SLO High School students need to come first

August 14, 2023


Open letter to San Luis Coastal Unified School District Board:

With the recent enlightenment about the San Luis Obispo High School’s athletic director’s behavior, came information about the former principal and the superintendent being more concerned about winning games than doing the right thing.

The information about the former principal is consistent with what I and many other teachers experienced while working at San Luis High School. This is also consistent with what I experienced with the superintendent.  Neither of these men seem to put students nor their education first. It was always how things looked to people in the community and those not in education.

Although I did interact at times with the athletic director, I want to bring to the public light my experience with the former principal and the superintendent.

First, walking on campus in the morning and being looked up and down and told I “looked nice today,” or “nice shoes,” or “nice scarf” was the “positive” encounters I had with Leslie O’Connor. I was  also told that he didn’t understand why I taught Fashion because his wife could get a job as a retail sales clerk.  He never asked what I was teaching nor what standards I was covering.

My Masters Degree program was Apparel Marketing and Manufacturing. My students learned everything from construction (sewing or the engineering of fabric) to globalization. They had knowledge about all aspects of the fashion industry. All of this was reported to the superintendent in charge of personnel, Kim McGrath. I assume that hiring mentors to help Leslie with how to interact with colleagues was the outcome of my report and other teachers reports? There was never a direct follow-up with me.

Second, as Chris Unger, whom I happened to run into after meeting with Leslie and Sally Ames, and Eric Prater, whom I made an appointment with, know, I was forced to move my preschool internship program high school course, Tiny Tigers, to the afternoon only and share my classroom with adult education’s Parent Participation.

When Leslie O’Connor first started as principle at SLOHS, he told me that I better hold two spots for when his children arrived in January. He told me that the facilities were great and “day care” should be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. He never asked about the program, or standards the high school students were learning. He said it would be great for the community to see it running all day.

So that everyone knows, this was a high school course in which high school students ran a preschool with the teacher of the course as a supervisor.  I did not run the preschool, the high school students did. No math course runs all day, no English course, no other course. We were not, nor is it to this day, a licensed day care. And the community knows very well about it as it has run for over 40 years. There was always a waiting list.

Third, on the subject of having to share my classroom with a non-high school program and forcing Tiny Tigers to afternoon only, I was told this is what was going to happen. I was never in agreement with this.  It cut the high schoolers’ opportunities to sign up for the program.  Adult education was running a preschool with one teacher while I was teaching a high school course with upwards of 20 high school students who needed to be able to make mistakes and practice their book knowledge. This led to conflict between the adult education teacher and myself, because we had different goals for the facility.

I went to Eric Prater to voice all of my concerns. His response is that he doesn’t micromanage his principals. But isn’t he their boss ultimately? Shouldn’t he be making sure the students are first and foremost? Leslie also told me that we would share supplies. Supplies for Tiny Tigers came from a small tuition the Tiny Tiger parents paid each trimester. Parent Participation was funded by I don’t know what.

I immediately knew this was illegal. I think that misappropriation of funds is why Morro Bay High School’s previous principal is no longer principal. Ryan Pinkerton happened to come into the Tiny Tiger playground to check on the new administration building, and I voiced my concerns about the illegality of Leslie telling me to share my funding. I do want to thank Ryan for putting a stop to that.

Why do I bring all this up? To let you know that there is more than the athletic director’s behavior at issue. This is one former teacher’s experience. As a dozen of us met with Kim McGrath, I know there are many more.

When parents ask me about sending their children to our schools, I tell them don’t. Private or homeschool are my suggestions because our students are not the number one concern of the administration.

Lisa Washmuth taught fashion and interior design at San Luis Obispo High School, She also ran the preschool class until she retired in 2021.

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I do not know Lisa and my kids did not go to SLO high, but rather Righetti. I have seen first hand how reporting someone, a teacher, that is not behaving properly, can have zero consequences. When one of my kids was a senior, they had a fairly new and young teacher, who friended quite a few kids on his FB page, and had many favorites. He would come to class and discuss their FB posts in class. Once it was about the young students having sex, so he joked with them for awhile about that, as if he was their buddy. Inappropriate classroom conversations went on the entire year, and finally my kid and 2 others went to talk with their principal. Nothing happened, expect the teacher conveniently lost their senior project and was going to give them all F’s on that paper. He is now the principal at a local elementary school. We learned a lot that year.

It’s really a shame to see the negative jabs at a woman’s personality rather than applauding her strength to stand up and voice her concern. Lisa is an incredibly passionate and hard working teacher. Regardless of it being in a school setting our outside. She spent countless hours building up her students and preparing them for life outside of the school system. Even beyond graduation she supports those who made the effort and has helped many get into college, get jobs, and careers. She always wants to support those who are driven and show they care just as she does.

The amount of extracurricular programs and events she put together on her own time to support her students and raise funds must have been exhausting. And yet worth the success that came from them.

I watched Lisa time and time again voice the needs of students and fellow teachers to help better the education system and she was constantly met with walls and disrespect from these men and administrators. They refused to see the importance of real education and rather focused on the boys club, only supporting sports, and down played preparing kids for real life. They are absolutely politicians. They bully others to get ahead and that’s exactly how Leslie got to his position.

Let’s not forget how difficult it is as a woman to come forward with information against men whether it’s sexual harassment or bullying behavior.

Let’s absolutely shed the light on this major issue that people have tried to bring forward for longer than just the last few weeks. This isn’t new info, it’s just now being brought to the light after many have worked to do so. The repetition of “zero tolerance” with no follow through are just empty words proving to parents and students that the administration does not have your back.

You don’t have to “like” Lisa. She is direct. She is passionate. She is headstrong. She really cares a lot about her students success. If you don’t want the success, then don’t waste her time.

Thank you for bringing your knowledge forward. I know why you couldn’t earlier as an employee, and it was probably frightening to do so even now.

I Zoomed in on the board meeting August 15. The start of the meeting was the announcement of the firing of Mr. Brandow, followed by public comment. Only three people spoke up. One of the speakers implored that no retaliation was given to a teacher who spoke up. The retaliation is why more people didn’t speak up. The district administration may still retaliate, because they believe they are above reproach. This teaches more people to stay quiet.

The public really needs to learn of the corruption, the coverups, the promotion of bad seeds, the smoke and mirrors. Immediately following the emotional public comments, Eric Prater went into the mission statement and the district’s “success.” Ironically, he was stating all the things they actually didn’t do for abused, bullied, belittled students and parents. (But should have.)

KEEP DIGGING, CalCoast News! This ivory tower needs to be dismantled!! There is so much there to find. Talk to teachers. Talk to parents. They know—