Executive Director At PALI Charter Resigns

Amy Dresser-Held has announced that she is leaving Palisades Charter High School in June of this year for a start up charter. She was initially given the position by a Pali Board of Directors that included her father-in-law Richard Held and his business partner Jim Suhr in what remains an undisclosed conflict of interest that should have disqualified them in this selection process. Now somebody else gets to clean up the mess she left behind...

In the time that Dresser-Held has been at Pali since 2006, she has created a top-down model of failed public education that has:

1. Awarded positions in the ever increasing bloated bureaucracy that has sucked up any financial advantage Pali received from going independent charter and getting rid of LAUSD's bloated bureaucracy.

2. Created a culture where decisions are made in furtherance of Dresser-Held's personal interests. While there are many examples of this, one of the best is choosing my lovely and sweet ex-student Maisha Perri -- I want to disclose my own lack of objectivity in this matter -- was recently promoted to be the school's Operations Director for what is rumored to be around $80,000 in salary with only a high school diploma, when there were many other qualified candidates. Well, that's not quite true. First, Ms. Perri sat on the Pali Board as a campus aide and enthusiastically promoted everything Amy Held wanted without question, instead of protecting the interests of the school as her fiduciary duty would require of her as a Pali Board member.

3.  Compromised the school's financial security by allowing an unnecessary swimming pool project to be built, when $100,000 renovation of the YMCA pool across the street would have been much more financial sound and logical of a decision. Retired teacher Meryl Duckett remembers when he was the Pali Swim Coach, he had trouble getting $300 out of the school for the swim program -- now it has somehow become more important than academic expenditures that may go wanting because of the present financial crisis.

4. In awarding cushy jobs to her acolytes, Dresser-Held did nothing to address the primary reason that I originally offered for taking Pali to independent charter status: Lessening teacher to student ratio. With all the in-crowd getting extra conference periods or jobs of questionable merit that allowed them to work from home, somebody had to pick up the slack with the students that these privileged few were no longer able to teach.

5. Broken promises have become standard practice. Another major reason for going independent charter and a solemn promise that was made to get its support had to do with the minority students that in some cases had been coming from communities like the Crenshaw District for three generations. African-American students now represent half of what they did before the school went independent charter -- in total derogation of promises not to change the racial make up of the school.

6. The legal canon of ethics say "to avoid even the appearance of impropriety." Whether it is in the hiring of friends or the employment of relatives to do work for the school, Dresser-Held's tenure at Pali has been marked by a failure to enforce a primary fiduciary duty to the school over her self-interest:

 "As a result of the state's financial crisis, PaliHi officials are anticipating a budget shortfall of at least $1.1 million in the 2010-11 school year. The school could lose additional revenue if the Los Angeles Unified School District follows through on its proposal to eliminate busing for nearly half of PaliHi's student population (1,180 students). The state gives PaliHi $5,831 per student, and without busing many students could no longer attend."

Paying a commission to a fundraiser for the unsolicited $2 million gift of Rose Gilbert for building the swimming pool should not have taken place nor should a price tag for this project that is presently over $5 million and rising with continuing expenses and questionable future sources of revenue to defray these costs. Clearly, Pali not only could have used this money for academic purposes, but could have also used it for more academic related collateral expenses (like purchasing buses).

8. In looking at the academic achievement of the school, the present API scores of 818 aren't really an improvement from pre-independent charter days when one considers that half of the low testing African-American students have been removed. Predominantly White/middle class students typically score in the high 800s or 900s.

9. "The board of directors voted unanimously to send out letters to 24 teachers and three administrators, warning them that they could be laid off this summer, pending what happens with busing and the school's ultimate budget." In addition, "they voted 6-1 with one abstention to spend $5,000 on consultants from the UCLA Anderson School of Management to assist the school community with the selection of a principal and/or executive director." It seems there might be a significant cost to Pali's primary function of teaching academic subjects and not swimming. One also wonders why the Pali Board now comes to the realization that a principal might function as an executive director.

There is no wonder why Pali under Held -- or Held under as the case may be -- resembles a mini-LAUSD. "Before coming to PaliHi, Dresser-Held worked as a field deputy for LAUSD school board president Caprice Young, as a special assistant for LAUSD Senior Deputy Superintendent Maria Ott, and as a director of policy for LAUSD school board member Marlene Cantor." Nothing like learning how to pragmatically take a school in a new dynamic direction by following the failed policies of LAUSD. Why is it that people think you can get a different result by doing exactly the same failed policies of the past?

While Dresser-Held might find it "bittersweet" to be leaving Pali at this time, since she was allegedly recruited to a start-up charter, I would call her timing impeccable in terms of her own self-interest and dwindling stock as an academic leader. Clearly the results of secret questionnaires that were circulated to Pali stakeholders in considering the renewal of her contract found a great deal of malfeasance on her part in how she ran the school and supervised those under her.



Oh, btw, charters promoting unqualified people into lucrative positions? Totally par for the course. A simple glance at the administration (who never make less than $70,000) of almost any of the charter groups (green dot, animo, etc.) and you'll find that most of them had one or two years in Teach for America. You'd have to have been a mentor teacher like me and supervised TFAs to know how ridiculous it is to think these guys and gals have anything extraordinary to offer education without considerably more training and experience under their belts.

Ixkenamo, that's not exactly an argument, is it? I would think going to all the trouble to comment on someone's blog with an ad hominem like that is ax-grinding indeed.

Now, back to Lenny's point:

What he says about Pali is totally in line with what I know to be true about the LAUSD and about many, many charter operators--they are like cult members who leave the cult to start their own cult--and there are many examples of that. Why do they do it? Because they saw how easy it is to bilk people and enhance their narcissism. There is usually a day of reckoning for such people, but not before they cause a lot of damage.

What poor start-up is getting Dresser-Held's dubious help so I can avoid applying to teach there? I am an expert teacher who raises test scores everywhere I go, but when I check into most charters carefully, they don't pass the smell test.

Wow, pretty fantastical stuff.

Good thing that people understand that just because it's on the internets, doesn't mean it's true!

Amazing how many years away from a place you can be, and you haven't ground your axe all the way down yet!

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