“Dr. Gill will be coordinating with Dr. Sims, and will be involved in all major decisions and public pronouncements and will carry out Dr. Sims’ duties in any absence from the office,” said board President Walter Ruehlig via e-mail, adding that Gill will help provide a “smooth and seamless” transition as Sims phases out.
Meanwhile, the board will be searching for a new superintendent. If one is not hired by Aug. 31, an interim superintendent will be appointed, according to Ruehlig. No decision has been made on whether the interim superintendent, if needed, would be Gill.
Gill, who joined AUSD as director of curriculum and instruction in July 2008, has worked for California schools for 30 years, including as an elementary teacher, high school science teacher, principal and assistant superintendent.
Gill’s promotion puts the AUSD in the unusual position of in effect having two superintendents for the next 11 weeks. When asked how that will work and what Sims will be doing, Ruehlig said, “She’s still effectively superintendent until Aug. 31, but all major public pronouncements and decisions will be coordinated through the acting superintendent. I presume she will be spending a fair amount of time out of office due to the transition.”
In other action at the June 4 school board meeting, the board received a consultant’s report on the district’s handling of the disclosure of former Carmen Dragon School music teacher James Carlile’s searches for pornography, including possible child pornography, on a school computer.
“The conduct of the investigation of Mr. Carlile and the actions taken by the administration of the district in that regard were reasonable and appropriate,” concluded attorney Louis Lozano in his report. “It is easy to spout out harsh criticism of public employees; however, it is an enormous challenge to perform the work of school administrators who face many demands and challenges each day.”
However, Lozano made several suggestions for how district officials could better handle a similar situation in the future:
• When there is a possibility of criminal conduct by a district employee, law enforcement officials should be contacted immediately. In the Carlile case, AUSD Human Resources Director Suzanne Pfeiffer waited a little more than two weeks before reporting it.
• District officials need to improve communication to better handle the situation and keep the school board and public informed.
• Supervisors need better training in the warning signs of a potential problem employee.
Ruehlig, in a phone interview the day after the board meeting, said he was relieved by the results of Lozano’s investigation into the district’s conduct. “I slept better last night than I have in months,” he said. “It was kind of like carrying a gorilla around on your back. A great relief to have it done and to also know and have all make clear that this was not a witch hunt.
“We were not out to nail anybody. We were just out to get the facts, ma’am. Lou did a brilliant job of being fair and balanced and sticking to the facts, not to emotions. It’s a very objective report that’s more constructive than destructive.”
The report states that Pfeiffer was informed on Jan. 6 that Carlile had been attempting to override the district’s Web filter. She asked tech support to run a history of his Internet use, but there was no history available because the district had been on a two-week break. On Jan. 16 she received the report, which showed he had conducted Internet searches for nudity and pornography, including that involving children.
District legal counselor Roy Combs told her that Carlile could be suspended, but he advised her not to file a police report. Carlile was then placed on a paid leave of absence and his school computer was seized, the hard drive copied, removed and placed in a sealed bag. On Jan. 26 she received a report that said the hard drive contained adult and child nudity and adult pornography.
Combs did not return Pfeiffer’s phone call seeking further advice, so she conducted her own investigation and determined that the images were of adult soft porn and nudist camp photos, some of which contained nude children in non-sexual positions. A school resource officer told her that it’s not a crime to view child pornography on a computer, and because Carlile lives in another county, the matter was outside the jurisdiction of Antioch police, but that she could file a police report if she wanted to.
Pfeiffer then contacted another attorney, who said the materials on the hard drive did not fit the legal definition of child pornography but advised her to contact police. She did so the following day, Feb. 3. On Feb. 11, police arrested Carlile, but Sims did not find out about the arrest until Feb. 19 via e-mail from the police, who said they had left phone messages for her on Feb. 17 and 18 but she did not return their calls.
At that point, the arrest became public when the police issued a press release followed by an AUSD press release. On Feb. 20, district officials met with concerned parents at Carmen Dragon School, but the officials had not prepared for the meeting and were unable to satisfactorily respond to questions about who knew what and when.
The district attorney decided not to prosecute Carlile, citing lack of sufficient evidence. Carlile has resigned from teaching in the district.