The Tenoroc situation: Jason Looney and Tim Harris in their own words

The final Tenoroc report has been issued. It is anti-climactic. It’s a somewhat strange rehash of elements of the first report. It seems more oriented to Jason Looney’s handling of the school as a whole. But there are some important findings of fact. Perhaps the most important is that Looney completely botched the professional development plan used to justify not rehiring Brandi Garcia Blanchard. And he has no explanation for why.

Here is what the investigator said about it.

I reviewed a copy of Ms. Blanchard’s Professional Development Plan. The PDP was started by Mr. Looney on December 09, 2016 [the report says 2017, which is obviously an error]. The form was not completed properly i.e. no S.M.A.R.T. or other measuring metrics to evaluating improvement [cq]. Furthermore the assessment tool was never finalized. There were no signatures to indicate that Ms. Blanchard received a copy of the Professional Development Plan, understand what was required of her and a time certain to improve in the areas of deficiency. Mr. Looney was unable to provide an explanation as to why the PDP was not completed properly.

The PDP is what Looney and the Polk District used to justify getting rid of Blanchard. It’s the instrument that has kept her unemployed and tainted her record and career. It’s why she is still unemployed — and why we are not taking advantage of the services of a bilingual Hispanic administrator in a district with 33 percent Hispanic kids and 6 percent Hispanic administrators.

Not sustained/unsubstantiated are very different from “unfounded”

Nevertheless, the newest investigative report finds claims of wrongdoing against Looney “not substantiated.” That does not mean unfounded or exonerated. It means they don’t see enough evidence to support allegations. It means ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. That is also what investigators found in 2010 in the George Jenkins High School investigation involving similar allegations against Looney at an entirely different school with an entirely different cast of characters.

The precise phrase then was “not sustained,” which meant “insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegation.” However, according to investigators in the most recent Tenoroc report, Looney told them that the Jenkins investigation “had been completely unfounded.” That is false. In fact, “unfounded” was an option for a finding in that report. Investigators chose “not sustained.” Unfounded would have meant “allegation is false or not based on valid facts.” It was not unfounded, much less “completely.”

Here are the definitions listed on the cover of the 2010 investigative report.

 

I don’t know if Looney is lying with this “completely unfounded” reference. The new Tenoroc report does not directly quote him. Rather, it paraphrases his responses. Maybe the report mischaracterized what he said. Maybe it’s accurate and he doesn’t understand the difference between “unfounded” and “unsubstantiated”. But I do know what he is characterized as saying about the 2010 investigation is false. False. It’s not clear to me why our 2017 investigators could not read the cover of the 2010 investigation and correct both Looney and the record. But when I say we need comprehensive human capital management reform, I mean comprehensive.

The voice of a “leader” in the Polk District

With that preamble out of the way, I want to provide a glimpse to the public of Looney’s mind and approach to leadership. What follows is an email he sent to investigators on July 23, 2017. That’s about two weeks after I spoke with Brandi Blanchard, and we both sent emails to HR.

At this point, I wasn’t sure if Blanchard’s allegations were actually being investigated. And I’m not sure if Looney knew either. There was a weird few weeks in which allegations had been referred to investigators; but it wasn’t clear if they were acting. In any event, I have no problem with Looney sending information he considers relevant to investigators. He has the right to defend himself. But I think this email says quite a bit, in its way, about how Looney approaches leadership.

It openly attacks, by name, two teachers who were not even interviewed by investigators. One of these teachers authorized me to use her name here. I’ve withheld other names of non-leadership folks from whom I don’t have explicit permission.

Sherry Ross, the teacher I’m naming, was one of multiple people who came to me with concerns about Blanchard’s firing. She told me, at the time of our first discussion, that Looney had actually treated her pretty well during his time at Tenoroc. But she thought Blanchard’s firing an injustice. And she just asked me to talk to Blanchard. Most, if not all, people I talked to about this came with greater animus toward Looney than Sherry Ross did.

It is safe to say that Ross’ opinion of Looney has diminished since her first contact with me. She alleges, in a formal grievance, that Looney and Tenoroc leadership retaliated against her by restricting freshman access to her arts programs. She’s an arts teacher. A resolution to that grievance is several weeks overdue. You can read the email to investigators that follows and decide if you think it’s possible that Looney would retaliate against Sherry Ross. This email existed, but was not made available to Ross or her PEA representatives, at the time of her grievance. I don’t know why.

The email also makes vague claims about Brandi Blanchard’s performance as an AP at Tenoroc. None of these claims were ever documented in any contemporary disciplinary form. And as we’ve seen, in one of their few real findings of fact, the investigators found Blanchard’s PDP defective.

As you read this email from Looney, please also note the part in bold about 2/3 of the way down.

Good afternoon,

I am writing this email because it was brought to my attention on Friday by one of the staff members at Tenoroc that several teachers were contacted and asked to attend a lunch with Brandi Blanchard, Sherry Ross, and XXXXXX. The teacher also said that Sherry Ross was behind a lot of the rumors that are being spread. This is consistent with Mrs. Ross actions since my first year at Tenoroc. Prior to me starting at Tenoroc, Mrs. Ross was displaced. Once I was appointed as principal, I was told by David Lewis and Denny Dunn that I needed [cq] allow her to come back. When I communicated this to the Assistant Principals at the time, they shared with me the issues she caused prior to me arriving. This shows that she has continued to negatively impact the school climate before my arrival and throughout my principalship at Tenoroc.

XXXXXX XXXXX has also openly questioned my decisions and attempted to undermine any decisions I have made as principal. Whether it was county mandated or an initiative of mine, she spoke openly about why she felt it should not be implemented. She also met with teachers alongside Mrs. Ross. She has attempted to engage me and Assistant Principals during staff meetings. She grieved me twice and both hearing officers said I had the right to make the decisions I made. Even after she left the staff earlier this year, she continued to contact my staff without my knowledge. She has forward PEA information even though I already had two reps on campus, questioning some of my teachers about planning time.

I have known for years that Mrs. Ross and XXXXXX held meetings and tried to recruit/encourage as many teachers as possible to support whatever issue they had with me. Currently Mrs. Ross is continuing with spreading false rumors and attempting to encourage my staff to join them. Towards the end of the school year, she started the rumor mill again. She started the rumor on the campus that I was being moved and many of the rumors Brandi Blanchard has communicated. Her actions have been and continue to be toxic. I know the actions of both individuals have negatively impacted our culture and effectiveness. There are other concerns that I have no problem with sharing if the information is needed.

Mrs. Ross has been behind the rumors that were spread about Ms. Fisher and me. Staff members — present and past — has shared this information with me. There is not any involvement between Ms. Fisher and me. I was not moved from George Jenkins because there was an affair. I interviewed for the Tenoroc principal position and was ultimately chosen. That was a promotion. People normally are not promoted when they are moved for reason [cq] that would result in discipline. That in itself shows the thought process of someone that would make up a rumor. I was appointed to Tenoroc in July of 2012. I was the principal there a full year. After the first year, both of my assistant principals and academic coaches were moved. There was not a pool of academic coaches at that times [cq]. I found a math coach that Aaron Smith approved and my science coach was approved by the person over Science (can’t remember the person’s name). The idea to bring Ms. Fisher to Tenoroc came up in a conversation in my office with XXXX XXXX after the school year started and we could not find anyone that would be effective in that position. She asked me if I had worked with a good reading teacher previously as an assistant principal. I responded to her by saying there was only good reading teacher that I previously worked with at Jenkins. Her response was that she would only recommend one reading teacher from Jenkins. We were both referring [cq] Ms. Fisher. Mrs. Fisher was screened by Mrs. Byrd and Ms. Bowen. She was hired as the Literacy Coach at Tenoroc based on her student achievement data and her effectiveness as a reading teacher.

I also wanted to share some information about Brandi Blanchard’s contract not being renewed. I will touch on a few items that were the major reason for my decision. First, was her treatment towards our students at Tenoroc. I had students that she spoke to directly as well as students that witnessed her speaking to other students, parents, counselors and administrators. While many times theses [cq] students were in the wrong because of their actions, the words and the tone that she used to reprimand students was not professional or ethical. Many of the people that brought this to my attention were emotional (some cried) while explaining what she said. I recall a situation in my office that I had witnessed with her making a comment to the young men that were there. She said that they were worthless and an embarrassment to their families. I stopped her immediately, asked her to step into the hallway and told her never speak to one of our students again that way. I also explained to her that she has never heard me talk that way to students and we do not treat people that way on Tenoroc’s campus. I have other situations that I’m willing to share if needed.

Blanchard denies using the language Looney attributed to her there.

For the record, the 2010 report at Jenkins contains this statement from a teacher using her own name:

Later that same week, Mr. Looney sent me a text that said he wanted to “eat my pussy” on my desk. I was shocked, and did not respond to his text. Mr. Looney came to my classroom after lunch and told me the text was not intended to go to me. Because I was still mad, and because I did not believe him, I called him a “fucking pig.” Mr. Looney apologized and told me how sorry he was.

Looney denied this entire story, while accompanied by his lawyer, with a series of monosyllabic “No”s.

The teacher also claimed that Looney’s wife, who also worked at Jenkins at the time, confronted her. Looney’s wife denies ever confronting this teacher — or anyone else — in a hostile way.

Everyone in 2010 agreed that Looney received a text from a different teacher that said either “Good morning sexy” or “I want to suck your big black dick.” The accounts differ. Whatever the text said, it led to an exchange between Looney’s wife and the teacher. Looney’s wife said it wasn’t hostile. You can read a full explanation of this and much more detailed account of the 2010 investigation here.

Also, back in 2010, the investigator wrote:

Investigator’s note: During the course of this investigation several of the persons who were interviewed expressed great concern that they would be retaliated against by either Mr. or Mrs. Looney in some fashion for their testimony.

Overall, I have to agree with Looney that “people normally are not promoted” under those circumstances. I will touch on what that says about our district’s multi-year institutional leadership behavior in great detail in a subsequent piece.

In any event, the “rumors” about Looney at Tenoroc include direct accusations from Blanchard of harassment; an on-the-record witness account from teacher who says she saw Looney and Fisher engaged in what appeared to be oral sex on campus in 2014; and an undisputed account that Looney and Fisher left Tenoroc’s prom together at the end of the 2017 school year, while both say they were well aware of widespread perceptions among staff that they were in a relationship of sort.

Looney and Fisher deny any wrongdoing.

A “mandatory” witness meeting — and a lecture from Tim Harris — during an active investigation

Looney was interviewed for the investigation on August 9. On August 24, he called a faculty meeting for August 31.

On August 26, Assistant Principal Bradley Hardesty made it clear this meeting was “mandatory.”

At this time, and on August 31, the sexual harassment investigation against Looney was active. Any mandatory meeting of faculty was a mandatory meeting of witnesses.

During this mandatory meeting of witnesses, as has been reported pretty thoroughly by now, School Board Member Tim Harris said this, among many other things:

…I felt like it was important for myself and the superintendent to come out and speak with you and show our support — and support of Mr. Looney.

Unfortunately, the superintendent cannot be here she has a very important family issue. [Inaudible] She’s out of the office for several days. So keep her in your prayers please.
I personally have gone through situations in my career, and I was with the school district for 31 years before I ran for School Board, where I had a supervisor, let’s just say had a different paradigm from mine.

I finally got to the point where I could handle the different paradigm because I decided that myself and that supervisor were always going to disagree. We just had a totally different philosophy of life. When I finally got to those mental positions with those three separate supervisors, I was able to deal with it a lot better and accept their differences from mine. It made looking for another job a lot easier mentally.

Looney said nothing during Harris’ speech.

I am not a lawyer. I don’t know what constitutes witness tampering in a HR investigative setting. I don’t know if witness tampering bleeds into “cause” in considering termination.

I do know that Jason Looney, while under active investigation for sexual harassment and other issues, called a mandatory meeting of people he has power over, who were also active or potential witnesses in the same investigation. And I do know what Tim Harris said during that meeting. I published the full transcript at this link.

I also know that the first Tenoroc investigation said this:

Mr. Looney stated that throughout the school year (2016-17) he had concerns about Ms. Blanchard’s performance. He stated that he talked about the concerns throughout the year with his Regional Assistant Superintendent, Tami Dawson, Regional Assistant Superintendent Tony Bellamy and School Board Member Tim Harris.

I asked Tim Harris about this statement during a recent School Board work session. He said he could not recall any discussions about Blanchard with Looney. Did the investigators screw this up? Is Looney lying? Is Harris? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I do know that this is a massive metastasizing mess that has implications far beyond Tenoroc. It now sits entirely in the hands of Jackie Byrd. Jason Looney’s fate is entirely hers to resolve. Brandi Blanchard’s fate is a bit more complicated, I think. I believe the Board has a direct role to play.

After the first investigation was complete, and Brandi Garcia Blanchard’s claims of sexual harassment found unsubstantiated, I offered a motion at a School Board meeting to authorize the School Board attorney to enter into settlement negotiations with her. I did not receive a second.

I will provide a cliff’s notes version of this essay at Tuesday’s board meeting and offer this same motion, again. This issue is not going away. With all investigative reports finally complete, there is no excuse not to act or take a position on what the Polk district owes Brandi Garcia Blanchard. And not acting is taking a position.

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