By Denise Tessier
Albuquerque Public School Superintendent Winston Brooks got a three-day suspension from the school board for broadcasting inappropriate comments on Twitter last week, but that didn’t suspend publication of his monthly column from the Albuquerque Journal’s Education section this week.
Brooks’ suspension, announced Friday, took effect Monday (Nov. 11) and ran three days, with APS Chief Operations Officer Brad Winter serving as interim superintendent those three days. So, the act of reading Brooks’ monthly column smack dab in the middle of that suspension (Nov. 12) had a twist of irony.
It’s likely the column had been written the week before the tweets and Journal editors went ahead and filled the allotted space with it, no doubt aware of the parallels between Brooks’ commentary and his troubles of previous days.
In the column, “Coach’s tips: Execution, not excuses,” Brooks mused about fall weather, fall sports and his admiration for NFL coach Tony Dungy – and about turning losses into wins. Dungy, in town to help Comcast launch a low-income program promotion, had appeared at an Albuquerque High School rally Oct. 31 to give a pep talk to the AHS Bulldogs, which were in the news for their record-setting losing streak. In his column, Brooks wrote:
It’s not Dungy’s success on the gridiron that most impresses me. . . It’s the way he approaches the game – as an opportunity to learn and develop.
The column never mentioned Brooks’ own troubles of the past week, but they were ever in the background for readers who likely were thinking about Brooks’ own “opportunity to learn and develop.”
As most readers know, Brooks got in trouble after exchanging tweets the previous Tuesday ((Nov. 5) with KOAT reporter Lauren Zakalik, who was in Moriarty covering a public forum featuring Public Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera. According to the Journal’s front-page story about the tweets on Nov. 7:
Zakalik, who covered the forum, arrived early and tweeted Brooks that it was freezing in Moriarty and she was holed up in a livetruck – a television news van from which live events are broadcast. Brooks responded that he thought she had said she was in a livestock truck.
. . .Brooks said at one point, “Maybe Skandy should head for the livestock truck!!!” He immediately followed that tweet with another: “Moo, Moo, Oink, oink!!”
Brooks has since apologized, had his twitter account shut down and was suspended and given a letter of reprimand.
In this week’s Education column, Brooks used Dungy as a model in talking about APS’ academic expectations for students and the district’s challenges in helping students achieve those goals. But some of what he wrote could apply just as well to the lessons Brooks learned last week about using social media. From the column:
Failure is temporary. It’s only fatal if you choose not to learn from the experience.
He said Dungy had offered six words of advice during the pep talk: “expectations, execution, no excuses, no explanations,” to which Brooks added:
It’s advice I’ve taken to heart.
That line is consistent with what Brooks told Albuquerque Journal reporter Mike Bush the day after Brooks sent the inappropriate tweets:
I’m not making any excuses. I am sorry. I did what I did. I apologized to the secretary. I will try to do better.
The backstory, of course, is that Brooks has been a vocal critic of Skandera for months, particularly with regard to teacher evaluations, while supporters of Skandera and the governor have sent out mailers criticizing Brooks for “putting up roadblocks to education reform.”
As an East Mountain subscriber to the Journal, it was interesting to read the Journal’s front-page coverage of Brook’s twitter comments – “Superintendent goes barnyard on Skandera” – and on the same day read the Mountain View Telegraph’s front-page story about the Moriarty event that prompted Brooks’ social media chat. Headlined “Skandera addresses grad forum: School reforms, tests spur lots of questions,” the Telegraph story was a straight-forward account of the forum, and the questions and answers that went back and forth between Skandera and parents and teachers, with none of the side-story about “barnyard” tweets.
And a few weeks ago, the Moriarty story probably would have been written by Mike Bush, who was then covering such things at the Telegraph (a sister publication of the Journal), before he moved over to the daily “mothership”, where he, along with other writers, has been covering the education beat since the departure of Hayley Heinz. Heinz, the former Journal education reporter, is now communications specialist at the University of New Mexico’s Center for Education Policy Research.
The Edgewood-based Independent also covered the Moriarty forum, after meeting with four teachers a week beforehand, and reported in its Nov. 6 edition:
When 20- and 30-year veteran teachers act like unruly students, perhaps parents and students should take note. . .When one teacher who describes herself as “very conservative” is in total agreement with one who says she’s a “bleeding heart liberal,” perhaps something is afoot.
Now at the Journal, Bush capably covered the forum Skandera held in Albuquerque this week, which ran on the front page Wednesday (Nov. 13) as “Skandera Defends Evaluation System: State education chief faces hostile crowd.” The story included some interesting details, such as this:
. . . during Skandera’s PowerPoint presentation, a woman shouted out that a word on the screen was misspelled. Skandera was forced to acknowledge that “fidelity” was missing an “i.” The woman, apparently a teacher, said “we would be penalized for that,” a reference to the feedback teachers get from an automated, online evaluation program.
One more development in the Brooks tweeting saga is noteworthy here. On Friday (Nov. 8), the most prominent, top-of-the-front-page story in the Journal was “Business group calls for Brooks to quit,” with the subheadline: “Skandera tweets called ‘bullying’.”
Larry Langley, chief executive officer of the New Mexico Business Roundtable, had written a column on behalf of the organization, calling for Brooks to resign. The Journal ran his column across the top of the Op-Ed page the same day, headlined, “Bullying by superintendent not new; he should go.”
It was interesting to see the column on Op-Ed (A9) after reading the A1 story, kind of like being able to read the full version of something via a link when reading articles online. What’s unusual is that the Journal got a reporter to get comments about the column, turning it into a news story. Make no mistake: A business group calling for the resignation of a superintendent is news.
But turning the column into a story gave readers a lot more information than they would have had simply reading the column; usually the Journal runs columns without any fact-checking or further elaboration.
In doing the story, reporter Elaine Briseño got these comments:
Monica Armenta, spokeswoman for APS, said she was “not terribly surprised.”
“They have not seen eye to eye for years,” she said. “Langley has said publicly, in the past, that he is not a fan of Brooks.”
Albuquerque Public Schools Board president Marty Esquivel, who has criticized Brooks’ tweets and said the board will consider what action to take, said he doesn’t give Langley’s opinion much weight.
“He’s not the most objective person in the world,” Esquivel said. “He lost his bid for the school board, and he’s associated with this other political end of this education reform debate. It’s apparent he’s grandstanding.”
To which Briseño added this background:
Langley ran unsuccessfully for the school board earlier this year, losing to incumbent David Peercy. He has been a supporter of Gov. Susana Martinez’s education reforms and has served as chairman of the state’s Early Learning Advisory Council, which advises the governor.