Tuesday, November 23, 2010
'Get a Life': Testy Times at APS
By Hailey Heinz
Journal Staff Writer
"Get a life."
That was the e-mail response Albuquerque Public Schools Board President Martin Esquivel fired off to a Wichita, Kan., woman who wrote to APS board members claiming Superintendent Winston Brooks had a problem with his temper — but also hoping he would find his "happy place."
Brooks was superintendent in Wichita before taking the APS job, and Cindy Duckett was a parent and school gadfly. She now runs a nonprofit that raises money for students to attend private schools.
Duckett weighed in with an e-mail to Brooks and APS board members after Associate Superintendent Ruby Ethridge publicly accused Brooks of "harassing, yelling (and) belittling" her.
Brooks denied the accusations and put Ethridge on paid leave for insubordination. As of today, Ethridge has been assigned to Rio Grande High School as an assistant principal.
Esquivel, who said Ethridge was out of line for copying board members on her Nov. 12 complaint, also took umbrage at Duckett's e-mails.
"You sound like a nut job, so stop e-mailing me," he said in a follow-up e-mail to the Wichita woman.
Duckett said she was "stunned" by Esquivel's response.
"I expected a whole lot more professionalism, especially out of a board member, especially someone who's an attorney," Duckett said Monday.
Esquivel said Monday that he should have ignored Duckett but that her e-mails were out of line.
"I have details about this person and things she was saying, and feel that her motive was malicious and she had an ax to grind," Esquivel said.
In her original e-mail to the board, Duckett said she had read about the exchange between Brooks and Ethridge, who supervised APS's middle schools.
Duckett wrote to the board Saturday and said Brooks had a reputation for losing his temper in Wichita and that she felt sorry for Ethridge.
In a long e-mail that dealt at times with Duckett's personal life and urged Brooks to "learn to 'chill' and to 'find your happy place,' " Duckett cited a heated argument Brooks had in 2000 with an anti-tax advocate who opposed a bond question.
She also wrote that she had heard rumors about Brooks' temper.
"I believe I recall a reporter telling me that other administrators in Wichita would disconnect Winston's keyboard from his desktop computer in an effort to slow him down and to try to help make him think before lashing out at others in anger," she wrote.
Brooks emphatically denied that allegation.
"That is absolutely ridiculous. Nobody unplugged my keyboard," Brooks said. "That is absolutely insane."
Brooks acknowledged the argument in 2000, in which he called the anti-tax activist a racist and a bigot. He stood by those comments Monday.
Esquivel said it was inappropriate for Duckett to bring up an argument that is now more than a decade old.
"When he was in Wichita, Mr. Brooks stood up to somebody he felt was a bigot, and he shared that with us when we interviewed him," Esquivel said. "(Duckett's) attempt to spin it otherwise was misleading and harmful, and that's why I responded the way I did."
After Esquivel called Duckett a "nut job" and asked her to stop e-mailing him, she sent him more than a dozen more e-mails, mainly press clippings meant to establish her credibility.
Brooks did not respond to Duckett, and Esquivel said he should have acted similarly.
"In retrospect, I should have just ignored her," he said. "I'll count it as a lesson learned."