Wednesday, 22 September 2021

School board won't rehire math teacher

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Anna Blair, wife of embattled teacher David Blair, speaks in her husband's defense Thursday night. Photo by Maile Field.

 

KELSEYVILLE – Parents, students and teachers remain mystified following a lengthy school board meeting Thursday night, during which students pleaded passionately for a popular high school math teacher’s job, but lost.


More than 100 students, teachers and parents gathered and half of them sounded off about the future of David Blair, the only teacher qualified in the district to teach higher math.


Ninety percent spoke in defense of the teacher, but apparently to no avail. The board upheld its decision to deny permanent status to Blair, but cited personnel confidentiality rules in refusing to say why.


The regularly scheduled Kelseyville Unified School District board meeting heard two full hours of commentary on the issue.


Of 51 vocal teenagers, parents and educators, those speaking against the math teacher’s retention could be counted on one hand.


But even after hearing from top students wearing t-shirts emblazoned with words of support for the man, the board upheld its decision “not to re-elect” the highly-credentialed teacher.


The lineup of stellar students, some of whom mentioned their grade point averages were well above the perfect 4.0 mark, spoke glowingly of the teacher, characterizing him as “challenging.” Students and parents praised him for “pushing” the students to learn and for having “high expectations.”


Complaints ranged from basketball “incidents” to “belittling” students in the classroom.


The class president and the three valedictorian candidates all spoke eloquently on Blair’s behalf. For many, the battle took the form of sports versus academia, as concerns about basketball coaching behavior problems were all but spoken.


Many parents urged the board to look past the former coach’s basketball history as “water under the bridge” and recognize a “great teacher.”


“I don’t care about his coaching,” said Katie Murphy, a freshman student. “What I do care about is the future of education ... you’re directly endangering my education.”


Schuyler Bloom, who identified himself as the senior class president, noted that he had little reason to care as he has just one quarter of a term left in Blair’s class. The Pepperdine-bound Bloom said he would be “disappointed” if his fellow classmates didn’t have the opportunity to study under Blair.


“I would be sorry for them,” he said.


Bloom said he learned not only math from the teacher, but also how to be a good person. “There are two people who disagree,” he commented, before urging the board to consider “the majority of the people shaking at the microphone.”


“I am a mother of a 2005 graduate of Kelseyville High,” began Julie Berry. “My oldest daughter graduated with a 4.2 grade point average, and like many other Kelseyville graduates, had to take two semesters of remedial math when she got to Junior College because she wasn’t prepared for college math courses.


“When my 15-year-old son can sit at the kitchen table and explain algebra problems to his 20-year-old sister in easy to understand terms, I am very grateful for the two years he has had the privilege of being challenged by Mr. Blair,” Berry added.


One parent who was not impressed with Blair was Mike Lyndall, who criticized the teacher, a former basketball coach, for allegedly “insulting” coaches and referees regarding a basketball incident.


Lyndall, himself a coach, described Blair as “extremely volatile,” going on to comment sarcastically that “he may be the best math teacher in the state of California.”


After parent Phil Murphy took to the microphone to comment that opposition was “vague” and that no students were speaking against Blair, one courageous girl did just that.


Wearing a jersey marked “13,” Kari Vandraiss said she felt Mr. Blair “has very high expectations.” She went on to say that she had never “been made to feel stupid” until Mr. Blair’s class and that she was intimidated about asking questions.


Student Alicyn Yaffee echoed Vandreiss’ sentiment about feeling nervous about asking questions but that’s where the comparison ended.


Yaffee then topped the courage charts by admitting she had received a failing grade but still supported the teacher because he had helped her understand.


“I started asking questions because I wanted to get it,” she said pointedly.


Teacher Dan Springer, who opened the public comment period of the meeting by thanking the board for serving “in a thankless capacity,” expressed frustration that “some students don’t do their work.”


Several students reiterated Springer’s point throughout the evening, commenting that the amount of respect students get from the teacher is equal to the amount of respect they give him. “If you give him respect,” said one student, “he’ll hand it back to you.”


At least two parents described having children on the opposite ends of the math ability spectrum and both related that their children were being reached by Blair.


Teacher and parent Cheryl Mostin was not alone in describing having children going off to college unprepared.


One Kelseyville graduate, Cora Carrier, who now teaches science and algebra in the district, spoke about her experience going on to UC Davis, only to have to spend a year taking remedial math classes because of inadequate preparation offered here.


“I felt cheated,” she said.


Parent Jackie Farley related picking up the local newspaper last week to find a letter to the editor, written by Joe Conger, a self-described former policeman and neighbor of Blair. “Me and my family were some of his biggest supporters (sic)” the letter read. ”I have observed Mr. Blair's inability to control his temper and his choice of words. He shows no respect for anyone who has a different point of view than his own,” the letter continued.


“I was scared to death,” Farley related. So she asked her son if the writer was talking about his teacher. “No, that’s not Mr. Blair,” she said, relating her son’s response.


Farley described the letter, which is strewn with grammatical errors, as “defamatory and inflammatory.” She drew audience laughter when she suggested it would be good for English students to analyze.


The most disturbing commentary came from Anna Blair, who said her husband “chose not to be here tonight.”


The teacher’s wife related that her family has endured neighbors calling her landlord “to have us evicted” and she said an administrator at another school in the district “told my husband he was not Christian enough.”


Blair said she thought she had won the battle with her husband and had convinced him to give up. But then, she described students calling from 5, 10 and 15 years ago to thank him. She described the callers as doctors, dentists and Division 1 basketball players.


Whether Blair himself has given up remains to be seen.


It is clear his students haven’t.


E-mail Maile Field at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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