John DeVincentis' letter publicly chastising Superintendent Donna Howell on Monday was not only off target but also completely inappropriate for a School Board member.
DeVincentis, who didn't attend Monday's School Board meeting, asked Strawberry Park Elementary School teacher Mike Johnson to read a letter on his behalf regarding the effort to put artificial turf on Gardner Field. The board voted 4-0 on Monday to accept a $250,000 gift from the Education Fund Board to help pay for the turf. The gift will be matched by community contributions.
Johnson was not comfortable with DeVincentis' letter, telling board members, "Don't shoot the messenger," and saying he did not necessarily agree with the letter's contents.
The letter criticized Howell for bringing the artificial turf idea forward when the district recently received Colorado Student Assessment Program test results that were down from last year's results. The results were for the third-grade reading test.
DeVincentis wrote that he "is not surprised our superintendent would support an artificial turf field" rather than "our children." He also said Howell "needs to be held accountable" for the decreased CSAP scores and accused her of "making excuses" for the lower scores.
Howell did not respond to the letter. School Board member Pat Gleason called the letter highly offensive. Gleason said it was wrong for a board member to handle a personnel matter in such a public manner.
It is perfectly legitimate for DeVincentis to argue that the $250,000 in Fund Board money would be better spent on classroom instruction than on an athletic field. He is not alone -- several members of the public made similar arguments Monday.
But DeVincentis merged the artificial turf proposal with a decline in third-grade reading scores and used that as justification to berate Howell publicly.
The artificial turf idea was initiated by community members through the Fund Board process. Howell's involvement was limited at best. And although we agree that Howell ultimately is accountable for student performance, to suggest that she was the catalyst that caused the slip in one segment of the CSAP is a reach.
Yes, the scores fell compared with the reading scores of last year's third-graders, but they remain well above the state average. And if DeVincentis thinks Howell is to blame for this year's third-grade reading scores, does he also think she deserves the credit for the remarkable performance Steamboat schools have had on the CSAP during her tenure?
DeVincentis never discussed the third-grade scores with Howell before Tuesday's meeting. He never raised concerns with her about the artificial turf field. Instead, he tried to embarrass her at a meeting he knew he would not attend, and he used a school employee to do it. That shows a serious lack of judgment and decorum by an elected official.
DeVincentis was a great principal at Strawberry Park Elementary School. But his past public battles with Howell and her predecessor, Cyndy Simms, created a perception that his motive for running for the School Board was more about settling scores than about serving the education community. Fair or not, his actions Monday simply reinforce that perception.
It is DeVincentis, not Howell, who should be embarrassed by his letter.