VALLEJO (CBM) – “Jiggas” and “arrogant b*****” are just two of the ugly slurs some northern Californians posted on a petition calling for the resignation of an African-American school district superintendent. About 900 Vallejo-area residents have added their signatures to the online effort.

But Black leaders in the same Bay Area community, along with a multi-racial coalition of other residents, pushed back.  They say the fight to remove Dr. Ramona Bishop, Superintendent of the Vallejo Unified School District, is “motivated by racism and sexism.” An equal number of supporters have signed a separate petition backing her.

The effort to oust Bishop began May 31 when a Vallejo student posted a petition calling for her resignation on MoveOn.org. She says the shooting death of a 17-year-old white high school student, Kenneth “Max” Rusk, prompted her to begin the campaign. He was killed on a trail close to Jesse M. Bethel High School — but not on campus.

The student who started the petition stressed at a recent board meeting her effort aimed at forcing Bishop to step down is neither sexist nor racist. She added that she can’t control the sentiment of the community members who post to her petition’s page. In her public comment to the board June 3, she said, “when a negative comment was made she worked to remove it from the petition’s wall.

Bishop “has continuously ignored parents’ and students’ complaints and has refused to discuss safety concerns,” the student alleges.

Another student, also started his own petition for support which read “Acknowledging leadership takes true courage and strength.

As a current student of Vallejo City Unified School District, I stand in strong support of our Superintendent Dr. Ramona E. Bishop, her administrative team, parents, community, and student leaders who are committed to providing strong leadership that is rebuilding all of our schools that have historically failed students and families.” Over a 1000 Vallejo residents have signed the petition he launched to support Bishop.

Many of Bishop’s supporters point out that the two suspects arrested in Rusk’s death are not students of the school. Vallejo police are still investigating the incident.

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Who Is Dr. Ramona Bishop?

In 2011, the Vallejo Unified School District appointed Bishop it’s Superintendent. She became one of only four Black females in charge of one of California’s 1000 school districts.

Besides joining a tiny cohort of Black school district leaders across the state, Bishop prepared herself to face some big challenges. Her first priority: leading the effort to take the district of 25 schools out of state receivership, which she achieved.

Colleagues also credit her with leading other major district-wide reforms. Among them: increasing graduation rates from 54 percent to 72 percent and introducing innovative academic programs in all subject areas and at each grade level.

Before coming to Vallejo, Bishop served as Associate Superintendent of Sacramento’s Twin Rivers school district. She is from Richmond and earned her Phd at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.

Hiring Process

Superintendents are hired by school boards and generally sign multi-year contracts. Under the current law, terminated superintendents are eligible for cash buy-outs of up to 18 months of their salary. However if a bill currently making its way through the legislative process gets signed into law, it will cap the severance package at 12 months.

How Some Say A New Bill Could Have Unintended Consequences

Assembly Bill (AB 215) authored by Luis Alejo (D-Salinas) could stack up the odds even higher for minority or women leaders. Opponents of the measure say it would remove the one barrier that protects minority or women superintendents who sometimes face dismissals motivated by discrimination.

“The combination of high paying severance packages and high superintendent turnover is an issue that does not receive enough attention,” Alejo writes on his website. “Instead of paying excessive severance packages, the state can invest in our students’ education.”

The Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) disagrees. In a note to the author, the group opposes the bill because superintendents are “at-will employees. They don’t have due process rights and unfounded terminations can be a career-ending events.”

Petitions Divide Community Along Racial Lines   

On June 3, deep emotions charged up a Vallejo school board meeting and seemed to divide attendees along sharp racial lines. About 60 people made public comments for or against Bishop.

Bishop’s opponents shared safety concerns. But some also voiced pointed personal attacks referencing Bishop’s sex and race.

“You are a very controversial and divisive person,” said one opponent who claims the “superintendent’s attitude of disrespect” offends him.

“We cannot stop isolated incidents from happening I know we can’t control students who climb walls and leave campus,” he added, making allegations about how Rusk left school before he was killed.

Bishop’s supporters also attended meeting. Many came to her defense with strongly-worded statements.  Besides the hurtful racist and sexist comments, one said, the opposition “politicizing “a child’s life and tragic death for political gain” is dishonest.

The Rev. Dante Quick, pastor of a local Vallejo Baptist Church, quoted some of the comments posted on the petition. “The district would be better off if it had an old white man running it,” he says one of Bishop’s critics said. He also questioned the group. “How many people want [Bishop] to go to their homes to raise their rude children?”

Bishop remained quiet and composed and addressed the comments made at the end of public testimony.

“As a parent, I take safety very seriously,” she said. “And I use this test: ‘would I send my children here?’ The answer is yes.

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