SANTA FE, N.M. — An unusual dynamic has manifested itself around the leadership of Santa Fe Public Schools.
Superintendent Joel Boyd’s most outspoken critic — who predicts disaster for the school district under his leadership, accuses him of operating a “rubber room” for displaced teachers and recently referred to him on a website as “an arrogant little boy in a big suit” — is the domestic partner of one of the school board members who brought the 33-year-old, Harvard-educated and often dapperly dressed Boyd to Santa Fe from Philadelphia.
Cate Moses, an artist, college instructor and parent of a sixth-grader in Santa Fe Public Schools, is described as board member Glenn Wikle’s domestic partner on his biography posted on the district’s website. Moses herself suggested a preference for “girlfriend” during a phone interview.
“We’re involved,” she said. “He’s my boyfriend, but I don’t in any way speak for him. I support him, though.”
Moses has been a harsh critic since before the school board voted unanimously last June to hire Boyd away from his $141,000 per year salary as assistant superintendent at the School District of Philadelphia and signed him to a two-year deal that pays him $171,000 a year.
“I did a lot of research, and I heard nothing good,” Moses said. “I wrote to all the board members and asked them not to hire him, but they did anyway.”
When asked how much influence Moses has on him as a school board member, Wikle had little to say.
“I’m not going there,” he said.
He did add that he and Moses are “definitely two different people.”
Boyd, in a recent interview, said facing criticism is part of the job. But he declined to discuss Moses, other than to say her criticism of him has not affected his relationship with Wikle.
But Latifah Phillips, the district’s chief of staff, did challenge Moses’ assertions, saying the information Moses puts out at public meetings and in her writings is unsubstantiated and defaming to Boyd and the district.
Because she’s Wikle’s domestic partner, the claims Moses makes come across as “insider information,” Phillips said.
“You can’t make statements and present them as fact. What you say needs to be accurate,” she said.
Moses has been an outspoken critic of the Santa Fe schools’ administration since before Boyd arrived.
“I got into this because Santa Fe Public Schools closed three beloved small schools to tremendous opposition from parents,” she said. “The more I learned, the deeper I got.”
That was in 2010, and though Kaune, Alvord and Larragoite elementary schools were shut down in an effort to consolidate and save costs, Moses has stayed involved in education issues.
And Moses’ interest in education isn’t confined to Santa Fe schools. In January 2012, she became a plaintiff in a lawsuit against state Secretary of Education-designate Hanna Skandera in an effort to get the Public Education Department to stop funding textbooks for private schools. The case is still active in Santa Fe district court.
While others have been critical of Boyd since he came on board last summer, Moses clearly has been the most vocal. She reasoned that may be because school employees, who are closest to the situation, are adverse to saying anything negative for fear of retaliation.
Moses sees Boyd as a product of a “boot camp for privatizers” who go on to initiate an agenda of “sweatshop school reform.”
She’s spread her message far and wide.
Last summer, Moses wrote to Parents Across America, a grassroots group that works to improve the nation’s public schools, lamenting Boyd’s hiring and forewarning doom at Santa Fe Public Schools. The comments were posted on the group’s website.
Moses suggested that Boyd is a disciple of the principles of the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation and that spells trouble for the district.
According to its website, the Broad Foundation says it promotes “entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science and the arts” and that it is “transforming K-12 urban education through better governance, management, labor relations and competition.”
A 2011 Education Week article reported on the growing army of Broad critics who see the foundation, with assets of $2.1 billion, as a destructive force.
Moses is among them.
“These goons orchestrate exactly the same train wreck in every school district,” she wrote to Parents of America. They set up a “taxpayer-fueled banquet for the corporate investors and purveyors of trash curricula, fire teachers, bust unions, close neighborhood schools, pad administrators with 6-figure positions for their cronies, bankrupt the district, and move on.”
On Aug. 1, 2012, Boyd’s first official day on the job, Moses posted a message on former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch’s blog.
In it, she rails against the Harvard Urban Superintendents Program, of which Boyd is a graduate, saying it’s “playing a starring role in corporate reform’s fight club.”
“Like the Broad Foundation, they foster no free exchange of ideas or real academic research,” Moses wrote. “Doctoral coursework is wrapped up in a year and is limited to a corporate reform agenda. Their requirements would not come close to passing muster as a real doctoral program.”
Two days earlier, the school district issued a press release announcing Boyd earned his doctorate in education from the program, saying it is “recognized as the nation’s premier program for preparing individuals with innovative and rigorous training to lead urban school districts.”
In November, Moses posted a message on the website for The Notebook, described as “an independent voice for parents, educators, students and friends of Philadelphia Public Schools.”
Moses’ post called Boyd “an arrogant little boy in a big suit.”
“Anyone who is paying attention here in Santa Fe could see before Boyd even moved in that he has a pathological hatred for teachers and doesn’t care about kids or anything other than his own self aggrandizement,” she wrote. “We need to stand up and send this nasty little piece of work packing before the real damage begins, which it already has.” Moses went on to accuse Boyd of forcing teachers to sign performance compacts that require them to meet impossibly high benchmarks.
Moses has also attacked Boyd recently in a letter to the Santa Fe Reporter and in an op-ed piece that appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican earlier this month.
Phillips, Boyd’s staff chief, said Moses assertions about her boss just aren’t true.
Moses’ claims that Boyd will bring on “mass teacher firings and school closings,” hire young Teach for America recruits and instill a system of “sweatshop reform” have no basis, Phillips said.
“The district has no intention of doing those things,” she said.
Moses has alleged that Boyd has yelled at teachers. “I’ve never seen it once,” said Phillips, who followed Boyd from Philadelphia.
And, Phillips adds, to suggest Harvard University is a degree mill, as Moses does, is outlandish.
Phillips said such rhetoric becomes disruptive to what the district is trying to accomplish and doesn’t advance the discussion on school reform.
“We’ve been very transparent. If anyone has questions, they should bring them to us,” she said.
Boyd, while declining to discuss Moses directly, did respond to questions related to some of the accusations she had made against him and about his critics in general.
Boyd denied any association with the Broad Foundation and any suggestion that he was out to get teachers.
“Our teachers are hardworking, dedicated and committed individuals that are giving everything they have to our children each and every day, and I think that’s where the focus needs to be,” he said.
Boyd said when criticisms are raised, they tend to become a distraction to the efforts to create effective and sustainable reform. He said sustainable reform is best achieved when input is provided by the community, which is why the district held a series of public forums addressing secondary school reform.
“This is a reform agenda that began through the community and we’re looking to sustain it on behalf of our children and families. This other stuff becomes a distraction, and we don’t allow it to distract us,” he said.
Boyd said Santa Fe Public Schools has moved faster and further to create positive changes than any other school district in the country in the past six months. He said most of the skeptics that were lingering when he first arrived last August have stepped aside.
“Now, instead you’ve got critics, conspiracy theorists and fear mongers who are trying to derail the train,” he said. “But the train is moving forward. Our children, our parents, our teachers, they deserve for us to continue to move forward.”
A provocative term
Most recently, Moses has accused Boyd of operating a “holding pen” for teachers placed on administrative leave, a windowless cubicle at the B.F. Young Building she characterizes as a “rubber room.”
The term originated in New York City where it became practice to assign hundreds of teachers accused of misconduct to reassignment centers. They are paid to do essentially nothing while they await resolution to their cases.
The term has also come up at Santa Fe school board meetings recently, each time brought up by Wikle.
On Nov. 7, Wikle said that the term had been used by school employees being interviewed by Boyd’s transition team.
Wikle went on to talk about what happens when teachers are placed on administrative leave, expressing concern that their treatment could amount to intimidation.
In response, Boyd warned against the use of contentious language.
“I don’t think we should be tossing out terms such as ‘rubber room’ as pejorative in any way, nor is it anything that we would create here,” he said. “I would suggest and encourage the board to stay away from pejorative terminology that ends up causing people to think of a situation such as a psychiatric ward, or something along those lines.”
Boyd went on to say, “We don’t have a situation like that. No one would want to create a situation like New York City has.”
But Wikle used the “rubber room” term again at the Feb. 6 meeting, speaking as if the district was operating such a place and asking the local teacher union representative what she thought of it and if the union had a position on it.
“If it exists right now, we’re not aware of it,” said Bernice Garcia Baca, the president of National Education Association’s local chapter.
Before she could say more, an agitated Boyd interrupted.
“It does not exist. There is no such thing. There never has been such a thing. Anybody who suggests there is such a thing is completely false,” he said.
Garcia Baca said if there was such a room, she’d probably know about it.
She noted that just because employees were placed on administrative leave, it didn’t necessarily mean they were in trouble. Teachers may be placed on leave because they were accused of something they may not have done, or for some other minor offense.
“The perception is usually worse than the actual act,” she said.
Board president Frank Montaño added: “I hope tonight will end the discussion of a rubber room. It’s been clearly stated we do not have a rubber room.” He said that it was safe to say few people are placed on administrative leave and when they are the school district tries to resolve it quickly. “Santa Fe Public Schools is not trying to force people out of a job, and not being put on administrative leave willy nilly.”
But Moses wouldn’t let it rest.
Moses signed up to speak during the board meeting’s public forum segment, and immediately returned to the topic.
“There is a rubber room,” she insisted, describing it’s specific location at the B.F. Young Building, on Camino Sierra Vista. “And there is already a teacher there under lock and key.”
Moses went on defend Wikle, who had taken some criticism from his fellow board members for coming out in opposition to a general obligation bond that would provide $130 million to the school district for capital improvements just days before the Feb. 5 election.
She also implied that Montaño was attempting to get Boyd’s contract extended before Montaño, who didn’t seek re-election this year, goes off the board in March.
“Behind the smoke screen of this drama created by four board members, one of you is here tonight to extend the contract of Mr. Boyd at the 11th hour, just as was done with our last and equally unfit superintendent. I object heartedly,” Moses said.
Boyd’s contract is on the agenda as an action item for next Tuesday’s school board meeting.
It’s not the first time, or the first superintendent, Moses has spoken out against. At a 2011 board meeting, she accused then-Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez of manipulating student achievement numbers “for the purpose of justifying her new contract.”
The incident made news not only because of the allegations, but because Barbara Gudwin, the board president at the time, tried to cut her off, saying that Moses was out of order because the subject constituted a personnel matter. Board members Wikle and Steven Carrillo objected, however, and Moses still got her message across.
Wikle weighs in
In an email exchange with the Journal following the Feb. 6 meeting when both Wikle and Moses spoke about the alleged existence of a rubber room, Wikle said he considered the term symbolic of the “supreme power” a superintendent possesses to remove teachers from the classroom.
“Whether or not there is a ‘rubber room’ is really a red herring,” he wrote. “This is about policy that determines when competent teachers are removed from classrooms, usually leaving our children with under-qualified substitute teachers for the duration of the school year. This has a demonstrable affect on the quality of education in our district.”