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

I bet you thought I forgot about this, didn’t you?

I know you’ve been waiting for Part IV of “The Buck Stops Here,” but with the big “red wave” followed by the chaos of Assembly Republicans picking a leadership team for the 2015 session…well, I fell behind.

So let’s not waste anymore time.  To refresh your memory, this is a story…of a lovely lady…who was bringing up three very lovely girls.

No, wait.  That was the Brady Bunch.

OUR story takes place at the Pinecrest Academy Charter School in Henderson, Nevada.

A charter school in which parents CHOOSE to send their kids rather than letting the government tell them where to go.  So to speak.

A charter school with a waiting list of parents dying to enroll their kids as long as the odds of Gov. Brian Sandoval submitting a budget next year that doesn’t include “revenue enhancements.”

A charter school with a stellar board of directors, a new award-winning principal who performed educational miracles at the last school she led, and a teaching staff second to none in the state.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that one particular parent, Tiecha Ashcroft, has a personality conflict of some kind with Principal Carrie Buck and has been playing the role of a burr under the Lone Ranger’s saddle for the past few months.  The sort of thing normally handled at the PTA level.

Alas, Ms. Ashcroft has friends in high places.

Well, not so much a “friend.”

Her mother.

And her mother, Karen Gray, wrote a scathing, one-sided blog airing Tiechha’s complaints for all the worldwide web to see, trashing both Principal Buck and the school’s board chairwoman, Candace Friedmann.

Problem is, Ms. Gray didn’t publish the blog post on her own blog.

Instead she used the website of her employer, the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), to air Tiecha’s dirty laundry, thus giving her disgruntled offspring’s whining a far greater sense of legitimacy than it otherwise would have had.

Oh, I almost forgot.

Ms. Gray conveniently neglected to mention that she was Ms. Ashcroft’s mommy in the story in which she quoted her daughter extensively!


Now, I’ve known NPRI President Andy Matthews for a number of years and couldn’t believe he would knowingly allow one of his employees to use his organization’s good name in such a journalistically unethical manner.  So I called him early the morning after I learned of the blog-o-smear.

As I suspected, Andy knew nothing about it.  He said he would look into it as soon as he got to the office.  And good as his word, he called me right back.  We then had several conversations over the next three days, which I’ll get into in Part V: The Final Chapter.

But first, let’s look at just how bad Gray’s story is…

As I noted in Part III of this series, the basis of the blog post that gave it even a semblance of journalistic legitimacy was a statement by board Chairwoman Friedman that she didn’t believe members of the board could answer questions from the public during the public comment periods of meeting.

She can.  NRS says so.  But Mrs. Friedmann wasn’t aware of it.  Once she was so informed, the issue went away.  Immediately.  Case closed.  No story.

Alas, Ms. Gray never bothered to talk to Mrs. Friedmann!

Instead, she used the chairwoman’s innocent statement to bludgeon Mrs. Friedmann and harm her reputation, as well use it as an illegitimate basis for an irresponsible and totally undeserved attack.

Totally indefensible.  But onward…

What Ashcroft really has her pantyhose in a twist over was a decision this year for 5th-graders to play before school, play during lunchtime and play after school…but otherwise, during the school day they would, like, you know, go to school and classes and stuff.

Including taking PE (physical education) if they wanted.

Yep.  Pretty radical.

Well, apparently Tiecha thinks this is too much schooling during the school day.  So she demanded that 5th graders get a recess period in addition to PE.  And she and another malcontent parent, Becky Franks, started a “Rally for Recess” Facebook page in a manner so hypocritical that it practically redefines hypocrisy!

One of the biggest complaints – and one of the biggest falsehoods – leveled by Ashcroft and Franks at the school’s board of directors is that they were restricting speech and not listening to other opinions.  But – get this – the Rally for Recess website is a “Closed Group,” meaning only members can post comments and view the comments of others!


In any event, in her blog post Gray “reported” on a school board meeting this fall in which Franks supposedly had a “roomful” of parents in attendance supporting her.

But I’m reliably told that most of those in attendance were school staff members and their spouses, as well as parents who were supporting the school’s new recess policy.  Maybe one in eight was actually there in support of more recess and less, you know, um, school.

So it seems Ms. Gray was stretching the truth a little in her characterization of that meeting.  However, this finally brings us to the part of the story where she sort of introduces her daughter…

“Tiecha Ashcroft, a parent who had been active in the initial galvanizing of parents, even before the school had secured a location, also addressed the board.”

“A parent.”  That’s it.  A parent.

No mention whatsoever that said parent’s mother was the author the story trashing the school’s principal, board chairwoman and policies!  Just, “a parent.”

It doesn’t get much more journalistically unethical than that.

Gray went on to write that her unidentified daughter and Ms. Franks started the “Rally for Recess” Facebook page after their comments on the school’s official Facebook site allegedly were “censored and deleted by the administration.”

Except, that’s not true.

I checked and was told the “Rally for Recess” site was actually created after parents of the school’s official website for a school yard sale told Tiecha it wasn’t appropriate for her to be posting her bellyaching there.

So it was parents, not “the administration” that gave Tiecha the boot!

Gray’s self-serving expose continued…

“According to the policy sent to parents by Pinecrest administrators, students with more than five absences per semester – excused or unexcused – ‘will have limited, or be restricted from, participation in field trips, sports, student performances and/or extra-curricular activities.”

Oh, the horror!  Imagine requiring kids to, you know, actually attend school or else there will be consequences.  Thank goodness there weren’t any such attendance rules when we were kids!

Oh, wait…

Anyway, at the aforementioned board meeting, Gray reported breathlessly that “Ashcroft beseeched the board to give parents assurance that Pinecrest’s ‘original vision’ would not be lost.”

“Beseeched”?  A little melodramatic, wouldn’t you say?  Hardly unbiased or objective.

And how did Board Chairwoman Friedmann respond to the “beseeching”?

Well, she politely thanked all the parents who presented input for the board to consider and moved on to the next order of school business on the agenda.

Dictator!  Tyrant!  Oppressor!!!

At this point in the story you’d expect any self-respecting journalist to, you know, maybe get some quotes from other parents with an opinion different from, you know, her undisclosed daughter.

Or maybe even something really radical, such as asking, you know, the principal of the school for a comment.  Maybe even interview some teachers.

But not Ms. Gray.  She was on a one-(wo)man mission to smear a good school, a good principal, and a good board of directors.

So instead of interviewing someone who might, you know, give the other side of the story, she instead dialed up…someone who has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the situation.

Indeed, Gray contacted Patrick Gavin, executive director of the Nevada State Public Charter School Board which, even Gray was forced to admit in the story, has absolutely no jurisdiction in this matter, you know, whatsoever.

“At the end of the day,” Gavin is quoted as saying, “the board is the one that’s accountable.”

Well, gee, sure glad he cleared THAT up.  That was certainly helpful and an indispensable part of the story.  And surely it was far better to get that quote from Mr. Gavin than, you know, get a quote from Principal Buck.

Speaking of which, that brings me to perhaps the most egregious part of Ms. Gray’s thoroughly egregious story.  She wrote…

“On the other hand, it was Principal Buck’s philosophy – ‘sitting these kids at computers and teaching them to test’ – says Franks – that, along with the board’s failure to even acknowledge her concerns over recess and PE, sealed her choice to remove her son and leave.”

OK, last part first: Good!

That’s why it’s called a “choice” school.  If you don’t like how the school is run, then choose to send your kid elsewhere and let another kid, whose parents would LOVE to send their kid to Pinecrest, have that desk.

Secondly, it’s just an outright lie that the board failed “to even acknowledge her concerns over recess and PE.”   The concerns were articulated at a board meeting.   With, you know, the board members sitting right there.  It’s in the MINUTES of the meeting!

But thirdly and most outrageously, this is NOT “Principal’s Buck’s philosophy.”  This is a characterization and unsubstantiated opinion leveled by a disgruntled parent and unethically published without so much as the courtesy, let alone decency, of asking Buck if it was true.

What all of this really is is an example of someone unhappy with being told “no,” throwing a hissy fit and claiming “nobody listens to me!”

As for the blog-o-smear itself, the piece was an ethically-challenged hatchet job in which a mother used her employer’s stature and good name to make a mountain out of a molehill for her whiny daughter.

So how did NPRI respond after learning how their reputation had been abused and put on the line?  Not very well.

Stay tuned for Part V, Batfans…