Lost Leaders

Politics and questioned qualifications play into resignation of committed Leadership pioneers

Steffi Lau, editor in chief
El Estoque
August 29, 2006

“You have three minutes.” Not nearly enough time to express anger, passion, devastation and grief. Walking up to the microphones one after another, on July 11 the MVHS students faced the row of five Board of Trustees members. They demanded answers and conveyed their frustration.

On a July 11 Board of Trustees meeting, around thirty students and teachers gathered at the Fremont Union High School District office in support of former MVHS teacher Tim Krieger. On June 23, Krieger resigned from the District after being asked to settle allegedly still-brewing feelings over a seven-year old incident with MVHS Guidance Resource Teacher (GRT) Cathy Katz and her husband Board of Trustees President Avie Katz.

According to Krieger, he made a grading decision in his first year of teaching, seven years ago for the Katzes' daughter. The family was unhappy with the decision and took it to the District, eventually resulting in the decision being overruled. However, the incident resurfaced in May last school year when Krieger expressed interest in a temporary year-long GRT position that had become vacant. He was told that Mr. and Mrs. Katz still harbored feelings about the incident and that this might pose a threat to Krieger’s appointment as GRT.

As a result, Krieger, Biology AP and Leadership teacher, resigned along with fellow Leadership and PE teacher Melanie Walczak. They have since moved to Seattle. Their resignations would eventually contribute to the dismissal of Superintendent Stephen Rowley, a frantic search for replacement teachers, and an investigation estimated at $20, 000.

The departure of the popular teachers has left a slew of saddened students. “After I found out the news, I was completely heartbroken,” Leadership student junior Katherine Hu said. “I sat in my car for 15 minutes crying.”

“Instead of prudently evaluating Krieger honestly, certain Board members allowed emotions and personal relationships to get the best of them,” said Danh Tranh, a MVHS 2005 graduate at the July 11 Board meeting, addressing the Board. “I hope that this district, for your own consciences, recognizes that the actions taken by certain Board members were foolish, childish and lacked every sign of good judgment.”

Students have ensured that Krieger’s resignation cannot be brushed under the rug, circulating online petitions demanding that an investigation be made into the circumstances surrounding Krieger’s resignation. The petitions altogether amassed 775 signatures. At the July 11 meeting, five people spoke, including MVHS graduates and ASB President Kim Ang, protesting that petty politics had driven away their beloved teacher. The Board meeting would be the first of several meetings that students would attend.

While the issues concerning Krieger’s resignation may be complicated, it started out simply enough. A GRT position opened up in May with GRT Sylvia Lam going on maternity leave. Krieger informed Principal April Scott of his desire to fill the temporary position, leaving his role as Biology AP and Leadership teacher behind. Scott received the idea enthusiastically.

“We had looked and looked and it was very hard to find someone for a temporary position,” Scott said. “Then we had one of those conversations where he said, ‘Oh maybe I could do something like that’ and it just all fit together. It would give him a set of experiences he was looking for, and it would answer a one year concern for us.”

Krieger, who has an administrative credential, hoped to use this as a transition to eventually apply for a position as Assistant Principal. With Scott’s unofficial agreement, Krieger began preparing for his new GRT position. Although he was still awaiting official approval of his position, according to Krieger, he had no reason to believe that it would not be approved.

However on June 9, the last week of school, Deputy Superintendent Polly Bove met with him regarding opposition to his not-yet approved appointment as GRT by Mr. Katz, Mrs. Katz and Board member Homer Tong, who had earlier in the week been on campus inquiring about a conflict between the Leadership team and Senior All Night Party parents. According to Krieger, he was told that Mr. Katz had approached Rowley regarding his concerns about Krieger and that Scott had spoken to Mrs. Katz about her alleged hesitation to work with Krieger.

"It has been suggested that I interceded inappropriately with the superintendent regarding [Krieger's GRT position]. This is not true," stated Mr. Katz during an Aug. 22 Board meeting. "As a member of the Board, it is my responsibility to ensure that we develop policies that enable us to fill every open position with the best qualified person."

Asked when she came to know of the Katzes' past relations with Krieger, Scott answered, “[Superintendent Rowley] called me and said, ‘Are you aware that there’s some history here?’and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ He said, ‘Would you be willing to talk with Mrs. Katz to find out about the history?’ and I said, ‘I’d be happy to.’ So I went in as a friend to a friend and colleague to a colleague and learned from that there were some issues. And I even stopped her in the middle and said, ‘I don’t want you to give me details…I just want to know how we can move forward.’”

"This dispute hasn't affected my feelings toward Mr. Krieger," said Mrs. Katz. "The matter was resolved and I continued to regard Mr. Krieger as a fine teacher."

At the Aug. 22 Board meeting, Mr. Katz said, "It is suggested that I spoke to the superintendent regarding Mr. Krieger because my wife Cathy and I hold some sort of grudge against him because of an incident involving my daughter many years ago. This is simply untrue...As far as we are concerned, the matter is closed. We are satisfied that the District and administration handled it properly, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the present."

According to Krieger, Bove then suggested that Krieger apologize to Mrs. Katz about the incident seven years ago as a means of smoothing over the roadblocks to his GRT approval. About two weeks later, after returning from a trip to Washington to visit Krieger’s family, Krieger and Walczak resigned.

“I was shocked,” said Krieger of his feelings after meeting with Bove. “Essentially I was speechless. I was hurt, I was angry. It’s been really difficult and it’s hard for me to describe. That meeting devastated me…It’s been hard for me to even go back to school.”

Krieger said that he had never had any bad interactions with Mrs. Katz after the grading incident and harbored no hard feelings towards her. “I was confident that we would be able to have a great working relationship, so to me this was a total surprise.”

While many students at the July 11 Board meeting seemed to blame Bove as being opposed to Krieger’s appointment herself, Krieger explained otherwise. “I think her intent with meeting with me was not to threaten me,” said Krieger. “It was really to try and prepare me or to try and give me a heads up that these two people [Mr. Katz and Tong] were not happy and maybe to almost be like, ‘let’s try to fix this.’”

“I heard about some issues that one of his colleagues had with him,” said Bove. “We wanted to make sure that before we pursued this and continued to support April Scott’s desire to place him in this position, we had addressed the concern of his colleague. It is true that his colleague is connected to a Board member, but it’s not as if a Board member came to me...but I did hear, and it’s my job to try to reconcile those issues between colleagues, and that was my greatest hope. We all think the world of Mr. Krieger.”

While talk of a grading incident seven years ago continues to circulate, Mr. Katz insisted at the July 11 meeting, “This is not about a personal issue. It’s about qualifications…In this case, it would be like taking a social studies teacher without any background in biology and placing them in that role.” Katz continued on to say that because Krieger did not have the necessary Pupil Personnel Service (PPS) credential required for GRTs, he was not qualified.

However, teacher contract explains that a PPS credential is not necessary for guidance positions filled by credentialed teachers, that teachers without a PPS are called Guidance Resource Teachers while those holding a PPS would be referred as Guidance Counselors. Because Krieger did not have a PPS, he would have needed a waiver in order to occupy the GRT position.

At the time Bove approached Krieger, it was unclear whether his waiver would need to be voted on by the Board, so a concern was that with Tong and Katz’s opposition, there were two members out of five who would vote no. Only after the July 11 meeting was it discovered, according to Bove, by Human Resources Direction Nancy Fischer that the waiver would not have needed to go through Board approval. However, Krieger resigned before the process was completed.

Nevertheless, Krieger said, “Logically, I know that it was only two people that had this issue, and I know I have the support of almost everyone else. But just to know that two people can have the effect they did upsets me to no end…I just don’t think it’s worth my time to fight it. I don’t want to get involved with all these politics.”

“I think it is very strange, or coincidental, that after somebody who isn’t very happy with their coworker being their coworker, their husband who happens to be on the school Board talks to the superintendent about that. It’s kind of sad that it has to be that way.”

While the politics of Krieger’s lost GRT appointment have played a major role in Krieger and Walczak’s leaving, Krieger said, “This is not the cause of us leaving. It’s the catalyst.”

“I immediately started thinking about leaving,” Krieger said of his reaction after his meeting with Bove. “But I think it’s important not to leave in a rash way. So we sat down and made up a list of pros and cons and really looked at it like, not just the situation, but whole life stuff.”

Krieger lists a number of factors as reasons for their leaving, including the fact that he is originally from Washington and all of his family lives there. He cites the high housing prices in this area, saying that he wants to be able to afford a house with a yard.

He went on to say, "Every year I update my resume at a school district in Washington. I’ve always done that. So in the end, it’s not this anti-district or anti-situation that’s causing us to leave. It’s that’s what caused us to think about leaving, then we came up with this big list of wow, these are all these opportunities that we can have. Then you get excited about it and you go up there and ‘Wow, this is beautiful, I really like this.’ You go a lot by gut.”

Although the cause for their parting may have been under less than ideal conditions, Krieger and Walczak find bittersweet excitement in looking ahead. “[ASB Financial Technician Judy] Ma said this to me the other day. She said, ‘Crisis creates opportunity,’” smiled Walczak. “I just loved it because sometimes that’s it. An unfortunate situation, but in the end it’s created a new opportunity for Mr. Krieger, and I think it will push us and stretch us in a new way as we take this new path.”

During their tenure at MVHS, Krieger helped vault the MVHS’ Biology AP program to number one in the world and the two had written a book together for other teachers of student leadership. Krieger had also helped coach the Cross Country team.

“Leaving leadership is hard,” said Krieger. “I think you always want to leave something right when you feel like it’s at the point where you want it. But we’re not at that place. The hardest part for us is telling people and feeling like we’re letting them down.”

As for the emotions on the receiving end of the news, when asked about her reaction to Krieger and Walczak’s resignation, Scott replied, “I cried. Selfishly, it’s very sad to not have them be part of our whole family and community. The other reaction I had is, I couldn’t be happier for them. Maybe it was just that the timing was right for them and it allows the two of them to have a brand new life and I’m thrilled for them.”

Krieger and Walczak plan to carry on their passion for student leadership in their new home. Krieger has been hired as Dean of Students at a high school in Washington. “It is a good experience for me,” said Krieger via email. “It will have many assistant principal duties, and that will give me a taste of that job—without throwing me to the full set of lions.”

Walczak will be directing dance competitions. Meanwhile, Krieger and Walczak are considering sequels to their leadership book and plan to offer services to run retreats and help schools structure their leadership programs.

"I have no regrets,” reflected Krieger. “It’s definitely sad, but I definitely think it’s the right decision.”

While the pair has moved on to a new life, the aftereffects of events indirectly relating to their resignation are being felt in Cupertino such as the dismissal of Superintendent Stephen Rowley at the Aug. 22 Board meeting. (see “Dr. Rowley Dismissed”) At the same meeting, the Board voted to hire a third party to compile a timeline of events surrounding Krieger's resignation, opting not to call it an investigation.

Many of those involved support the investigation, including the Katzes. "I hope that this matter will be investigated so that all the facts will be known," said Mrs. Katz.

Although Krieger may not have regrets, his colleagues have quite a few, hoping that the investigation will help them approach similar situations differently in the future.

“There’s got to be a better way to handle it because the results were terrible,” said Bove. “I mean, I have to believe there was a better way...I think an investigation might guide us to what we might do differently.”

While the students have moved on into the first weeks of school, many still feel strongly the loss of the two teachers.

“Yesterday at the rally setup, I really felt their absence,” ASB Treasurer Connie Lui said. “Everything was up in the air. The PVC pipes weren’t supporting the banners, we weren’t sure whether we could bring out the speakers and where we could hang the banners. We weren’t sure about a lot of things. In the middle of all that I thought, ‘I miss KW [Krieger and Walczak].’ They were always like this safety net. I missed their security and dependability. They always had everything planned so perfectly.”

Scott credits Krieger and Walczak for transforming the Leadership class from “just the rally and dance planners” to making it far-reaching. “It really was teaching what real leadership’s about when you leave this school,” she said. “They’re exceptional in the way they empower students, build capacity in students.”

“I think it’s a huge loss for the Monta Vista environment and community,” said junior class Vice President Ram Sachs. “Krieger and Walczak really founded an institution in the class and now it’s up to the students to continue their legacy.”

Hu added, “But I think that because of what Krieger and Walczak left us, we can carry it on.”

©2014-2015 Steffi Lau. All rights reserved.