Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Track Club Pleads Cause to Council

Simeon Wilcher, 4, has his neck draped with medals won by his brother and other members of the Tsunami Track Club.

Parents, children and coaches came out in force Monday to seek City Council support for the Tsunami Track Club, portrayed as an icon of Plainfield’s venerable track tradition.

At issue was the school district’s denial of the use of second floor hallways for indoor training, which protestors linked to the new administration of Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III. Gallon was present at the council meeting at the governing body’s request to speak on school issues and his impression of Plainfield.

Gallon spoke first, detailing his initiatives such as a strategic plan for the next few years, with elements tied to five goals that he has previously described in four Town Hall meetings and at a State of the District Address. Hired in February, Gallon took charge of the district July 1 amidst a number of personnel and administrative changes.

But when given his chance to speak, “Coach Kevin” Turner told the council, “I love change just as everyone else, but all change is not necessarily good.”

While recognizing the council had no powers over school district issues, Turner insisted, “Sometimes you have to do the right thing.”

In this case, Turner said, it was continuing a program that was keeping kids off the streets, supporting academic achievement and giving young people an opportunity to earn recognition as athletes in local, regional, national and even global competition.

The district’s denial, he said, was stated as being based on liability issues, but he said the group had insurance and had used the premises over the past three years without incident.

Gallon, given a chance to rebut the protest, said, “The commitment to these children is not the question.”

“I support this program and this initiative 150 percent,” Gallon said.

But Gallon went on to link the situation on communication issues.

“We will do right by these children,” he said. “However, let this be a lesson to all of us.”

Gallon said all parties have to do better in communicating and said as he took blame, so must others. He urged the protesters to contact his office and make appointments to meet with appropriate staff to resolve the issue.

“This is not about a denial based on change,” he said.

Although as chief school administrator he has the legal authority to make decisions on day-to-day operations of the schools, Gallon declined to do so on the spot at the council meeting.

“I don’t make decisions through fear and I don’t make decisions under duress,” Gallon said.

City officials voiced support for the cause, while pointing out the council and administration had no direct influence in the outcome.

After the meeting, Board of Education president Bridget Rivers said the board was already in the process of taking care of the situation.

But in an online forum, the group had already urged a further protest at the Nov. 18 school board meeting.

Before the debate, parent Jonathan Anderson said he came out to show support for the track club and what he called “an institution” going back 40 years.

“It’s a tradition,” he said.

The council changed its agenda to let the track club supporters speak just before Bill Amirault, chairman of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, was to present the group’s recommendations to the council for the FY 2009 budget. A slide show was ready to go, but after the protest when the council sought to resume the presentation, Councilman Rashid Burney, chairman of the Finance Committee, told the council that while waiting his turn to speak, Amirault received a message that his mother-in-law had passed away and so had to leave the meeting.

The council had hoped to finalize the budget by Dec. 3, but the timeline has now changed to include two special meetings, with a vote later in December.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too bad parents don't rally like this behind academic issues.

Our deepest sympathy goes to Mr. and Mrs. Amirault.

A concerned neighbor.

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent point. Where have the parents been when the students have not been learning? Oh what messages we send to our children.

2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Either both of you were not at the meeting or you didn't hear Coach Kevin talk not just about their athletic achievements but also many of them go on to college as he named the various ones attended. I sent my son through PHS and onto college by me and my husband staying on his and the his teachers' case. It can be done on an individual basis. You don't know if these parents are doing the same. The school administration tried to dismantle this positive program by denying them access to practice. To overturn that decision would not have been done by one voice. Despite what the Superintendent said, there had been much communication with not only him but other members of his staff by concerned individuals. It took the village to come out and raise a greater voice. Children reap many benefits from being in an athletic program. The discipline was evident by the patience shown by these children during the meeting. The only noise you heard was the clanking of their well earned medals. So I don't know what the implication of your comments were but they were certainly directed at the wrong group of people.

5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bernice, based on what you wrote I cannot determine the outcome. The last writer mentioned overturning the decision. Was it overturned? If the city council had no say why were the discussions being held with them?

10:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Superintendent was not going to be railroaded into making a decision to overturn the denial on the spot and on the spot he was. It was hard for him to explain the logic of his denial. Leaning heavily on his Building and Grounds Director's assessment that to allow the team to practice there would be a "liability nightmare", he told the Courier News reporter just because he stated publicly that he supports the children 150 percent did not mean he would reverse his decision. The team authorities are still working on it.

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The intention was never to put anyone one the spot or to make futile attempts using fear. This situation has become a pressure cooker which was evident by the manner in which the Superintendent addressed the crowd. His tone, body language and manner of speak made it evident that he was not addressing things with a total level head. This group is just trying to keep their children well rounded. A well rounded child is a better adult in the long run. A child that has been exposed to many different venues has more to base life decisions on in the future.
As for the few who do not have positive comments, I truly believe that your comments would have been negative regardless. Just to set things straight many of us are actively involved with our school systems, the board of education and basically anything that will help our children prosper and grow into positive assests to society at large.
Just to think with all of the budget cut backs and lagging economy that we are facing at this time, this is an organization that is not asking the school system or Plainfield for a large for a monetary contribution. They are just asking for space to train and keep the childrens minds, bodies and soul on point and active. This organization is based on the love of a sport and the love of the children. Only one of the head coaches has a child participation now. For many years his son was not involved in the program. They just love track, love to teach, love to nuture, love develop and watch or children become all that they can be.
A concerned citizen

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, for the love of the children, parents decided to take matters to the council, which has no authority over school matters, and bully a decision out of the new superintendent?

Where have these 100 parents been when it has come down to show support for, an example, the parental involvement policy that is so needed, or at any of the forums where QSAC was discussed? How about showing up to demand books for all children?

If there was anything shown this past Monday, was how bullying a decision is still a practice used by Plainfield sport parents and coaches.

Shame on them!

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was also there. I did not see the Superintendent as not having a level head. Under the circumstances his tone and language was actually reserved. The City Council blew this one. In the middle of a major budget crisis facing Plainfield its leadership elected to use the track team matter to deflect the real issue on the council's agenda. As a citizen that came to see how my taxes might be affected by their typo blunder they chose to make the main issue the track team and even moved the agenda around for that purpose. I support the kids and hope the Superintendent and coaches can work this out. I felt that it probably would be. But what I also felt was that the Superintendent was placed in a situation on the spot with a room full a parents and kids to deal with an issue that did not relate to the City Council. Personally, I would not have been a happy camper either. His tone said to me that he was not going to be publicly forced and intimidated into making a decision that night. Some members of the Council tried to play politics on the backs of the kids and at the expense of the Superintendent. Good for the coaches for standing up for the kids (although I agree the City Council was not the place for it). Good for the Superintendent for not being bullied. Shame on the City Council. They still dont have any answers about the budget or how their incompetence might raise my taxes.

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the decision has not been overturned and the track team is still not practicing at the school, Coach Turner's speech might have backfired. Plainfield politics and coaches bullying tactics as usual. The Superintendent seems to not be having none of it. For the sake of the kids I hope things work out.

10:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just left the high school for a parent meeting with the principal. I was one of the less than 10 parents in attendance. Dr. Bilal is doing a great job and presented a plan on how to improve Plainfield High School. Why dont parents come our for things like this. Misplaced priorities. The day is coming fast at the high school under Dr. Bilals leadership and with the new superintendent for when parents can no longer blame the school district. I showed up tonight to do my part. Too bad other parents did not come out. Disappointing that so many came out to fight for a track team and not education. I support Dr. Bilal and what he is trying to do.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This made the front page of the Courier. Way to go Coaches and Council. In the middle of a budget crisis and school district trying to rise from years of failure, parents fighing with the new superintendent sends a great message to people outside of Plainfield. Obama promises to bring "change" to America. I pray it comes to Plainfield politicians. Hurry up A.M. and A.M. Go N.D.!

11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too went to the city council to hear about our taxes and was turned away because there was no more space. I thought, WOW! at least there are many concerned citizens for the mess this year's budget is.

But I was wrong. I just hope that as many citizens show up next time when the budget gets to be discussed. Maybe we can invite back those parents and their kids since they are recipients of a big portion of our taxes.

I also feel sorry for the poor new Superintendent who probably new nothing about what was going to happen that night. If anything it's encouraging to read that he's not going to be forced into a decision by those pushy coaches and parents.

Thanks Bernice for allowing us to comment.

4th Ward Resident

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PARENTS - PARENTS - PARENTS. We can have the best system in place, but if parents do not demand the highest from their children, and the same from the school administration, what happens is a school like PHS. The current administration can only help, they are not the parents and should not be raising the children, they are there to support the children. As I said - PARENTS-PARENTS-PARENTS

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With due respect to all those making all of the previous comments, I'm afraid some of you miss the point.

I'm a native of Plainfield who, until a few years ago, was a long-time resident. Let's put aside all of the city's issues regarding crime, the quality of the school system, the high property tax rate (as compared to surrounding communities), the lack of viable property tax ratables (as the commercial community has been steadily shrinking since the riot in 1967). Let's put aside all of those issues, some of which are a function of local government failures and some of which are not. The fact is that many people who would otherwise be willing to remain in the city leave because of the "little" things. Things like prompt leaf collection, prompt snow removal (on secondary roads as well), and the problems that this track club experienced.

While academics is always the most important issue with a school system, it is positive exracurricular and/or community-based programs that often provide young people with the discipline and self-confidence that they can carry with them into the classroom to succeed. Such programs should be encouraged, not frustrated.

I am more than familiar with the history of track and field in Plainfield. The track club in question has used the hallways of PHS to train for years, and the track team at PHS has used the hallways for decades, dating back almost to the construction of the high school's current building in the early 1970s. And, incidentally, high schools throughout the state use hallways during after school hours for the same purpose. Given that the track club apparently has third-party liability insurance that would indemnify the school district for any injuries, this should be a no-brainer . . . especially since the club has been allowed to use the building in the past, and especially since it would not cost the district one extra cent.

Test scores are important, and the Plainfield schools certainly have a long way to go on that score. But this is something that the district can facilitate at no cost, and the benefit to the children involved seems obvious. The fact that the families involved have to go to these lengths to continue to do something that has been proven to be successful . . . well, it's little things like that which make a family decide to leave a struggling community like Plainfield for so-called greener pastures.

Incidentally, when citizens voice their concerns about city government at public meetings, it is not "bullying". It is the exercise of the First Amendment rights of free speech and to seek redress of grievances from the government.

2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also believe those with negative comments missed the point. However, the the team had no idea the Superintendent was even on the agenda when they decided to go to the council meeting. The denial was held right until the same day as the meeting. The parents could have been turned around with even a glimmer of hope that the decision would be reconsidered. With that said, perhaps it was Devine intervention that made the two parties cross paths at the same time. Perhaps the spotlight was specifically for the Superintendent to make him see. Some can realize the errors of their ways with a whisper. Others need a sledge hammer. The atmosphere of that meeting was not at all an air of bullying. Everyone was very respectful and orderly and with great dignity. It was more like passive resistance as Martin Luther King practiced. It was a great example for the children to demonstrate that you don't have to tear up stuff to be heard. It will also be a lesson to them if they are still denied how blind even educated folks can be.

7:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is the real scoop. The Superintendent does not directly deal with facilities use. As reported in the Courier the buildings and grounds department, which report to the superintedent deals with that. When it was denied, the coaches could have appealed to the superintendent. People were asking what did the barbershop have to do with it and it was mentioned because the coaches saw the superintendent in the barbershop and mentioned the issue with him. He told them to call the office. They did not and things got out of hand from there. There was a community meeting and a few private meetings with a few board members who went behind the superintendents back. Stuff got out of control from there. That is why the superintendent said that adults messed this up and should be held accountable. The games some adults play with this issue hurth the kids.I agree with the other person that said the whole thing backfired on the coaches mainly Coach Turner. No one still don't know what is going to happen.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Bernice said...

Does anybody remember how much of a big deal it once was to have a superintendent living in Plainfield? So now we have one who has made that commitment. But that doesn't mean he has to address school district issues ad hoc on his personal time. Whatever else you think about him, show some respect and give him his personal space at the barbershop or anywhere else off duty. This is a sore point with me because people used to hand me press releases at church "to save a stamp." Grrr.

4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to the meeting as well. To the writers who felt Mr. Gallon was being bullied must have never contacted his office for anything. I called on several occassions that had nothing to do with the track club just to be given an attitude by his Confidential Aide, Ms. Gloria Brown. As far as the track club is concerned I called on 11/14/08 just to find out when the meeting would be held only to get attitude again, I finally said to Ms. Brown why such an attitude when I am speaking in a nice friendly tone, which she responded by saying, she's received a few calls from others members of the team and no one is going to dictate to her when Mr. Gallon will meet with them only her. Has she taken the roll of his mother or what? And if I felt like she had an attitude she's sorry for that and practically hung up on me after that statement. Well not for nothing for the amount of money our tax dollars are paying her you think she'd would handle calls more professionally. I'm sure we all have our feelings regarding what we think is right for this track club. I thought it was right to pull my son out of PHS for educational reasons and yes he did run for this track club and was an honor roll student at the school and in Honor Classes. It saddens me to see that we pay administration salaries that range from the 70,000.00 for Confidential Aides that aren't polite, 142,000.00 for administration that don't return calls even though they tell you to reach out to them, 133,000.00 to principals that state they had no Idea of what was going on in their high school to 197,000.00 to bring someone from Florida and never updated him to the fact that track team practices have been going on in the schools for years. So why you put the parents down for not protesting regarding books, but say nothing to the fact that the school haven't had enough books for a few years, says something about you. I feel that if all of our highly paid administrators gave back to their community (PLFD) maybe just maybe we could afford some books. By the way a few of the writers missed the point that a few of the runners graduated and received scholarships and are in college now due to the track coaches. Oh especially that Coach Turner as some said. So before you bad mouth the coaches or anyone else find out what their contribution to not only our kids but to the community has been, these coaches give their time they are not paid to do this. Oh another known fact as the City pays for nothing for this track club, the track club indeed pays every year when they use Hubstein Field for their Olympics so yes they bring revenue into the City. As far as the budget meeting unless you are Dotty G. you don't attend all of them either.

5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Boy! What a sour point this post brought.

But it is the same anywhere you go when it comes to sports and academics.

9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The superintendent being bombarded by phone calls from coaches and parents about little league track. Good for his secretary to guard him from such nonsense. The man was hired with my taxpayers dollars to run a school system. So far from what I have seen and read he is trying to do that . Shame on the city council and everybody who made a mockery of this riduculous issue. Bernice, you got 18 posts on this matter. Mine will make 19. Shame on me too. Plainfield will continue to get it deserves because of people who can't see beyond Plainfield. Wake up people!

11:17 PM  

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