The Clayton Valley Charter High School board fired the school's operations and athletics director after a four-hour closed session at a meeting May 21 that brought 400 people to the multipurpose room to address bubbling personnel issues.

Pat Middendorf's termination, without cause, was effective immediately and subject to the required severance provisions of the employment contract. She had helped lead Clayton Valley's conversion to a charter school.

Reached by phone the day after the meeting, Middendorf said a letter she had released publicly, outlining unconfirmed complaints against the school's executive director, was "necessary" and that there was no official protocol governing the situation.

"I felt I had to quickly get that letter out. I was being smeared," she said.

In a subsequent email May 25, Middendorf said, "As a whistleblower for what I viewed as improprieties at CVCHS I felt a responsibility to state my concerns before they disappeared with my release from the school.

"I truly believe what I viewed as inappropriate leadership practices needed to be shared with the public and thoroughly investigated by the CVCHS governing board."

At the meeting, parents, students and concerned residents, many who had served on organizational committees in forming the two-year old charter school, objected to the public airing of grievances amid end-of-year graduation celebrations.

Others spoke in general and specific terms -- both positive and negative -- about executive director David Linzey and about teachers at the school. Notably, none of the public comments criticized the charter itself.

In comments forwarded to this newspaper May 25 by Neil McChesney, CVCHS director of administrative services, Linzey said, "The Governing Board's difficult decision regarding our Director of Operations is truly a sad day for CVCHS. Times like these are trying for a charter school and all of the teachers, parents and students. Yet we have responsibilities we must address and personnel issues that must be handled."

Linzey went on to say "unrest, misinformation and false accusations towards leadership" and "anger and resentment from those who do not understand is common."

The meeting, which was to have started with a five-minute open session preceding the board's closed session, stretched to over an hour, and public comment was limited to 19 speakers until after resuming the open session.

Typical comments were like that of Matt Hill, athletic booster board president, who said, "There's nothing wrong with the charter, as it was written. API scores were up, student pride was through the roof, there was synergy between administrators and teachers. That changed: what happened?"

Directing his comments to Linzey, he said, "If you think the answer is to fire all the teachers because there are hundreds more to fill their spot: ask your students what they think of that."

Parent Michael Fine said Linzey might have instituted ill-conceived policies, but shouldn't be fired.

"The soul of our school is at risk because people are choosing sides. Get mediation to work things out. Get people in a room and don't let them out until they work it out," he said, and also suggested that formal complaint mechanisms should be used.

Sara Ward, a junior at CVCHS, spoke in support of teachers. Ward said the students are the people who are at the school everyday.

"We are the ones who will be affected by what happens ... I and many other students are prepared to leave with the teachers," she said. She quoted Abraham Lincoln, saying, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

Characterizing the board meeting days later, Middendorf said, "The teachers and staff at CVCHS have been very unhappy for sometime. While the current administration may want the public to believe it is a few veteran teachers that are discontent it should now be apparent that (there are) a large number of teachers, students and staff involved."

In his May 25 comments, Linzey asked stakeholders in the school to understand difficult decisions were being made to provide the "best learning environment for students and the best work environment for all staff members."

He continued, "We request that our community reserve judgment as we cannot express the details involved as privacy rights must be maintained. I can state that we hold high standards of ethics and must make decisions in the best interest of the students and the school."

At the meeting, the large crowd had waited nearly four hours for the board's return from closed session. At that time, the board announced Middendorf's termination and said that a third-party agency would be contracted to conduct an internal investigation on confidential complaints it had received on a separate matter.

California-based Oracle Investigations Group was engaged to investigate and prepare a report related to the complaints, according to McChesney, who declined, due to confidentiality restrictions, a request the following day to clarify who or what was being investigated.

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