PALMDALE — Antelope Valley Union High School District Board President Robert “Bob” Davis and Clerk Amanda Parrell submitted similar, error-filled statements in response to the recall effort against them that called out an alleged “$245,000 on trips for educational junkets to Puerto Rico and Guam for certain privileged administrators.”
Board Vice President Victoria Ruffin did not submit her response in time to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s Office for it to be included on the recall petition. The language in Ruffin’s response is similar, however.
A search of District employee conference/trip records via the BoardDocs website, which hosts the Board’s agendas, turned up no records of any trips to Guam.
The District confirmed as much in a July 16 response to a public records request.
“Please note the District does not possess disclosable public records, or any, responsive to your request. Specifically, the District is unaware of any employees or Board members taking trips to Guam during the past five (5) years for District business,” the letter said.
Davis, Ruffin and Parrell did not respond to an email request prior to the print deadline seeking clarification on who went to Guam, when the trip occurred and how much it cost. They also did not explain how they calculated the $245,000 in travel expenses.
District teachers did go to Puerto Rico. The student-centered service learning trip in January focused on helping Escuela Secundaria German Rieckehoff, a public high school on the island of Vieques, recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, which hit the small island in September 2017.
Escuela Secundaria is the only high school on the island. The hurricane wiped out the school’s career technical education building. As a result, the school’s career technical education shuttered.
Knight High teachers James Stockdale, Shawn Johnson and Bridget Howitt and Knight High Principal Will Laird accompanied Knight High students Eli Johnson, Aiden Betzer, Natalie Betancourth and Judi Alvarado on the trip.
“It wasn’t just us giving it to them. It was us giving it to them and teaching them what to do with it,” Betzer said in an April Antelope Valley Press article.
The Knight High team’s goal was to build relationships to partner with the school for the long term. Laird and the principal at Escuela Secundaria German Rieckehoff met. The Knight High students met the Puerto Rican students.
Escuela Secundaria officials wanted to rebuild their career technical education program. They chose to go with a solar program. The logic was that after Hurricane Maria they wanted to know how to help themselves. The island is still on generators nearly two years after the hurricane.
Knight High’s students and teachers brought a small starter kit to train the Puerto Rican students and administrators how to install solar panels and get it working.
Ruffin talked about the travel when she addressed the Littlerock Town Council on April 11.
“I did ask recently for the Board to provide three years of trips for our teachers. Some of these places have been Australia, Puerto Rico, Boston,” Ruffin said.
Ruffin did not explain why the information was necessary.
“This one specific teacher is at $54,000, and that’s just three years. I’m not saying that the trips weren’t necessary. But I also know that Knight High School, I’m not sure why those trips were just specific to one person; it wasn’t spread out to other people. I’m looking at the equity of it,” Ruffin said.
Although Ruffin did not call him out by name, it was clear she was talking about Stockdale, coordinator of Knight High’s award-winning Digital Design and Engineering Academy.
“What she was bringing up was me,” Stockdale said at the Littlerock Town Council meeting.
Stockdale addressed the Board majority at a Board meeting last month about their own travel expenses, he explained.
“So what they did was they turned out and then asked for all the information they could gather on me for the last three years,” Stockdale said.
The $54,000 includes three trips to Australia Stockdale took with students for the UAV Challenge. The student teams have been successful.
Last year Knight High’s Sky High and Blue Birds teams placed first and second in the international competition. A rookie team from Palmdale High School placed third.
“You want to know what else I did? I sat in a firework booth over and over again, year after year, helping raise money for those kids so they don’t have to come out of pocket themselves,” Stockdale said.
Stockdale, a former Teacher of the Year for Knight High, also spends his weekends and summer vacation working with his students. In fact, Stockdale’s students are practicing this summer for the trip to Australia this fall for the 2019 UAV Challenge.
“It’s not just going on the trip. It’s coming in and working with the kids all summer, all weekends, all holidays. I would happily give that to somebody else, but nobody else wants to do that,” Stockdale said Wednesday.
In the 14 years Stockdale has been with the District, he wrote grants worth up to $1.5 million for the District.
As coordinator of the Digital Design and Engineering Academy, some trips are mandated, Stockdale said.
Stockdale also took about $10,000 worth of trips for professional development for Knight High’s new composites lab, which will open in the 2019-20 school year.
Stockdale wasn’t the only one. The District sent four teachers at different times for training.
“We’re opening a composites lab. We’re building a pathway to feed into our aerospace industry here in the Valley, and now you’re going to turn around and attack me for volunteering my time to do this new project,” Stockdale said Wednesday.
Knight High’s composites lab will be used by students from Palmdale and Lancaster high schools.
Stockdale traveled to Boston for Olin College’s Remaking Education conference to extend project-based learning opportunities back home in the Antelope Valley.
“Olin College is recognized worldwide for some of the best project-based learning programs in the world,” Stockdale said. “There’s absolutely nothing in there that I’m ashamed of; I’m proud of all of it. And Board members approved all of it, including (Ruffin). She just approved me to go back to Australia.”
Stockdale attended the Association for Career and Technical Education conference in Washington last April because Knight High’s Digital Design and Engineering Academy was recognized as the top science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, program in the nation.
Stockdale attended another Association for Career and Technical Education conference in San Antonio, where he presented what the AV Union High School District is doing to have a great STEM program to help other schools do the same.
“They recognized us as one of the best in the state, so then I went back to the next one in San Antonio to pay it forward and help other schools to kind of match some of those things,” Stockdale said.