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APS boss Brooks goes barnyard on Skandera

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks on Tuesday sent Twitter messages to a television reporter that derided New Mexico’s education chief, Hanna Skandera, likening her to livestock.

In a series of tweets with KOAT’s Lauren Zakalik, who was in Moriarty covering an event in which Skandera participated, Brooks said at one point, “Maybe Skandy should head for the livestock truck!!!” He immediately followed that tweet with another: “Moo, Moo, Oink, oink!!”

APS social media expert Maralyn Beck joined in the conversation, adding six emoticons – cartoon pictures – of a pig, a cow, a boar, a sheep, a penguin and a frog. Beck said the emoticons were her way of “having a conversation without talking.”

Brooks on Wednesday apologized and said the tweets were inappropriate. They were removed Wednesday morning.

This is the second time in the past month that Brooks has found himself in Twitter trouble, and APS School Board President Martin Esquivel said he was concerned. He called the Tuesday night postings wrong and told KOAT-TV it was a “stupid” thing for Brooks to do, adding that the board would deal with the matter.

Gov. Susana Martinez suggested Brooks’ comments were sexist as well as unprofessional.

“All he’s doing is showing young girls and boys that it’s OK to do things like that,” the governor told KOAT-TV. “… You don’t behave this way or treat women this way. (You don’t) talk about women this way and expect to be respected by young girls who are in the school district.”

Larry Behrens, a spokesman for Skandera, said Skandera had seen Brooks’ comments “and finds them to be disparaging and disappointing, particularly because this has now occurred two weeks in a row.”

Skandera, secretary-designate of New Mexico’s Public Education Department, appeared at a public forum at Moriarty High School on Tuesday evening to discuss graduation requirements.

Zakalik, who covered the forum, arrived early and tweeted Brooks that it was freezing in Moriarty and she was holed up in a livetruck – a television news van from which live events are broadcast. Brooks responded that he thought she had said she was in a livestock truck, and then, after the event got under way, he posted the tweets.

“I thought you said you were in a livestock truck in Moriarty,” Brooks posted. “So sorry. Just trying to picture that?” He followed that tweet with another: “But, then I am at a Board meeting and my mind is wondering (sic).”

In an interview with the Journal on Wednesday, Brooks said his messages were inappropriate and wrong. He said he had called Skandera on her office and cell phones in the morning in an attempt to apologize, and had also texted and emailed an apology.

Brooks said he was in contact with several sources Tuesday about the meeting in Moriarty, and at one point was informed that Skandera was taking a break. That was when he posted the livestock comments.

“In all honesty, I didn’t think of it relating to the secretary,” he said. “When I wrote it, to be honest, I didn’t see it as derogatory as it was.”

He also said he is relatively new to Twitter and other social media, and noted that he, too, doesn’t like being attacked or called names. “In hindsight, I see that it was wrong,” Brooks said. “I’m not making any excuses. I am sorry. I did what I did. I apologized to the secretary. I will try to do better.”

APS social media expert Beck said that in hindsight, she wished she had called her supervisor at APS, the director of the Communications Office. She said she loves emoticons, and that is the only reason she used them when she was tweeted by Brooks at almost 8 p.m. while she was watching television.

Beck, a former press aide to Martinez, said she does not approve of Brooks’ tweets and does not think they were appropriate.

Esquivel said Brooks’ postings amounted to “unacceptable conduct” that the board will deal with as a personnel issue. When he learned of the tweets, he immediately had a private discussion with Brooks, “letting him know I was disappointed.” The superintendent, he said, “owned up to it.”

Esquivel deplored the depths to which the debate over educational reforms has sunk. Referring to fliers sent out last month by supporters of Martinez and Skandera, one of which was aimed squarely at Brooks for his criticism of the governor’s education reform agenda, Esquivel said there is plenty of blame to go around.

The Albuquerque school board, he vowed, “will make it a priority to take the high road.”

Brooks has been a vocal critic of Skandera for months, particularly her handling of the new teacher evaluation program implemented this year. When the Legislature was unable to reach an accord on a new evaluation program, Martinez and Skandera imposed their own program administratively.

Last month, Brooks attended a rally in Albuquerque in which speaker after speaker blasted Skandera and Martinez and the evaluation program. One protester, a teacher, wore a sign reading, “Collectively sucking the life out of education since 2010.” It showed a picture of Martinez and Skandera with fangs. Another sign showed the two state officials with strings stating, “Puppets on a string!”

Don Moya, the district’s chief financial officer, tweeted a picture of the puppet sign calling it “awesome.” Brooks retweeted the picture. Moya also posted the fangs sign. When asked whether the tweets were appropriate, Brooks said through a spokeswoman that he “meant no offense.”

Staff apology

Late Wednesday afternoon, Brooks sent his weekly email to the APS staff, saying, in part, that while Twitter is a great communications tool, he had learned the hard way about a potential downside.

“I’d like to apologize to you,” Brooks wrote. “As the superintendent of this school district, it’s incumbent upon me to meet the highest possible standards. I have fallen short of that, and it’s a reminder to me that I must be vigilant and professional at all times in all communications.

“I will continue to tweet because it’s a way for me to sing the praises of our great district, the kids we’re supporting and the teachers and staff who are doing the hard work. Follow me at @SuptBrooks. I promise to keep the messages positive.”

Esquivel told KOAT he didn’t think it was a good idea for Brooks to be on Twitter.