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The Buck Stops Here: Anatomy of a Smear – Part III

In Part I and Part II of this series, I laid out the case that the Pinecrest Academy Charter School in Henderson has an excellent principal, an excellent teaching corps, an excellent board of directors, an excellent EMO (Educational Management Organization) and an excellent mission to provide an excellent education.

So overall, we’re talking about an excellent school from top to bottom at which parents CHOOSE to send their kids and has a waiting list of parents dying to get their kids into it.

That said, there’s always at least one malcontent who’s not content unless they find something to carp about. At Pinecrest Academy, that role has been filled by a parent named Tiecha Ashcroft.

Unbelievably, Ms. Ashcroft’s beefs primarily have to do with recess and the school’s attendance policies; not, you know, reading, writing and arithmetic. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

The reason we know all of this is because of an October 22, 2014 blog post authored by Karen Gray of the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), Nevada’s absolutely terrific conservative think tank which has been on the leading edge of education reform and holding public school bureaucrats accountable.

And Ms. Gray has done a yeoman’s job in that regard for years in Clark County. So when she wrote a negative blog about Pinecrest and its principal, Dr. Carrie Buck, it was significant and people took notice. Especially considering NPRI’s stellar reputation.

Unfortunately, because of this particular blog post, both reputations are now in serious jeopardy.

Why would Ms. Gray, whose focus has been on policies and practices of the Clark County School District (CCSD), suddenly take such significant interest in one solitary charter school’s day-to-day operations, especially since it’s a charter school and not a regular district school and NPRI has historically been a huge backer of school choice?

The headline of the post gives a glimpse of what horrible thing was allegedly going on at Pinecrest that was worthy of Ms. Gray’s attention: “Charter-school parents fear the creeping CCSD mindset: See Pinecrest Academy’s board distancing itself from parent concerns.”

Sounds sorta serious on a PTA-level if true, but still not the sort of thing you’d think NPRI would be devoting time and attention to since this is a “choice” school, not one where kids are forced to attend because it’s where they’re “districted.”

As the saying goes – especially in Nevada, where the regular public schools are ranked dead last in the nation – there are certainly much, MUCH bigger fish to fry.

The justification expressed to me in several conversations about this issue with NPRI management was a comment made last month by board Chairman Candace Friedmann; that in board meetings, during public comment periods, board members were only allowed to listen to parents’ concerns, not respond to them.

That is, in fact, incorrect.

I know this from having worked on this issue myself a few years ago when I was in Carson City and a school board member there tried to hide behind the law to duck tough questions from the public during public comment periods.

But was Ms. Friedmann really trying to hide from the parental concerns of the Pinecrest Academy family the way elected public school board members have sought to do in the past?

In a word…no.

I spoke to Ms. Friedmann after this brouhaha erupted and asked about her comment relating to board members not being allowed to respond to parents during the public comment period. Here’s what I learned…

Ms. Friedman is a volunteer board member. She joined the Pinecrest Board for the sole purpose of helping to provide an excellent education to children.  She’s a school teacher by trade.  She is not a parliamentarian.  She is not a lawyer.  She is not a legislator.  She is not a school bureaucrat.  And she’s never been a board chairman before.

When I asked her why she said board members weren’t allowed to respond to questions during the public comment period, she said she had relied on Robert’s Rules of Order. She then quoted me the passage verbatim that she was relying on.

I then explained that Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) says something different and that NRS trumps Robert’s. The fact is, board members MAY respond to questions during the public comment period, but aren’t required to.

This is something Ms. Friedmann – again, a volunteer board chairman with no previous experience – simply was not aware of because the issue had never come up before. Now that she knows, problem solved.

Indeed, after speaking with Ms. Friedmann – who has an absolutely stellar reputation in the community – it became abundantly clear that there was absolutely nothing nefarious whatsoever in her actions – something Ms. Gray also would have learned if she had made the same phone call to Ms. Friedmann that I made.

Something any good, objective, unbiased journalist would do for such a story.

So why didn’t she?

After all, she talked to Tiecha Ashcroft and another disgruntled parent at length for the story. She also called Patrick Gavin, Executive Director of the Nevada State Public Charter School Board, which has no jurisdiction whatsoever in school matters such as this.

Seriously, folks.

One phone call to Ms. Friedmann would have revealed that there really was no story here. The Pinecrest board absolutely, positively was not – as Ms. Gray’s blog post suggested – intentionally trying to “misinform” parents.  It was not being “evasive.”  It was not trying to “duck confrontations.”

In fact, Tiecha Ashcroft has had PLENTY of opportunities to belly-ache at board meetings and has regularly taken advantage of those opportunities. Indeed she has been heard and responded to; heard and responded to; heard and responded to, over and over again.

But like the old saying about God answering prayers, sometimes the answer is “no.” But Tiecha Ashcroft simply refuses to take no for an answer and would rather fight than switch schools.  Which is fine.  That’s her choice and this is a choice school.

But again, the real mystery is why Karen Gray would take such an interest in such a petty, single-school squabble in which the premise of the entire story was – or could have been – discounted with one simple phone call.

Why the one-sided, clearly biased hit piece making a mountain out of a molehill by a professional journalist working for a highly reputable think tank?

Here’s why…

Although it wasn’t disclosed anywhere in the original blog post, Tiecha Ashcroft’s full name is Tiecha Gray-Ashcroft.

As in…

Karen Gray’s daughter.

Holy ethical breach, Batman!

Not only did Ms. Gray/NPRI fail to disclose the mother-daughter relationship in the blog post, but in Part IV of this series I’m going to tackle head on the allegations leveled by Tiecha and her mom at Dr. Buck and provide the other side of the story that wasn’t presented in the original smear.

Of course, now you know WHY the other side of the story wasn’t presented.

Stay tuned, Batfans…