False Accusations do Hurt

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Today was a rough day. My stomach was in knots and my anxiety showed. No, I'm fine. All is well in Oregon. Family are good. Dogs too. I was anxious for tonight's speech. I read on Twitter the BernieorBust kids intended to disrupt Hillary Clinton's big speech. I feared boos during her moment. This actually troubled me the whole day.

No, I don't know Hillary. I don't think I even know anyone who does know her. We aren't linked in any particular way; I haven't been a direct beneficiary of her work. For much of her career, I've found her too hawkish, too much an opportunist. Opportunist. Now, isn't that interesting? It's another way of saying ambitious. I know some ambitious people but they have different anatomy. Why does her ambition bother people?

Where I've connected with her is as a leader who faced difficult times. Being someone with a clear vision and willing to do the hard work to get things done isn't easy -- not in politics and not in education. You see, I moved from being a popular teacher to a controversial administrator. In each of my leadership roles, there was someone working to undermine me, someone who made me divert productive time to address allegations and discontent. One person, actively working to attack your principles, your life's work, your integrity, your competence, can get more traction than you'd think.

In my first principal job, I had an employee who resented me. She told me she'd only support me if I accepted her as my mentor. I did not. I heard these crazy allegations of things I'd supposedly said, done, or intended. I tried to focus instead on the school we were trying to build. But there is nothing more hurtful than being wrongly accused, at least for me. So how do you respond -- through the hurt? You stay calm, you show no emotion, you address the issue and treat it as a valid concern. Later, if you get home before your husband falls asleep, you unload. Then in the morning, you are smiles and cheerfulness; veneer face.

My second administrative job was as Director of Special Education for our district and I dealt with some of the same while trying to do a hard job well.

Later, I asked to be a building principal again. The superintendent charged me with "civilizing" the high school I was to lead. Yes, that was his word. The school had been poorly managed for too long. Yes, there were great teachers, parents, kids and classified staff. But staff complained of lax attendance (often a class of 25 would only have 6 show up) and rules were applied to poor kids but sometimes not athletes or kids from powerful families. Two thirds of graduates never attended college or trade school. Nearly half of freshmen never graduated.

With the overwhelming support of the staff, we imposed some strict rules, some of them like my previous high school. Attendance came immediately under control, college enrollment rose to 83% of graduates, rules were enforced fairly to all, administrator visibility and whole staff efforts to focus on positive behavior helped the students become considerate and welcoming to visitors and to each other. There was more too, but suffice it to say that I don't work hard for a difficult change without seeing it through. The lucky thing for the next principal is that maintaining standards is a fifth the work of imposing them initially. Teachers and other staff were appreciative of the work we did and the outcomes we achieved.

But there was one. One employee who dedicated himself to undermining me. I don't think his accusations landed much with staff, but he was determined and managed to convince a group of students. He carried his complaints to the district office where, shortly after I arrived, the principal I replaced had become superintendent -- the one whose mess I had been charged with cleaning up.

The superintendent decided (as many Americans have) that if there were allegations, there must be a reason. There were crazy accusations and negative spins on good things that were happening. Again, I learned to listen, respond calmly, show respect, and move on. There were hurtful things, very hurtful things. I pretended to have thicker skin than I really do. I hid my hurt and focused on the work that needed to be done.

Hillary Clinton has endured many, many more crazy accusations, high budget investigations, subpoenas for everything but her baby teeth, and a public and a media that assumes that "where there's smoke there's fire". If there have been so many "scandals", she must be lying. She must be dishonest. She must be crooked.

I look at her and see someone a hell of a lot stronger than me. I finally gave up. It just wasn't worth defending myself against nonsense, working 70 hour weeks to improve my school, and even crying myself to sleep.

I bet she has unloaded to her family and friends in confidence too. I imagine the tears flowing when no one is around. I can see her struggling not to keep reliving the latest cruelty as her head hits the pillow. I see it because I've been there. I suspect most of us have.

I've read everything anyone has suggested about her alleged crimes. In 25 years and god knows how many billions in investigation expenses, how many subpoenas and witnesses, there's still nothing of consequence. Now I've lived a squeaky clean life, but you hire full-time staff to investigate every inch of it, give them an unlimited expense account, and I'll bet there will be something that looks bad, whether or not it really was.

I'd like Americans to make up their own minds. Shut down the noise -- the accusations and name-calling and silly memes -- and stick to the facts. She's tough, which makes her unlikable to some who prefer their women sweet and soft. She's ambitious, just like every person who ever entered politics. If we can stop hating long enough to examine, we might find a person who can do the job for us.


  1. Very good post. In a world of attack-investigations even the fact that the questions are asked and probed sifts out to the public as a smoke-then-there-is-fire aura of guilt. "Did you bewitch that baby who got sick?" "Where were you when the baby was bewitched?" "Can you explain why the baby is sick while your baby is not if not bewitchment?" The accusations and questions create evidence simply by being asked because a statement of true fact gets circulated: "A lot of questions have been raised about _____" Peter Sage, Medford, Oregon www.peterwsage.blogspot.com

  2. Linda, I for one truly appreciate the work you did. What you speak of is why I got out of administration. Sadly our school has returned to those numbers you mentioned. All some of us can do is fight the good fight and focus primarily on what's important and I know you did that. Thank you.

    Hopefully, Hillary will get the chance to serve our nation well but many will deny her at every turn. Look what Obama has done in the past eight years yet so many say he has ruined our country. I just don't get it at times. How did we get here? A complex question I know.

  3. Thank you, Ron. That means a lot coming from a teacher I admire. I'm so sorry to hear about our school regressing. That makes me sad.

  4. Thank you Linda. That is so sad, but you are right.

  5. Thank you, Vickie. Luckily I got to work with passionate kid advocates like you.

  6. Linda, I have often though of you and Hillary in the same light. Bonnie and I have talked about the similarities this week, especially. I watched you as you walked through the heartbreak of your life's work being discounted, questioned and used as a weapon to hurt you during a time that should have been celebrated as one of the biggest successes of your career.

    I started my educational career as a teacher in Three Rivers the day I met you (and DHK) at job fair in May of 2002. You were my SpEd Director when you hired me, then became my principal 4 or 5 years later when you moved back to where you belonged, a principal at NVHS. I worked in the school climate that DHK created, then couldn't control. I saw athletes allowed to run riot, and DHK wanted to be buddies with them instead of guide them to higher ground. I witnessed athletes and some of the coaches put themselves above the expectations and rules. Bullies became powerful, they knew there would be no consequences. During this time, I was coaching. MY players were students first, players second. They had a higher behavioral expectations and academic accountability than their peers because, after all, representing our school on the field was a privilege, not a right. My philosophy and rules were not back by the administration when applied by me.

    Then you came to NVHS. Holy hell, you had an uphill, straight uphill, climb. DHK left a mess. A mess of disgruntled staff, who were glad to have a change and a few who were pissed to have a change because they were part of the problem. Most of us were very, very glad to have a chance to change a broken, negative, unsuccessful school. Those who were part of the problem set out to facilitate your failure before you ever walked in the door. Our accomplishments (ours, because you made staff who were willing, part of the solution) were amazing. Students wanted to go to school and staff did, too.

    When the wheels started coming off because of someone else's jealousy, resentment and pride, when people lied about you, when your plans for the last few years of your career were being ripped apart, you kept your integrity and worked for a solution. I don't know how you did that. I could barely stand what was happening to you. I only kept my head together and my mouth shut, unless it was positive and helpful, because you asked me to. How you stood up to that, how you did your job, the way you let the horrible things roll off you back and keep moving forward...your amazing strength and character helped us all be better people. I was and am lucky enough to be your friend, but I was and always will be grateful for the time I was under your leadership. I learned so much from you about professional integrity, team work, humility in the face of adversity, admitting fault and learning from it and expecting the best from people even though you knew that may not be the outcome.

    Hillary has and will continue to do the same as she has always done... Stand up for what is right, stand up to what is wrong. We can only hope that she can continue to stand on the same hopeful faith in people and their ability to seek and see the truth and enlist us all to move forward, ALL of us. Hopefully, she will enlist us all in identifying the origins of the problems, in seeking solutions, and making positive change for all of us.

  7. For some reason, my post shows as anonymous. In case you didn't know...Devon Dorn

  8. Wow. Thank you, Devon. One of the best memories? The day I passed out the "acorn books" and invited any teacher to take on an AP course, complete with AP Institute over the summer. You and Ron were among the first -- and most dedicated -- to do that. When we went from 3 AP courses to 9 in one year, that was us sailing high. Supporters like you who have our backs are important. I happen to believe that Hillary is human and needs people who have her back too. I want to be one of them.

  9. Linda,
    I only got the benefit of the last two years of your work at NVHS, and then only as a first- and second-year teacher. I never saw the mess that you apparently started with. But now that I'm a 4-district, 7.5-year veteran teacher, I can still honestly say that my first administrator was far and away my best. As a member of the Oregon ruling class (white male Oregonian from the Portland area), I was quite pleasantly surprised by the social climate, the academics and the student safety of NVHS. While the triple-R stereotypes of Southern Oregon (rural, redneck and racist) are somewhat earned, they did not seem to enter the gates of NVHS. Students from a wide range of family backgrounds all seemed to somehow know that bullying and intolerance were not accepted. And I am still amazed at the acceptance, no, the EXPECTATION of such high academics at such a rural high school.
    If I had to attribute this success to one thing you did, I would have to say it was a particular habit that I noticed you had. Whenever there was a decision to be made for the school, your first question always seemed to be "What is best for the STUDENTS?" OH! how I WISH I could hear more administrators ask that question!! It is this kind of personally-held ethic or conviction or mantra that good leaders should have so that they can make important decisions with the confidence of their convictions. Woefully few leaders, particularly political leaders, have that. (I can only think of one.)
    One other thing I'd add is that those false accusations of which you speak have wider ramifications, affecting other people and other parts of the organization, as well.I couldn't keep from sensing tensions between some individuals within the school and district, but I actively tried to stay out, since it was a history I was not a part of. However, it was largely your sudden "retirement" that prompted me to search for and accept a position in a district outside of TRSD. Who knows what that desert of a driveway would look like now, if it had had at least another year of TLC?? While I avoided listing your "retirement" as a reason for leaving the district, in order to avoid criticizing the top admin of my first school, I now wish I had. I doubt it would have made any difference, but I would sure feel better about it.
    And Ron, I truly am saddened (but not surprised) to hear that the school has returned to its previous state. I've seen that happen to a school that my own children attended, where a completely floundering school is absolutely turned around by a new principal, but then returns to its previous state upon the departure of that principal. This is what occasionally keeps me awake at night, thinking that maybe I should become a principal myself. (I'm pretty high-energy, but do I have THAT kind of energy??) Can the problems be fixed within the existing corrupt system, or do we need to have a complete shake-up? Sounds like another system that is being discussed here...

    Anyway Linda, I'm very glad that you keep up the fight on various fronts and that you continue to work to keep others engaged in the process. Thank you.

    I don't see a way for me to be anything but an Unknown here, so I'll just sign,
    Brian Little

  10. Wow. Thank you, Brian. One of the best parts of the job was getting to hire creative, passionate teachers. I don't go anymore because the neglect of the amazing landscaping you and the kids did is too discouraging. Hearing about your children's school makes me fearful for every determined administrator. I've seen that story play out too often -- someone builds an incredible program through grit and all the barriers, then watches it crumble almost instantly when they leave.


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