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A Tale Of Two Kathys Two Women With A Passion For Quality Education Act As Watchdogs Over Central Valley School District Affairs

Kathy Jackson and Kathy Miles are sometimes the only citizens to attend Central Valley School Board meetings.

Sometimes, heck.

On most meeting nights, the second and fourth Mondays of the month, they’re the only ones there who aren’t employed by, or reporting on, the district.

They regularly take the podium to speak. And they’re certainly the only patrons who last at those meetings until the bitter end.

A multitude of Central Valley parents pour themselves into their children’s education. But the two Kathys execute their involvement in a very public way.

The two moms have become Central Valley watchdogs.

At board meetings, they sometimes finish each other’s sentences, share an occasional whispered joke in their front row seats, and produce notes considerably more detailed than the official minutes.

Their commitment springs partly from the message they heard at a state PTA convention.

“They said, ‘You are not the get-stuff committee. You are also advocates for your child,”’ said Miles.

The two women have two children each. Both moms are heavily involved in the PTA at Opportunity Elementary School. Jackson has served as president for three out of the last four years, Miles as secretary.

In the Central Valley school community, they provoke much admiration, a bit of fear and a fair amount of dislike. They combine an in-your-face style with considerable personal privacy. Miles, for instance, declines to reveal her age. It’s not vanity at work. It’s privacy.

Most of all, Miles and Jackson believe that parents should become educated about issues in the school system.

“While it’s important to help out in the room, in the school, we need involvement in broader issues,” Miles said.

“She thinks like a lawyer,” Penny Lancaster, an Opportunity teacher said of Miles. “Always thinking of the details.”

“I personally think they are incredibly caring and dedicated citizens,” said first-year board member Patty Minnihan.

Former school board chairman Linda Tompkins said, “Their role is very healthy for the board … We rely heavily on staff reports and staff recommendations. They are a visible reminder that we have a larger community to take into account.”

Tompkins did object to one thing. For much of the two years-plus that Miles and Jackson have regularly attended school board meetings, Miles has used a tape recorder. At times, she holds it in front of her, to get a clearer recording.

“The one chilling thing was having that dictaphone pointed at us. That physical act was intimidating and that was rude,” Tompkins said. “It became like a gun pointed at us, quite frankly.”

Miles used her tape recorder regularly under the administration of former superintendent Dick Sovde. She did it, she said, to hold the school board and administration accountable.

Her tape recorder was back in action at a board meeting last month. During the public comment period, she took the microphone to explain why.

“Hi ya, I’m Kathy Miles,” she started off. “Since September of last year I quit bringing my tape recorder.”

Her principal complaint was the way the school board had abandoned its national search for a new superintendent.

Miles didn’t dispute the board’s choice of Wally Stanley. Quite the contrary. She’s a Stanley fan. But she did charge that the board appeared to have made a private decision, concluding what was supposed to have been a very public process.

“This board promised the community a chance to meet with the (superintendent) candidates…. To the community, the board reneged on a promise,” she said.

In response, each board member spoke about the conflicts they dealt with as they weighed Stanley against other finalists. They spoke of a reluctance to spend taxpayers’ money to continue the search process after each board member individually had concluded that Stanley was the top candidate.

“We reached our conclusions individually, then began talking about it. All five of us did the same process,” said board member Kay Bryant.

They spoke of a reluctance to keep the other finalists on the hook, all the while knowing that a volcano of support had erupted for Stanley.

Minnihan referred to “wheelbarrows of letters we got from community members” supporting Stanley.

“Is it fair to interrupt six people’s careers (with fruitless interviews)?” asked board member Craig Holmes.

Jackson and Miles are also vocal about things in schools they like.

Central Valley High School Principal Paul Sturm worked with Jackson when she was a secretary at his school.

“She tells people what she thinks and she doesn’t hold a grudge. And she doesn’t hesitate to say when she thinks something is being done right,” Sturm said.

Jackson and Miles think most of the district’s teachers do a lot of things right.

“There are a lot of great teachers out there who can do great things for your children,” Miles said.

“Not just the teachers, the staff,” said Jackson, who has worked for the district as a school secretary.

In the past three years, the two Kathys have done their homework - and commented to the school board - on a range of issues, ranging from parental control over hot-button issues like homosexuality and birth control, to education reform. Never mind, that neither of them has high-school age children. They’re speaking up on the four-period day, now being considered at Central Valley’s two high schools. They also urge other parents to follow through on issues.

But most of all they’ll keep watching the school board and passing word along to other parents.

“Guys, we are here all the time…” Jackson said.

“…Wanting to make parents of the community aware of issues. Pro and con,” finished Miles.

“Their views don’t always match the board or the staff’s direction,” Bryant said, “but I need to hear that. That’s my ears to the community.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 color)

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