Superintendent’s Resignation Heightens Disarray In AESD

(March 18) The disarray in the Adelanto Elementary School District descended to an even greater depth this week with the resignation of Dr. Lily Matos DeBlieux as superintendent.
DeBlieux was brought in to serve as superintendent several months after the departure of former superintendent Darrin Brawley. Brawley’s leaving was precipitated by the district’s failed effort to prevent the “takeover” of Desert Trails Elementary School pursuant to an effort to utilize California’s Parent Empowerment Act to restructure that school.
Though she had gamely sought to run the district and make gradual improvements in the carrying out of its educational mission, DiBlieux was buffeted by a string of controversies that compromised the focus on improving the academic performance of pupils in the district. Most recently, the district hired, following a 4-1 vote of the school board, an administrative secretary at a salary of $87,722, with employer-paid benefits of $18,819.60 and additional health and welfare benefits of $15,864.56 for a total compensation package of $122,406.14. That clerical position is intended as an assistant to the school board.
At the time the hiring was discussed and decided upon in closed session, DeBlieux sought to distance herself from it, telling the public the hiring had been acted upon solely by the board. It was approved by a 4-1 vote, with board member Debra Jones dissenting.
The board sought to shroud the matter in a mantle of secrecy, claiming the hiring was actually the promotion of a district employee who had previously been put on administrative leave. Board members cited the confidentiality that attends personnel issues in refusing to disclose the rationale for the hiring, which triggered a round of public criticism of the district, both for the perceived inflated salary of a clerical worker and the manner in which the hiring had been carried out outside normal channels.
The district is still refusing to identify who the administrative secretary is.
In late 2011, a parent union was formed by parents at Desert Trails Elementary, in large measure at the instigation of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Parent Revolution, which is devoted to challenging the traditional authority of school districts.
In January 2012 the parent union submitted 466 signatures on petitions asking the district to undertake a set of what the parents union maintained would be reforms at the academically challenged school, where students had for years consistently scored near the bottom of state-mandated standardized academic tests.  A group of parents opposed to the parent takeover of the school formed and went to work obtaining rescissions of many of the signatures on the petitions.
Those petitions called upon the district to sack the school’s principal, David Mobley, and surrender to the school’s parents authority in hiring his successor, infuse in the new principal hiring authority for the school’s faculty, reduce class sizes and increase the number of school days and instructional hours, and include more science, history and art in the curriculum.
In February 2012, the school district, to whom the parent trigger petitions had been entrusted, announced that it had validated the signatures of only 301 of the 466 signatures on the petitions and declared that the parent trigger petitions were thus 20 signatures short of the 321 needed. The Desert Trails Parent Union, represented by Mark Holscher, a lawyer with the firm on retainer with Parent Revolution, Los Angeles-based Kirkland & Ellis, filed a petition for a writ of mandate and a complaint in Victorville Superior Court seeking a court order that the district verify the signatures and allow the Parent Trigger process to advance on behalf of five of the members of the parents union – Doreen Diaz, Kathy Duncan, Teresa Rogers, Olivia Zamarripa and Bartola Del Villar. Holscher maintained that the district did not make an impartial tally of the signatures and “engaged in a systematic effort to invalidate the petitions.”
Judge Steve Malone, to whom the case was assigned, restored 97 of the signatures tossed out by the district. Malone ruled the district did not have the authority or a basis in law to discount signatures that proponents gathered and he ordered the Adelanto Elementary School District to accept the petition as filed by the parent union.
The parent union modified its demand to having the school converted to a charter academy, offering an intensified curriculum. Delays prevented the school district from converting Desert Trails Elementary into a charter school at the initiation of the 2012-13 academic year.
The Adelanto Elementary School District thus became the first district in the state in which the “parent trigger” law had been successfully applied.  In the same time frame, the district’s superintendent, Darin Brawley, resigned.
At about the same time as DeBlieux was hired as superintendent in January 2013, the school board voted to accept LaVerne Preparatory Academy as the operator of Desert Trails Elementary School.
Under DeBlieux, who took the helm as superintendent in March 2013, the district achieved having Desert Trails converted to a charter school, although that transition resulted in hard feelings and controversy, as well.
A central component LaVerne Preparatory Academy’s approach consists in engaging parents in their children’s educational process.  That parent involvement had been consistently lacking at the school. Many of the parents and educators opposed to the takeover pointed out that a significant number of the students at Desert Trails Elementary have parents whose first language is not English and nearly all of the instructional materials used by LaVerne Preparatory are in English. Whereas 466 parents at the school signed the petition to move forward with the parent trigger process in late 2011 and January 2012, when the parents union held its election in October 2012 to determine which of the charter schools that had submitted proposals should be chosen to educate their children, only 53 parents participated in that vote.
On June 25, 2013 then-Adelanto Planning Commission Chairwoman Lori Yuan and another parent, Chrissy Guzman, both of whom were involved in the anti-parent trigger effort, were alleged to have done nearly $7,700 worth of damage to a Desert Trails classroom during what was said to have been an “act of protest” against the parent takeover while they were disposing of old art supplies in the PTA meeting room at the school. Both have been charged with felony vandalism and Yuan has been removed from the planning commission.
DeBlieux’s abrupt announcement that she will be leaving as superintendent at the end of the school year in June, appeared to have blindsided the school board, which apparently was not aware that DeBlieux had applied to become the superintendent of the Pendergast Elementary School District in Phoenix. The Pendergast Governing Board on Monday approved DeBlieux’s hiring under a three-year contractual arrangement effective July 1.

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