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McCain Gets More Education Policy Help...


...from Lisa Graham Keegan, a former Arizona state schools chief who will start devoting more time to Sen. John McCain's campaign as one of his education policy advisers, according to this Arizona Republic story.

Already part of a team of five education advisers, Keegan will take on a greater, more time-consuming role now that McCain is the GOP nominee. Note in the story that even his education advisers haven't spent much time talking about education issues with Sen. McCain, who has largely avoided the issue on the campaign trail.


Who are McCain's other education advisors?

Unfortunately Sen. McCain has chosen someone who has apparently lost touch with the reality of education.

Lisa Graham Keegan, in her role as Chair of the Board of Directors at New Way Learning Academy, has just participated in the unconscionable firing of Dawn Gutierrez, Director of Education. Gutierrez was summarily fired by Jeff Watkins (who has only been with the school for about six months) with the support of the Keegan and the other three members of the executive board.

Dawn Gutierrez has served at New Way Learning Academy for over 20 years and is referred to as the "heart and soul of the school" by the more than 70 percent of parents who signed a petition calling for Gutierrez's reinstatement, Watkins' resignation and the Dissolution of the Executive Board.

Keegan and the remainder of the board continue to refuse to provide any explanation for her sudden dismissal, despite receiving a legal release and waiver of confidentiality from Gutierrez's lawyer.

This school serves highly vulnerable special needs students who have been profoundly hurt by these actions. The fact that a trauma counselor was to be on hand when the students returned to school, a service usually reserved for the aftermath of a shooting or other disaster, shows that this was not unexpected. The fact that no counselor appeared is unacceptable.

If Watkins, Keegan, and the remainder of the Executive Board, do not step down it will destroy this school as more than 70% of staff and students will leave, to form their own school.

All of this and Keegan's only answer is that maybe, if they have the releases, then "maybe" she will tell teachers why the Director was fired, while admitting that it was nothing immoral or illegal.

Why hold on to a volunteer position at a private school when over 70 percent of those involved have signed a petition asking you to step down?

How can you advise a democratically elected candidate when you disregard such a clear majority?

Parents hail return of principal, (Arizona Republic, Monday June 2nd, 2008) and other local news reports regarding New Way Learning Academy, is nothing but politically motivated hype that does not tell the story of what really happened at New Way Learning Academy this last spring.

Ms. Lisa Keegan and then Executive Director, Mr. Jeff Watkins, were unfortunate scapegoats and were “thrown under the bus” to divert attention from the real problems at New Way. The media has spun the firing of Ms. Gutierrez into a political propaganda story because Ms. Lisa Keegan sat on the board and is now an advisor to the McCain campaign.

I am the ‘one teacher’ mentioned in the Republic. I left in the midst of all the controversy. Behind what the news media portrays, lies the true story of how things have been twisted for political purposes.

The real story is that the Board voted nine to one to terminate Ms. Gutierrez. The real players here are not anyone well known, just a group of teachers who have been at New Way for years. They are well connected to parents who are wealthy and have funded many things for the school and perks for teachers over the years. The teachers have a huge influence on these parents.

Negative views about the job Ms. Gutierrez was doing as the Director of Education were held by many of the teachers I worked with. Teachers were unhappy about general mismanagement, the larger than advertised student-teacher ratios, and the lack of follow through with students and many issues at the school. In addition, there are a group of parents who filed complaints about Ms. Gutierrez and New Way Learning Academy with Raising Special Kids, a non profit agency to aid families with children who have disabilities.

When Ms. Gutierrez was fired, why did teachers change their views and suddenly stand behind her so passionately? Why would they get parents to band with them, and spin a story that “Lisa Keegan hijacked the school?”

Mr. Jeff Watkins came to the school in October, 2007. He visited classrooms, met with each of the teachers and made it clear that he had plans for the high school and wanted input from teachers. He was very approachable and open to discussion. He also was very proactive in establishing new procedures for purchases, and many other school practices that needed attention. He followed through on every issue, task, or request which was a nice change.

Most of the people I worked closely with felt that it was inevitable that Ms. Gutierrez would leave, either by resignation or termination. It was the timing of the firing that was unexpected.

A very important fact that is not well known is that Mr. Jeff Watkins initiated a Human Resources audit at New Way, just a few weeks before Ms. Gutierrez was fired. All teachers were requested to submit their official transcripts and certifications as soon as possible. Why? These documents were missing from many of the personnel files of teachers.

Mr. Jeff Watkins and the Board wanted to be sure New Way was in compliance with state and federal laws as New Way is funded by school districts- to the tune of $300,000 this year-about one third of their operating budget. This is taxpayer money. The intent and idea of having a Board of Directors is to oversee these sorts of things for a nonprofit school. Their intent is not to be involved in the day to day dealings so they can feel the “climate” of the school. That is not their purpose.

In order for a private special education school to be approved by the Arizona Department of Education, which New Way proudly proclaims to be, private school teachers who teach district funded students must be certified in the area of special education for which they are approved. New Way is approved by the State Department of Education to teach students with learning disabilities. This means that New Way teachers must be special education certified in learning disabilities.

A teacher once approached me and actually asked me to scan a certificate from a professional development course, delete the name on it and type in her name. I could not believe it! This began my suspicion about valid certifications.

After I left New Way, I submitted a list of teachers who work at New Way to the Arizona Department of Education Private School monitoring unit.
The Program Specialist for state approved Private Day schools verified that a comparison of the list submitted with the staff list submitted by New Way showed that two staff members certifications have expired; four who are on the list are not on the certified staff list submitted;. In addition, there are other teachers listed that do not appear on the list submitted and all of the other staff had current certifications.

Prior to this, a call to the Department of Education certification unit revealed that the most vocal of the teachers through out this controversy, are not certified in special education by the state of Arizona! And the one quoted in the above named article is not a certified teacher at all! This is public information that can be verified with the Department of Education.

This not only speaks to the integrity of some New Way teachers and Ms. Gutierrez, but it also confirms that the Department of Education has failed to monitor this private school which receives federal funds!

Soon after Ms. Gutierrez’s firing; an anonymous mass email went out to most of the parents and teachers at the school which spewed out all kinds of accusations and vicious attacks on Ms. Lisa Keegan, Mr. Jeff Watkins, and some board members with no substantiation, and none of it has been proven to be true! Whoever wrote the anonymous email convinced many parents that there was some sort of conspiracy and Ms. Lisa Keegan was at the center of it. This is where the story got spun.
(Please read the attached ‘anonymous email titled-LISA GET OUT OF OUR SCHOOL!!!)

This group of teachers orchestrated this entire revolt, from undermining Mr. Jeff Watkins through mass emails, open criticism to parents and the anonymous email. As mentioned earlier, teachers have a lot of influence over parents and more importantly, there was something the teachers did not want: scrutiny of state certifications by the human resources audit and the scrutiny of the Department of Education.

Ms. Lisa Keegan and the many people who have served on the board are non-paid volunteers whose primary function is to oversee the administrative aspect of the school. These board members have spent many volunteer hours because they cared about the students. Where is the thank you to them? Instead they were lambasted by a bunch of paranoid parents who were blindly led by this group of teachers. Where are the public apologies to the people who were so publicly humiliated and viciously attacked?
Ms. Lisa Keegan’s tenure as Chairman of the Board was to end in May, and she publicly said she would resign then, which she did. Of course, this is conveniently left out of all the articles as well.

The reason for not divulging why Ms. Gutierrez was fired has to do with student privacy issues as Ms. Keegan stated. www.eastvalleytribune.com/story/112747)
Why can’t people accept that? Just because Ms. Gutierrez signed a release to publicly explain the reason for her firing does not mean that someone else who may have been involved also signed a release. In the real world, people do get fired from their jobs, it’s not outrageous, it is a fact of life and it is usually confidential information between the employee and employer.

I am in touch with families that have left New Way since Ms. Gutierrez’s firing. Some of these families have been with New Way for many years and they were not aware until they left, that they had no legal rights as far as special education laws and regulations are concerned while at New Way. However, New Way is accountable for federal and state regulations to be followed for their district students.

All of these families that left saw the good positive things that Mr. Jeff Watkins was trying to implement. They also saw the resistance to these changes and were dumbfounded by the overreaction to Dawn’s firing, and outraged by the behavior exhibited towards those who did not agree with them, the board members, and especially Ms. Lisa Keegan and Mr. Jeff Watkins.

Ms. Lisa Keegan was right when she said, “Change is uncomfortable.” I just never thought it would be taken to the extreme that it did.

by Ms. Cindi Lane

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