Clemente High School, especially the seniors who have had much of the luster removed from their graduation year events.

I do not believe you can truly answer these questions without having a discussion with Mr. Halt, and reviewing the termination documents in his possession. I believe you are subject to being “spun” about meetings with Mr. Halt by district management. I also believe that you are subject to being shown documents that were never provided to Mr. Halt, and which he may well dispute. It is my understanding that the district office has delayed Mr. Halt’s request for a copy of his file, which makes me ask “why?” I don’t like to be a conspiracy theorist, but the district management, by their questionable actions and gross mismanagement, have not earned our trust.

I can still believe in the Board, but only if you hear both sides before making a final decision. It is hard for me to see how you can be impartial without hearing both sides.

Finally, I am very dismayed about the climate of fear and intimidation that has descended over the district. By either running off or totally demoralizing our best staff, the district Management threatens to transform a formerly high performing district into a dysfunctional district. I believe at this point, our only achievable “wildly important goal” is to not make things worse. That will take bold action by the Board. I ask you to start tomorrow by at least undertaking an investigation of the Halt affair that includes hearing his side.

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comments (16)

  • San Clemente HS Dad Reply

    I think Mr. Sigafoos is right on the mark and because he is, senior District officials will do everything in their power to prevent further scrutiny to their actions.

  • Thank you to Jim Sigafoos for concisely summarizing this whole situation in a specific and thoughtful manner. When members of the community ask me “What’s going on?” I will direct them to this letter. I join Jim in requesting that the Board meet with Mike Halt directly so that all information is fairly presented before a final review is made.
    For more information and dates/times of the next board meeting (currently scheduled for June 4), visit http://www.bringmikeback.org

  • As a former government type employee, I can guarantee you the results of an “impartial employment lawyer” wil not benefit Mr. Halt. Having been involved in many of these over the years, the District will hide behind their confidential “impartial “investigation report that will state they did nothing unlawful regarding the termination of Mr. Halt and even that will only be after months of stalling. It will not address if they acted against policy or unethically. The public and Mr. Halt will just receive a letter that states they found no unlawful wrongdoing. NOTHING ELSE WILL BE PROVIDED UNDER THE CLOAK OF CONFIDENTIALITY.

    The only way to defeat the District is a large- rather, massive swell of an organized community revolt against them.

  • Perfectly said Jim Sigafoos! You are 100% right on the money! The actions of the trustees were embarrassing. For them to sit up on their thrown and scold the crowd that has already logged a good 10+ hours at previous meetings and came out again in support of Mike Halt, only to be disrespected and dismissed by being told they are moving our agenda item to next week. They had the audacity to scold us and told the students Mike Halt wouldn’t want them behaving badly. If they were to meet Mike Halt to let him give his side, they would know what Mike wants. All I have seen are very bright, passionate and articulate kids who are making a stand to get their principal back. How can you trustees not see the damage you have done and are currently doing? Do you not care one bit that you have made a life altering mistake in regard to a good man and are willingly negatively impacting students. Did any of you offer these kids condolences for their English teacher who passed away this week that has only added to their already sad end to their senior year? You showed more animation on your faces for minor things at last nights meeting than you showed SC students when they poured their hearts out on speeches at previous meetings while you sat stone faced. Is your intention to add insult to injury? Beyond my disappointment, beyond my disgust and even beyond my embarrassment of how adults who are supposed to be making good decisions in regard to our children, I am mostly just sad. I am sad for all of us parents, tax payers, teachers, etc. who have representatives that choose to close their eyes, refuse to listen to those they represent, hand over the power to destructive people and dig their heels in instead of admitting their mistakes and taking steps to correct them. Jim said it would take bold action by the Trustees to not make this already horrible mess worse and that they need to start TODAY! It is not too late to redeem yourselves and regain the lost trust…Be BOLD trustees!

    • …can’t come soon enough to starting voting out some of these clowns. You are right this “representation” is extremely sad. I will also be watching carefully in case John Alpay decides to run for San Clemente City Council in 2016. Now that would be a really sad day if he were to be elected. Let’s hope our electorate is smarter than that.

      • “Let’s hope our electorate is smarter than that.” Not if it includes you! It sounds like you are either a board member, or part of the superintendent cabal.
        Mr. Alpay is the only member of the board that has made the effort to try and correct a wrong decision.
        The rest of this board of trustees doesn’t have the courage or integrity to admit they have made a mistake in hiring the superintendent and her assistant. They will continue to ride this sordid episode down until it results in a recall election!

  • CapistranoUnifiedStakeholders Reply

    Jim,

    Your comments are right on the money.

    No investigation will be complete and be seen as impartial, without an interview and written rejoinder to the “final review” from Principal Halt.

    The question is not whether the actions of district management was legal, it is whether the decision was ethical and just.

    Justice can only be determined when ALL evidence from adversarial parties is examined by an impartial arbiter or jury.

    One doesn’t need to be a lawyer or PhD to determine justice – soundness of mind, and a sense of fairness is sufficient.

    To date, the only board member who has engaged in this duty is Trustee Alpay.

    I have not given up on the rest of the Board (I know and greatly respect many of them). I know that in their minds they have the best interests of students at heart.

    The board has spent a great deal of political capital over the past few weeks. It would take tremendous political courage at this point to examine all of the evidence with an open-mind. I hope that they have this within themselves.

    I trust that they do.

  • Mr. Sigafoos,
    An excellent summation of this issue, and unfortunately there will be nothing done about it either. There will be no investigation of the issue and Mike Halt will leave and hopefully get a job in a district that will appreciate him, like so many of our other fine administrators who go elsewhere and flourish. ( which means he will take his wife with him who by the way, is a wonderful teacher, another loss) This district will continue on this pathway until we can get a new board in. This board is not there to represent the students or the parents of this district, ( they have made that clear the last two meetings) they are there to represent and uphold the superintendent and her lackeys. If they don’t, they must admit wrongdoing and none of them will admit that. The only option for the voting parents of this district is to vote out the board and start with a new one that will represent the parents and students. The only thing at this point holding the district together are the amazing teachers who have not lost sight of the priority, which is educating our students. I feel horrible for the students of San Clemente, especially the seniors who have this legacy of their senior year. Shame on you Kirsten Vital, Michelle Le Patner and Jodee Bretlinger for your hatred and punitive and controlling ways. Shame on the board for not only getting rid of Vital, but for hiring her in the first place! What were you thinking??? It is clear who they ( the board) side with and it is not the voters or the students of this district.

  • Like the sentiment of the letter but time is running out for the Class of 2015 to shake the hand of their Principal at graduation.

    This district has a history of violating the Brown act and the community quite frankly is being kept in the dark. If this does not get wrapped up this week. The community should call for a forensic audit of all district employee and governance records and upcoming plans.

    If some of the lawyers hovering in the audience at the board meetings get enough kids together the district might end up with a class action like lawsuit from 600+ newly graduated seniors seeking damages for ruining their last month of school and graduation.

  • I could not agree with you more Enrique, our graduating seniors have been put through enough. Please parents and community come together to back these children, keep up the fight!

    • I agree with your statement that seniors were affected emotionally one month from the end of their life at San Clemente High School. But they are already gone from Dan Clemente High Dchool in their minds and soon they will be physically. How about seeing this issue from the perspective of the hundreds and hundreds of other students who were interrupted during AP testing week who will remain on campus to deal with a new principle and a decrepit school for years to come? No offense but shaking Mr Halt’s hand cannot compare to having to be on a campus for the next two to three years without Mr. Halt. A decrepit school that is a shameful reminder of how this district spent millions at San Juan Hills High on a campus and especially a theater that resembles Dorothy Chandler Pavilion! Where is there any evidence my Mello Roos tax dollars were put to any good use at San Clemente High school? My daughter refuses to use the bathroom there as it is shameful and her math class is in a shameful portable. That should be where we put our energy! In getting Mr Halt back and to have our school not be the example of 1965 construction it remains today. Shaking of his hand does not compare to the several school years ahead without Mr. Halt and his leadership. Let’s be honest here folks.

  • At this point it appears that the Board wants status-quo and not success. I think the district management thrives on poor performance.

    At this point the Board as lost my trust and I’m willing to contribute to recall efforts.

  • Kimberly Suda-Blake Reply

    Dear Jim,

    Thank you for your comments. While I agree whole-heartedly, I am troubled that it was necessary to remind the CUSD Board about the difference between a legal review of Mike Halt’s personnel matter and the nature of your – and the community’s request – for a review that would evaluate this matter from the perspective of good district level management. We have been clear since the Beach Side Chat on 5/8 that we’re not questioning the legal grounds for dismissing Principal Halt.

    While I have been discouraged by the recent Beach Side Chat and subsequent Board meetings on 5/13, 5/21, and 5/27, I had shaped a slightly different perspective of the seeming arrogant, unresponsive, partial, potentially unethical, and cowardly actions for which the Board has been criticized during the past several weeks. In fact, I had submitted a “blue card” to speak on item 10A, “Trustee Request for Discussion Regarding Whether to Hire an Independent Investigator,” during which time I was going to say,

    “On behalf of the CUSD community, I would like to thank you for your diligent review of the events surrounding Mike Halt’s personnel matter. While many of us went to the ‘angry place’ after the May 22 meeting when – after four hours – you returned with ‘No Reportable Actions,’ I chose to believe that four hours with no reportable actions signals that you are:
    • heeding our pleas to conduct and honest and thorough investigation of the district administration’s actions;
    • uncovering some dissatisfying, troubling, or questionable manners; and
    • working with the legal counsel and others you’ve hired to develop a strategy to efficiently right the wrongs created by the district office management and minimize further damage to the CUSD community.

    I also believe that some of you – not only Mr. Alpay – have already spoken to Mr. Halt, which
    leads me to believe that your review will, in fact, be thorough and include a personal conversation between each one of you and Mike Halt. I am trusting that it will also be fair.
    In the interest of time – and the immediate concerns at-hand (such as Principal Halt’s ability to preside over the 2015 commencement ceremony) – perhaps an independent investigation is not necessary at this time. Maybe this should be pended to the June 4 meeting – after your thorough, diligent and fair review of the facts, which includes a personal conversation with Mr. Halt and each Board member, as well as a written response from Mr. Halt to the Board’s final review. Only then can you:
    • recommend immediate next steps, such as Mr. Halt’s reinstatement for the 2015 graduation ceremony;
    • make an informed decision for how to minimize the significant damage that’s already been caused;
    • reform the district office staff to ensure we have the “right people” in place to achieve our goals; and
    • feel as strongly as the thousands in the CUSD community feel – that you made the right decision to reinstate Principal Halt when you bring him back for the 2015 school year…”

    My trust that the CUSD Board was going in this direction – despite appearances to the contrary – is not naïve. Rather, it is informed by my 20+ years of executive-level management serving and advising high-profile boards on issues ranging from cultivating innovative and inspired teams; communications; and crisis management to financial matters and governance. Based on this experience, it is incomprehensible to me – and quite frankly impossible – that a Board of this distinction would not prioritize a conversation with Mike Halt (independent of the district management) to hear his side before making a final decision. It’s been said that “To be absolutely certain about something, one must know everything or nothing about it.” And it’s too late for the latter. There is nothing to be lost but a few hours of the trustees’ time, and much to be gained, including the truth, transparency, and trust among the people who elected the trustees to serve. If a formal meeting is not planned with the Board of Trustees and Mr. Halt, then I feel it is our right to know from each individual trustee who did/not heed our pleas to meet with him.

    In closing, I would like to thank Principal Halt for inspiring greatness and courage in our little Spanish Village by the Sea. I am confident that a conversation with him would inspire the same in the CUSD Board of Trustees, and encourage the bold action that will be required for our district to achieve the WIG to “not make things worse.”

  • How about a little civic pride. Why don’t we have our own school system? Over 65,000 folks live in this town and we sub out our Police, fire and education system. I grew up in a town of only 10,000 people and they managed to fund all three.

    We need more local control not less over these services. Why are we engaged in these big government solutions to local issues?

  • Here is something you all might be interested in seeing. This is the monthly CUMA update from Kirsten Vital to all the administrators. It went out on the 1st prior to the special meeting on the 4th. It shows that the decision was already made prior to a board vote that Mr. Halt was never going to be reinstated to San Clemente High School. So he is now good enough to come back to a school but not San Clemente? They are going to rip Chris Carter from his school , move Deni Christensen,
    (which is what she wants, she wants to go back to Aliso and get out of SC) and put Mike Halt somewhere that he does not want to be all so they can save face. They are still unwilling to admit they screwed up.
    Enjoy reading and afterward I hope you are willing to get anyone you know to write the board members and continue pressing for Mike Halt to go back to SC. It is the only way justice will truly be served.

    Again, this is an excerpt from the monthly newsletter Vital sent out on June 1st, 2015.

    San Clemente High School
    Every day, I get up for our nearly 50,000 students with the desire to strengthen and improve their educational opportunities and learning environment.
    I have built strong relationships with the leadership of our employee bargaining groups and our CUMA Board and I work very collaboratively with them as the representatives of our 4,800 employees. They are not afraid to tell me when there is a problem and this year we have worked together to solve many issues. I have met with ASB leaders to understand what we do well and where we need to improve as a District. I meet and talk with parents and their representative leaders on a monthly basis. I listen carefully and consider all options. Often, I don’t have a choice of what I can do in many circumstances.
    Over the past weeks, numerous community members have been able to voice their support for departing San Clemente High School Principal Michael Halt, and to ask pointed questions regarding his employment. I acknowledge the unanimous expression of support of those present at various meetings held for Principal Halt. I sensed and understand the frustration, anger, and pain attendees have regarding the statutory process for tenure, with its rigid notice requirements, and the inability of District representatives to lawfully comment on personnel evaluation, discussions which took place during closed session meetings of the Board of Trustees, and personnel actions. By law, in general, these conversations about personnel occur in closed
    2
    session meetings, over many months, and throughout the 18-month probationary period. It is my responsibility to bring these difficult decisions to the Board of Trustees to vote on after a long comprehensive process.
    I accept that, as the Superintendent, I am the proper person to listen to that frustration, to attempt to understand the anger, and to be held accountable for helping to heal the pain.
    I am confident in the members of our Board of Trustees to reach decisions by majority vote that have the best interests of the District’s students at heart. They are our elected voices and policymakers. I am also confident in my own abilities, and those of our administrators, to make sound educational decisions.
    San Clemente’s teachers are incredible, staff dependable and professional, parents supportive and passionate, and students dynamic and intelligent. The movement forward will start with each of these groups, and will be supported by administration and the Board of Trustees. To that end, I echo the remarks of community members who want us to move forward together, and I commit to do my part to help the San Clemente High School community move forward.
    I am happy to continue conversations about how we can move forward and focus on the young people at San Clemente High School.

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