My View: Peterson’s Demise Cause For Great Sadness, Reflection

Nancy Peterson addresses her colleagues from public comment in announcing her resignation on Thursday.
Nancy Peterson addresses her colleagues from public comment in announcing her resignation on Thursday.

Sadness.  That was my reaction on Thursday last week when Nancy Peterson resigned from the Davis School Board.  That may surprise some in this community, convinced that I have some sort of vendetta against her.

Truth is that I have no dog in this fight.  Any negativism that you see is a reflection of my disdain for people in power abusing the community trust.

I see very clearly that Nancy Peterson used the power vested by the voters of Davis to carry out a personal feud between herself and Julie Crawford.  And, while the investigator concluded, “through no fault of her own, (the daughter) simply became a casualty of the ongoing ‘volleyball drama’ involving coach Crawford and Nancy Peterson’” – in fact – we all became a casualty of this drama and the blame there falls on one person and for most purposes one person alone – Nancy Peterson.

I won’t lay out the chain of events, we have covered this a lot in recent weeks.  I will note, as I wrote several weeks ago, this is an abuse of power.

Being the main writer at the Davis Vanguard, not only are we an online news organization, but a non-profit one at that, and therefore I have found it best to keep my personal preferences out of the public in terms of my preferred candidates.  Sure, you can guess who I will support in a given election – but it is only a guess and you might be surprised as well.

Criticism is often the path toward improvement.  Those with the right mentality understand that and respect it.  Those with the wrong mentality for public life retreat and crawl into a hole at the first sign of trouble.

In 2012, I voted for Nancy Peterson.  At the time I did not know anything about the volleyball controversy.  I did not know that some of her biggest supporters warned her at the time to stay clear of volleyball.

On November 1, 2012, right before the election, I ran a story “Peterson’s Childhood Experiences Fuel Her Advocacy of Title I Students in Davis.”

In it we talked about the fact that she worked as a volunteer at Montgomery Elementary for 12 years and that she saw Montgomery become the first campus in Davis to enter Program Improvement status and has become a fierce advocate to at-risk and Title I children.

I wrote that she brought to the school board race a candidate whose own children have been at Montgomery and who has a firsthand view of what happens when a school goes through program improvement.

What the reader needs to understand is that those are my kids we were talking about.  It was in reporting about this that I began to formulate the concept of “The Other Davis.”

One of my biggest complaints has been that we gear up our great schools here in Davis towards the high-end students, and the low-income children – of which perhaps more than quarter of Davis students are, the children of color, the mixed-race kids who we heard an earful about on December 1, 2012 – get lost in the shuffle.

So when I voted for Nancy Peterson, that’s who I believed we were getting – an advocate for the poor and the underclass in Davis. Instead, we got someone who appears to have gotten elected to micromanage the Davis High volleyball program.

She told the story of her father, the doctor at the Columbia University’s Presbyterian Hospital in New York. For 47 years his specialty was juvenile diabetes, a doctor who works with children, often disadvantaged children, does not have a traditional job where you arrive at work at 9 am and leave your work behind at 5 pm.

For Dr. Peterson, his day would begin at 6 am.

“My dad would begin his call hour at 6 am when kids would be getting up and getting ready for schools,” Nancy Peterson said in the November 1, 2012, interview.  “So the phone would start ringing and my father would be talking to parents about sending their kids to school and getting ready for the day.”

Her father would work with both private patients and at the diabetic clinic, which he ran at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center for thirty years.

“His clinic patients and his private patients all had his home phone number,” she said.  “Because to my dad it didn’t matter what your background was, what your economic situation was, every child deserved the same treatment in order to be ready to go to school to have their life.”

“I learned from a very early age that everybody’s important and that your background has no bearing as to how you should be treated as a person,” she added.

Many residents may believe that Davis does not have a Title I population at all.  However, there are pockets of poverty even within Davis.  For instance, Montgomery runs at nearly 50 percent Title I students and other schools have as much as a quarter of their populations being Title I students.

“As the economic downturn has lasted longer than any of us have hoped, many more families are struggling with different issues – loss of jobs, lower salaries, so there are a lot more people feeling the pinch of economic trouble,” she said.

This perspective is one that Nancy Peterson believed was missing from the school district.

“As a community grows in the number of second language learners and also grows in the number of Title I families,” she said, she has seen both in her youth and as a parent that impact on a community and she feels she brings that perspective that is sorely lacking from the school board currently.

I read this all and now all I have is sadness.

Sadness because Nancy Peterson let her vision and goals be destroyed over volleyball.  Look, I am not putting down sports, I love sports.  But at the same time, she did not get elected to the school board to fix the volleyball team – or at least that is certainly not why I voted to put her there.

Sadness because these are still critical issues and instead of discussing them for the last month, we are trying to figure out how we got to this point where a school board member has resigned and a community is embroiled in this controversy that, quite frankly, affects so few of us.

For me this has always been a story about abuse of power.  And for me the victims of the abuse of power are always the meek and the voiceless in this community – ironically, the very people that she told me that day in late October she was trying to help.

At the end of the day last week, there was no joy or pride, only shame and sorrow.  There is nothing that grates me more than the bitterness of lost opportunity.

Tonight, the school board has an opportunity to put this shameful incident behind us.  It won’t be easy.  As we have read, there are threats of a lawsuit, perhaps no matter what the board does tonight.

The school board will have to make tough calls tonight in evaluating the investigation into the actions of Julie Crawford.  Unfortunately, it appears that she is not the only one whose actions needed to be investigated.

The use of personal power that has been authorized by the voters to achieve personal ends is a very serious offense and the reason why we have covered this issue so extensively

But there is another offense that will go un-investigated.

“There is a strong need to have a long term strategic plan for all of our schools, and particularly when things are changing or so fluid at different sites that you need to be able to react to the changes and have a strategic plan for where each is going to go,” she told me, referring to the whole district, in 2012.

“I think that our long term vision has been lacking for some time,” Nancy Peterson concluded.

Sadly, it is a long term vision that remains lacking and she now has a part to blame in that.

Tonight the school board gets the chance to put this to rest, but after they do so, they need to work hard to find true advocates for all of the students as we attempt to move this community back onto the right track.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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44 Comments

  1. SouthofDavis

    David wrote:

    > My View: Peterson’s Demise Cause For Great Sadness, Reflection

    I’m no defender of Peterson, but (since she is still alive) I would change the headline to “My View: Peterson’s Resignation Cause For Great Sadness, Reflection”…

    1. Mr.Toad

      While I agree with everything they say in the op-ed I don’t think the DTA letter helps heal the wound opened by Nancy Peterson. I was critical of Nancy Peterson for enlarging her personal issue by throwing down the gauntlet to make her problem emblematic of every concern any parent ever had about a teacher’s decisions. I said it then and I want to repeat it now, children are best served when parents and teachers work together to reach an understanding about what course of action to take.

      Parents are going to defend their kids, its part of their responsibility. Teachers sometimes have to say no, its part of the job. The inherent conflict in these opposing positions is only exacerbated when viewed from an us versus them perspective. Both Nancy Peterson’s and the DTA statements serve to move us apart from better understanding and communication.

      Teachers make hundreds of decisions a day more than probably any other profession. Some are as small as, is the disruption big enough to tell them to stop, all the way to I’m not passing this student and that means they won’t graduate on time. Good teachers get most of the decisions correct. But even good teachers get some things wrong and we spend lots of time reflecting on how we might have done things differently. The important thing for teachers is to be able to explain and defend the rationale for their decision. Teachers should also be able to admit when they got it wrong or understand other viewpoints about how to do things differently.

      Parents also need to be able to accept a decision by a teacher they are unhappy about if the teacher has a good rationale for the actions taken even when the disagree.

      Teachers are not the enemy and parents aren’t either. Working together will result in better outcomes for kids. The sooner we stop the finger pointing and get on the same page the sooner we can back to the important work of helping kids grow.

      1. Mr.Toad

        Parents also need to be able to accept a decision by a teacher they are unhappy about if the teacher has a good rationale for the actions taken even when they disagree.

        Teachers are not the enemy and parents aren’t either. Working together will result in better outcomes for kids. The sooner we stop the finger pointing and get on the same page the sooner we can get back to the important work of helping kids grow.

      2. TrueBlueDevil

        “Parents are going to defend their kids, its part of their responsibility”? I think that assumption gets to the root of the problem.

        We used to have a societal tenant, which was “En Locus Parentus” (sp?), Latin for the local parent in charge.

        We’ve now elevated children to the status of adults, and this DTA letter seems to confirm that. A profound 24/7 entitlement culture doesn’t raise children who can cope in the real world!

  2. PhilColeman

    I never had a sense that anybody was finding any sort of pleasure in the demise of Mrs. Peterson. Such persons who find glee in the misfortune of others do exist, and they should seek the services of a professional therapist But this saga is more in the way of being sad, disappointing, regrettable, and so forth. There’s no pleasure, anywhere.

    Before leaving Mrs. Peterson’s persona, I know that the evidence is compelling but the portrayal of her being mean-spirited, petty, vindictive, still leaves me not totally convinced. She did many good deeds. She had a strong base of support to where she was elected to public office. How can such polarity exist in one person? Maybe one’s switch can be flipped in interactions with one person only, the rest of the time you’re nice to everybody else. That’s hard for me to believe also. However, I’m Dr. Phil in name and title, but not profession.

    To close on a positive note, much good is going to come out of this. Call it a catharsis. We’ll have a thorough public scrutiny of every aspect of the DJUSD culture. It sure needs it, and it’s long overdue, and here’s why. For any of these distasteful acts to take place–and remain undetected and/or uncorrected for so long–points to the current culture as a complicity of neglect, apathy, and denial. That will change.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i think people have a tendency to pigeon hole people – bad or good. i say this not inform, not insult, but police tend to see people in black and white terms. the reality is that everyone has a good side and a bad side. the goal as an adult is to figure out your good traits and minimize exposure to the bad traits. those who wish to vilify or defend peterson, seem to not see past the human nature. unfortunately, this is tragedy and peterson allowed her worse nature to overwhelm and in effect stamp out her better nature.

        1. Davis Progressive

          i was just reading not that long ago, but apparently mussolini didn’t actually make the trains run any better than anyone else. i digress. nancy peterson is not pure evil, she probably has a number of good qualities. i just think we need to be mindful that most of the world is gray.

      1. PhilColeman

        People tend to have a tendency to pigeon hole people . . .

        Immediately followed by the remark, ” . . . police tend to see people in black and white terms.”

        The first comment is profoundly reinforced by the second comment. Thanks for the validation.

      2. Michelle Millet

        i think people have a tendency to pigeon hole people – bad or good.

        I agree, especially people they don’t know personally, and especially elected officials. We often base these opinions on limited and sometimes inaccurate information that is narrow in scope.

  3. BusterMcGee

    Phil, why should we expect things to change at DJUSD? The culture of incompetence, hubris and denial by the Board is so deeply embedded. They continue to make idiotic move after idiotic move (read: moving Winfred out of DHS where he was so well -suited, rushing to hire what turned out to be a highly erratic principal, then waiting too long to fire her, etc. etc). And we, the voters, continue to go back and hand them more money via parcel tax every time they ask. It’s like continuing to give a teenager his allowance after repeated violations of rules, common sense, etc. Why should we think this pattern will change now?

    1. Michelle Millet

      BusterMcGee- Have you taken a look at the DJUSD’s budget?

      Parcel taxes are funding programs that directly impact students not school board members. I don’t understand the logic behind the argument that we should punish the school board by not renewing parcel taxes. They will not be the ones that are impacted by this decision.

      1. fremontia

        I said I wouldn’t donate any more money or vote for any parcel taxes as long as Peterson was on the board. She is now gone and my checkbook is open again.

      2. BusterMcGee

        Of course, I understand that parcel taxes fund programs. My point is we need to have our budget in the hands of people who are competent. It’s not about punishing anyone. The district needs to be in the hands of a more professional, competent board so all of our funds – for programs or otherwise – are spent more wisely. And the concerns expressed about the board are not just about money – there are serious leadership problems.

  4. TrueBlueDevil

    What is truly sad is that our teachers, staff, and administrators now have to deal with entitled children; and entitled Helicopter Parents! But we now are now fully aware of a new tetra-headed monster.

    I’m sorry, I take what Nancy Peterson said two years ago with a pound of salt. Her Father sounds like a good man, but I’m not buying that Nancy was bonding with poor and underprivileged people, on a consistent basis, when she was young. She didn’t grow up in the hood or the barrio. I take it as PR spin, and its irrelevant today. The Peterson’s like to embellish.

    Mr. Greenwald may do our community a great service by publicizing and quantifying the totality of the “complaints” that the DTA seems to also paint as superficial and self-serving. How many complaints had to do with wanting a higher grade, and how many challenged something important, like an expulsion? We need to get our hands around this tetra-headed monster which takes away vital resources and time from truly important work – educating our youth!

    Mr. Greenwald can hopefully put this information into context – how many complaints were there 10 or 20 years ago? If such data is not available, how many complaints were filed against Coach Whitmire in his long career at Davis High School? Interview some of our old-timers for perspective.

    This extends far beyond Nancy Peterson; I just learned last night (previous thread) that board member Sheila Allen apparently pulled her child out of the alphabetical line at graduation – placing her child last – to allow herself to give her child some kind of awkward, overdone, inappropriate celebration / congratulation … in front of a whole stadium of onlookers. Is this why people run for the board of education? I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised because we just had the President of the United States take a “selfie” of himself at the funeral of Nelson Mandela with another woman, a blond at that, with his wife five feet away. Is this how far we have come?

    I agree with Mr. Dunning that I see nothing that rises to the level for removing a teacher or coach, and we’ve read nothing but superficial complaints over micromanaging transportation and t-shirt issues! No CIF violations, nothing.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i don’t disagree with your points here. i don’t read this as some sort of defense of peterson, more like her failed promise and maybe that was simply that the rest of us came to know what you have apparently known for some time.

      i have also seen recently a video of sheila allen and her husband securing tens of thousands for a new softball field to the advantage of their children.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        I think the Peterson’s are symptomatic of a larger problem where we apparently have many examples from which to draw.

        To be fair, I have reserved judgement on the softball field given that $7 Million was raised for the football stadium. I’m also told Mrs. Peterson was helpful in this fundraising effort.

          1. David Smith

            Maybe we should ask the former blue and white president…..I’m sure that’s public information that the non profit would be able to provide. The point is lets not hold NP up on a pedistole for “funding” a stadium that needed to be updated 15 years ago.

    2. Elizabeth Bowler

      “…board member Sheila Allen apparently pulled her child out of the alphabetical line at graduation – placing her child last – to allow herself to give her child some kind of awkward, overdone, inappropriate celebration / congratulation … in front of a whole stadium of onlookers.”

      Do you know for sure that this is true, TBD? Because it is extremely inappropriate behavior and, if true, I would like to know prior to the election.

      1. David Smith

        It is true. The entire crowd at graduation last year witnessed it. Also, have you notice all of Sheila Allen’s “coffee Talks” are during school hours during the week? I think someones afraid to field some hard questions.

        1. chris

          Was there really no reason given to pull the kid out for special recognition? Was there some award or status that isn’t being mentioned? I don’t want to malign her if it’s just a coincidence that the Board member’s kid got special recognition.

          But if it really happened like that, I’d like to know that too. No, it’s not as harmful as this volleyball drama has turned out to be, but it is a red flag of the kind of leader she is / will be.

          1. David Smith

            There was no special reason or recognition. There was no award or status being mentioned. My hypothesis is she leaned on an already “lame duck” principal to have her kid go last (for what ever reason, I wont ventrue to even ask). It would be nice to ask her why this happened, but actions speak louder than words. Look what happens when you say no board members…..

          2. Elizabeth Bowler

            Public displays of inappropriate behavior, even in the presence of an award or recognition, are, to me at least, completely unacceptable and bring to mind pathetic images of Rob Ford of Toronto. For a school board to trustee to behave in such a way at a public school function is simply mindboggling.

        2. wdf1

          David Smith: …have you notice all of Sheila Allen’s “coffee Talks” are during school hours during the week? I think someones afraid to field some hard questions.

          I just went to Sheila Allen’s campaign website and on the front page I see a public event for Monday, March 31, 7-8:30 p.m., and a meet & greet on Sunday, April 6, 2-3:30 p.m. By my reckoning, those are outside of school hours. Although if she is meeting with folks during school hours, I’d imagine that would really be convenient for some parents who have their kids in school at that time but might have time to meet.

          If there is something nefarious going on w/ meeting times, please explain, because it’s lost on me.

  5. Mr.Toad

    Funding facilities is what the school board is supposed to do. Celebrating with your kid out of line is, well, out of line, but come on, no one was hurt.

    On the other hand Nancy Peterson’s abuses of authority and obsession over volleyball has been both craven and damaging. Let’s try to focus on what is important. That she ran promising to support the neediest kids but failed and became a symbol of privilege and abuse of power is sad as David points out. Too bad you drank the Kool-aid David.

    1. David Smith

      22 thousand dollars could have supported at least 2 after-school programs for underprivileged children to get tutoring and homework help. She stole candy from babies. 22K to the Petersons is nothing. They lack perspective which is evident by their bulldogged attack on Ms. Crawford.

  6. TrueBlueDevil

    Can you give us a brief update when they are in chambers? Small or medium crowd? Many students… did NP or Coach Crawford speak… (I thought they said that there would be community comments at the beginning)

    1. David Greenwald

      I just posted a new article that has a very brief update. There were about 61 people here. The girls volleyball team came but the boys are out of town and couldn’t make it. Everyone who spoke was in favor of Julie Crawford and Nancy Peterson was not here.

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