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Menlo Park: Special ed director faces ouster

Original post made on Mar 11, 2013

A battle is brewing over the pending dismissal of the Menlo Park City School District's director of special education at the end of the school year.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, March 11, 2013, 10:11 PM

Comments (33)

Posted by Watching, a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 11, 2013 at 11:09 pm

If my count is right this will make number 7 Mr Gychels has intimidated , dismissed and run off. I thought schools had a No Bully policy. The term Toxic Leader comes to mind each time he makes a misstep. It's time the Board rethink his hiring before they find the District in a law suit. Perhaps they should send the Superintendent in a "different direction"

Posted by MP Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 12, 2013 at 12:20 am

From what I gather from school district employees, the superintendent is polarizing. You're either on his side or the outside. It seems a lot of good people have been lost, not necessarily because of their job performance. Much of this could have been predicted from comments made by people from Mountain View school district, the last place to have the pleasure of Mr Ghysels's charm and leadership style. How the board dismissed all these concerns is a mystery, but they are ultimately responsible. I hope someone looks into his actions before the district suffers more.

Posted by A Student of History, a resident of another community
on Mar 12, 2013 at 5:10 am

"Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it."

I'm not surprised to learn that Ghysels has intimidated and bullied administrators and dismissed or run off SEVEN of them since arriving in Menlo Park (particularly women). If you don't remember his history, here are just A FEW of the comments from people in his previous districts that were posted in the Mountain View Voice and Almanac.

[Please make your own comments, but don't copy comments from other threads. You can refer to these threads and link to them.]

Posted by MP Parent of 2, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 12, 2013 at 5:22 am

What is wrong with making a decision if a teacher or administrator is not working out? The Unions give a sense of entitlement and put in place costs that hurt our system as well as our kids future. Nothing personal against Ms. Mandilik, but she should not entitled to keep her job just because she has been here for a long time.

Posted by A Student of History, a resident of another community
on Mar 12, 2013 at 6:03 am

"Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it."

In addition to folks from Ghysels' previous districts, staff and parents in Menlo Park have commented on his toxic leadership in the Almanac…Why is the Menlo Park School Board refusing to listen?

[Portion removed. Please make your own comments, but don't copy comments from other threads. You can refer to the threads and link to them. ]

Posted by MV Employee, a resident of another community
on Mar 12, 2013 at 6:30 am

Sitting in Mountain View, I have to laugh when I read this article. The board was forewarned. Only Ghysels can bring this on himself. This is all classic Ghysels. He's a self-absorbed narcissist by definition and only time is required before it comes out in all it's glory. He can't help it actually, especially when people keep feeding it. He's a self-recognized leader who loves to spew the jargon. How much elementary teaching experience does he have? None. How much special education experience? None. You got what you deserved Menlo Park!

Posted by Concerned citizen, a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 12, 2013 at 6:49 am

The board pres claims they have no say in personnel matters, a legally convenient corporate line. If the board had nothing to do with the dismissal of the hillview principal and assistant sup, then i'm the next pope! Who's in charge? The emporer has no clothes.

Posted by MP Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 12, 2013 at 7:00 am

Karma, Mr. Ghysels. It eventually catches up to everyone of us.

Posted by A Student of History, a resident of another community
on Mar 12, 2013 at 7:34 am

"Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it."

I contacted a Menlo Park employee and was told that Ghysels and the Board knew that they could not dismiss any of the administrators for cause (disciplinary reasons) because they were exemplary leaders. Ghysels doesn't want to hear any perspectives but his own, so he was allowed to systematically and mercilessly bully the administrators (Jo Mitchell, Mike Melton, Dennis Hatfield, Carol Metzler, Dennis Hatfield, and Olivia Mandilk). This resulted in involuntary retirements and serious illnesses. In the case of Toni Barone, they decided to simply eliminate her position as Coordinator of Instructional Technology (on tonight's Board Agenda). An interesting decision in a "21st Century School District."

Posted by Apex, a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 12, 2013 at 8:23 am

Ghysels is a head case. Nothing new. Ask Mt. View and now look at the devastation of our once beautiful Menlo.

Parents and teachers and all concerned about our kids, we gotta get down to the board meeting tonight and tell the board to dump this toxic boss.

Posted by MP Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Mar 12, 2013 at 8:37 am

This is really disturbing. I question how, with this history, the MP school board hired this superintendent. An executive search is one of the core responsibilities of a board and if our board members are too busy to do the background checks necessary to hire quality people then I hope they are held to task for this massive failure come election time. Did the board just trust an executive recruiter and do no research on their own? How do you get to this point of complete failure in hiring? And now, just partially through his contract, any termination to prevent this toxic behavior from polluting the school district means MP is out years of salary money. You should be ashamed MP Board! Kudos to Ms. Mandilk for not going away quietly. Sounds like it's time the people that Mr. Ghysels intimidates should get their day in court. If I were on the MP Board I would make a swift decision now even at the incredible costs the district would incur. The district will pay the price anyway for this mistake - now or later.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 12, 2013 at 9:04 am

I'm thankful I don't have a child in this toxic school district. I feel badly for those that do.

Posted by MPCSD Employee, a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 12, 2013 at 9:52 am

Ghysels has created an atmosphere of fear. The latest two "lay offs" have shown people that no one's job is safe, regardless of how integral it is to the functioning of the district. As a result no one is challenging him, no one is telling the board or parents how bad he really is due to the fear of reprisal directly from him.

I mean, how the hell do you justify dismissing the Coordinator of Instructional Technology in a district that claims to be and is in fact so heavily into technology? And in such a suddenly abrupt manner? There is no transparency to the way Ghysels and the board are running things, there is no up front definition of their agenda, they are going to destroy this district one employee at a time, and who will really end up suffering? The kids!

Posted by Happy with the changes, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 12, 2013 at 10:10 am

To replace Mike Melton at Hillview, the District hired Erik Burmeister... the California State Principal of the Year. To replace Jo Mitchell, the District promoted Allison Liner from Encinal Principal, and she is excellent based on my own experience as a parent at Encinal School. As part of Olivia's departure the District is putting Special Ed under the principals of the schools, and I love that as the parent of a special ed student because the disconnect between Special Ed and General Ed will be addressed. Maybe classroom teachers will get more support & training for special needs and differentiated instruction.

Posted by Some Guy, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 12, 2013 at 10:30 am

Fun Fact: Most of the people Ghysels has run off have been replaced by people that worked for Ghysels before.
For example, he intimidated and bullied his assistant into retirement, and then replaced her with a woman he had been his assistant in the past.

Nothing fishy going on there...

One thing Mr. Ghysels certainly DOES NOT do is engender a sense of family and community among the employees. Instead we are constantly looking over our shoulders to see if his crosshairs are on us, since performance has nothing to do with wether or not you keep your job anymore. When keeping you job is based on political reasons, and not performance, it's only a matter of time till the district starts sinking, and test scores start going down. Fortunately, MPCSD has a VERY strong teaching staff, and it could take years for the damage to really be evident in student achievement. Hopefully the board will wake up and right things before it gets to that point.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Mar 12, 2013 at 10:45 am

Menlo Park and Palo Alto seem to consistently get the leadership they deserve....and they seem to be in a downward spiral. They are becoming toxic communities with toxic leadership.

A continuing no-win absurd (and not entertaining) soap opera played out constantly in local newspapers and on this site.

What a mess, and how depressing it must be for young people in those communities. Where are the positive role models? Not at home, not at school, not in local government. Just lots of anger ....and "expectations."

Posted by Hmmmmm..., a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 12, 2013 at 10:54 am

Maurice is probably pacing in front of the District Office, on his phone, trying to reach his good friend, Larry Aceves (yes, the same Larry Aceves who unsuccessfully ran for California Superintendent of Public Instruction) to find out what high-paying districts are "searching" for a new superintendent.

A Recap of Events… (or, Watch Where the Money Flows...)

1. Larry and Maurice are friends who played together in a band.

2. In November 2009, the Mountain View School Board announced that Maurice would be leaving the district after his unethical behavior in the district.

3. In May 2010, Maurice's friend, Dr. Charles Weis, then-Superintendent of the Santa Clara County Office of Education appointed Maurice the Chief Academic Officer for the Santa Clara County Office of Education (yes, the same Dr. Weiss who was sued in December 2012 by his former employer, the Santa Clara County Office of Education for an unpaid 1M condo loan).

4. In 2010, leading up to the election, Maurice contributed significant sums of money to Larry's campaign for Superintendent of Public Instruction.

5. In June 2010, Larry Aceves' wife, Linda, who worked at the Santa Clara COE, was promoted to the Chief Academic Officer position that was vacated by Maurice at the COE.

6. Larry is a recruiter for the firm, Leadership Associates, that "finds" school administrators for school districts.

7. In February 2011, the MPCSD Board approved a $21,000. contract with Leadership Associates to conduct a "nationwide search" for a superintendent.

8. Larry instructed the Board to NOT include parents, community or staff members in the interview process for superintendent. The Board agreed with this recommendation, making it the first time that Menlo Park parents, community and staff members were not involved in the superintendent interview process.

9. During a "superintendent input" meeting with Menlo Park staff, someone asked Larry if his firm was the same one that recruited Howard Cohen, the previous superintendent in South San Francisco Unified School District. After a year on the job in SSFUSD, Cohen resigned in December 2010 due to questionable hiring practices and accusations of mismanaging finances in his previous school district. Larry denied that Leadership Associates was the firm that recruited Cohen, in spite of the fact that the Leadership Associates website stated that they had recruited Cohen for the South City superintendency.

10. In May 2011, the Menlo Park Board selected Maurice for superintendent, stating that they knew his background and the controversy he had created in Mountain View.

11. In January 2012, when Menlo Park needed to fill 2 principal positions, Maurice recommended, and the Board approved, a $10,000. contract with Leadership Associates to conduct a "nationwide search" for the best principals. At the end of the "nationwide search," one of Maurice's former principals in Mountain View was selected for Encinal, and a principal that he knew from Santa Clara County was selected for Hillview.

12. Maurice has stated that Menlo Park is going to contract with a recruiting firm to conduct a "nationwide search" to fill the Student Services Director position. I wonder what recruitment firm he has in mind?

Posted by Some Guy, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 12, 2013 at 11:21 am


I'm sure we can find out which crony he intends to hire next by looking into past special directors hes worked with that were terrible at their jobs.

Posted by HangOnHere, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 12, 2013 at 11:22 am

The new principal of Hillview was California State Principal of the Year last year! Since when is that not an improvement over Mike Melton?

Posted by Special Ed Family, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 12, 2013 at 11:51 am

I see that people are using this change in the Menlo Park school district as a sounding board for airing their grudges against Maurice Ghysels. But I haven't read one post supporting Olivia Mandilk, the head of special ed who is leaving. I have a child who receives special ed services and I can tell you that it has been absolute heartbreak and hell. Ms. Mandilk has been nothing but a condescending obstacle to getting support. She [portion removed], she's stuck in another era, and defensive to the point of vengence against the child of any parent who speaks out. She regularly denies help to those in need and has reduced the number of students served in our district from 11% to 7% while the county and the state have remained constant at 11% of students qualifying for special ed. This is a much needed change and I, along with many others, hope the superintendent will continue his record of finding really talented people to take leadership positions in our district so someone with vision can take her place and really help our kids.

Posted by mom of AS student, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 12, 2013 at 12:00 pm

I talked to my friends on the board before they hired this guy. It's a very elitist private club, that board, and they don't want to listen to anyone who doesn't accept their decisions 100%. (I realize they are volunteers and great people, but...they are not doing their job!)

That said, Mike Melton was a terrible principal and everyone loves Burmeister. Mandilk, from all accounts, has done such a superb job of conserving the district's resources by refusing to provide legally required services that Menlo Park now has a rep as a terrible district for special ed. Her attack on Susan Walton, a woman who has been an incredible resource for so many, says all that needs to be said.

Ghysels may be the sleaziest guy in town, but in this case, looks as though he made the right move.

Posted by Mom in Menlo, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 12, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Mom in Menlo is a registered user.

Despite Ms. Kaufman's kind words, many parents in the MP Special Education Community are welcoming of a change.

While Ms. Mandilk was instrumental in establishing a nursing program and an in district pre-school -- it is time for a change. Program structure and best practice for inclusion education, as well as pull-outs and specialized classrooms have evolved dramatically over the past 8 years and while we have a few stars amongst the staff -- many are not willing to adapt and/or ar not provided the appropriate mentoring from their leadership to adjust to the evolving world of special education.

As stated in the previous message, Menlo Park must have something very special in its water to have almost 1/3 fewer students who qualify for special education services than the national average.

A K-8 Classroom provides an awesome teacher but does not allow middle school kids with severe handicaps an opportunity to engage with same age peers. Kids in lower grades who are special education should have access to district reading specialists, and not just their resource or learning center teacher that is a general special educator, middle school students and teachers should have access to a professional speech and language pathologist for more than 1/2 - 1 day a week for collaboration and development of critical social skills programming and the list can go on.

I hope the board and superintendent will have the forethought to work with the parent community and current educators to develop a vision for the special education program, and hire a collaborative/forward thinking leader.

Posted by Sped Mom, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Mar 12, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Sped Mom is a registered user.

I am the mother of a 6th grader that has been receiving some form of sped services since kindergarten. I am also employed in the field of sped. Due to being a mom and a professional I am highly keyed into the sped community on the Peninsula. Of all the districts on the Peninsula, Menlo Park has by far the worst reputation for providing special education services. Why are our rates of kids qualifying for services going DOWN, while our population continues to rise? It's a combination of services being refused, parents being lied to and many, many sped families moving out of the district.

Ever since Olivia's arrival a large group of parents has tried to get a Special Ed PTO, or even just parent group started. Every single district surrounding us has excellent parent groups and resources. But not Menlo Park.We have been turned down at every pass in every way.

Olivia published in her totally inappropriate and unprofessional email that parents were never consulted on her removal. Parents have been attending board meetings every single month for FOUR YEARS trying to be heard by the board and by Olivia! Parents have written letters, met with principals, board members, the past and present supervisors and until now it has all fallen on deaf ears. What does it say that her greatest accomplishment occurred right after her arrival and was only a small piece of managing our entire sped system.

We have been exceptionally fortunate in our son's education and had the most incredible teachers and support we could have ever imagined despite Olivia's lack of responsiveness. I give high marks to the faculties and administrations that have managed to work around such an antiquated leader.

Hurrah for this change and now maybe Menlo Park can finally focus on its students and not all of its law suits! Kudos to Mr. Ghysels for making this brave choice.

Posted by JeffS, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 12, 2013 at 2:52 pm

JeffS is a registered user.

The problem here isn't really the fact that Ms. Mandilk is being let go.
The real issue is how it's being done, and the fact that Mr. Ghysels cronies invariably end up in the vacated positions.

Posted by Parent , a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 12, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Parent is a registered user.

Our experience with Ms. Mandilk began from her initial year of employment- Not only is she smiling while stabbing you in the back - she twists the knife for good measure. It's unconscionable to attack parents with her actions but then to direct it the student with special needs, is pure evil. Getting word she will no longer be the Director of Special Ed. was welcomed news and sadly, long overdue.
If there is even an outside chance she may end up teaching in one of our districts classrooms would be horrific! We also had experience with Mr. Melton, former Hillview principal, another wise choice to replace him.
We applaud the Mr. Ghysels, he has our vote of confidence!

Posted by MadooMom, a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Mar 12, 2013 at 4:39 pm

MadooMom is a registered user.

As a grateful mother of a special ed child in Alex Ruth's class I was dismayed to hear what this mr. Ghysels is trying to push through.

Forget his past failures, affairs, cronyism- the fact he is trying to fire someone who has taken Menlo Park's special needs kids back into our local school, hired incredible staff, and who has been a staunch advocate for our special needs children is incomprehensible. Without even talking to the parents? Last I checked he works for us.

Olivia has made it possible for even my severely handicapped daughter to be loved, integrated, and treated with the same respect as every other student in the district.

I've never seen this guy in our class, unlike Ken Ranella who always stopped by. I've never even heard of him until now. And what I am now hearing is ugly. His strategic improvement propaganda has big words, but no meaning.

He knows better? Try running Alex's class for a day. Spend sometime with the people who really do the work- like Alex and his aides, like Ada, like Olivia. You can fool the board, but don't waste our time.

Our kids are too important to fall victim to your underhanded intentions. Please school board, limit the damage you've already done to our school district. For our kids who can't speak for themselves, please keep Olivia.

Posted by Mom in Menlo, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 12, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Mom in Menlo is a registered user.

Alex Ruth is indeed one of those stars I mentioned earlier -- but his classroom represents only a VERY SMALL percentage of students on IEPs and 504s in the Menlo Park District (7-10 in any given year).

The balance of students are served with resource or learning center support on all campuses across the district. In nearly five years, I am not aware of my child's wonderful paraeducators receiving in classroom visits from the Director, her program specialist or the superintendant.

While we respect that you had a positive experience -- that is not the case for many who after endless hours of meetings and negotations have chosen to pursue alternative educational experiences including private placements, homeschooling, or even moving out of the district to receive appropriate services for their children.

I agree to respectfully disagree and know that the I in IEP can stand for individual experiences.

Posted by beta, a resident of another community
on Mar 12, 2013 at 5:28 pm

beta is a registered user.

If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention. Olivia Mandilk has been a strong leader and an advocate for children with disabilities in the MPCSD. Maurice Ghysels can't give a reason for her dismissal except to say that he wants a change in direction in the student services department. He's getting change, but at what cost?

Posted by lessons learned, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Mar 12, 2013 at 7:10 pm

lessons learned is a registered user.


* Sent out a mass email whining about her dismissal

* Slandered the parent of a special ed child

For those two reasons alone, she deserves to be fired.

Posted by MadooMom, a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Mar 12, 2013 at 8:36 pm

MadooMom is a registered user.

To Mom in Menlo-
I completely respect and appreciate your thoughtful opinions. It just makes me realize that we need to work together. We are all trying to help our kids be the best they can be. Whatever that may be. I just don't want any of our kids to be a victim of politics. No matter how great or small their needs. They are all worth it... We can all set our own new direction.

Posted by Works in Atherton, a resident of another community
on Mar 12, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Works in Atherton is a registered user.

Whether or not Olivia Mandilk is a competent Student Services director is beside the point. It's about the way Superintendent Maurice Ghysels is "shaking up" the District. Instead of incorporating current exemplary administrators into his vision and direction (which is non-existent anyway) and giving them the chance to mold into the leaders he needs, he's simply pushing people out to make room for his "yes people."

The problem is that most, if not all, of what he does is NOT in the best interest of the District (or in the interest of the District at all). It's in the interest of making him look good so he can con people in to thinking he's this awesome visionary leader in education. He's in it for the recognition and nothing more.

It is sad to learn about Superintendent Ghysels' supposed connections with Larry Aceves and Leadership Associates. If this is true, I think the term "questionable hiring practices" definitely applies here.

Given his past and the current events, when will it stop? Doesn't it say something that MVWSD employees, along with others, are basically saying "I told you so"? What does it say about a School Board that hired a Superintendent despite the blaring red flags? What does it say when District employees are afraid of their jobs and are unable to voice their concerns?

MPCSD is falling apart. Something needs to be done.

Posted by Mom in Menlo, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 13, 2013 at 4:38 am

Mom in Menlo is a registered user.

@ Works in Atherton and other folks --

What needs to be done is for more people to become engaged with the School District and its leadership.

Attend a school board meeting, request that meetings be televised like those in neighboring communities so that people who are at home with their children, or work late can watch live or on playback. Encourage members of the community at large to run for school board so that each election is not uncontested and board membership becomes a true elected permission and not a rite of passage from the Foundation or entitlement because you have done it for 15+ years.

This is not meant to be disrespectful to current board members who give widely and generously of their time and knowledge - but rather a call to action for a broader spectrum of the community to become engaged and involved with one of Atherton and Menlo Park's most valuable assets, its schools.

Posted by lessons learned, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Mar 13, 2013 at 9:29 am

lessons learned is a registered user.

I am personally acquainted with everyone on the school board, some more than others. They are all good, caring people. But they comprise a tiny, handpicked cabal.

In my many years in the district, I rarely recall seeing an opening publicized. It's pretty well known that if you want to be elected, you need to make your wishes known to individual board members, who will then vet you and deem you worthy (or not) of inclusion. As a result, there is no election. The number of candidates is equal to the number of openings.

The few times that someone has tried to ignore this long-established system and run,she has been vilified by the in-group for costing the district so much money and subjected to a smear campaign. And inevitably lost, by a landslide.

It's going to take a brave soul to make a dent in that culture.

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