Roughly three-dozen Dougherty Valley High speech and debate team members crowded into the San Ramon Valley school board meeting Tuesday in support of their recently dismissed coach.
Jonathan MacMillan, who coached the competitive team for five years, was relieved of his coaching duties on Sept. 22, according to school district officials, who declined to comment about the reason for the removal. MacMillan continues to teach Spanish and speech and debate classes at the San Ramon campus.
"This club is Mr. MacMillan. It is due to him, and him alone, that this club has grown from a handful of opinionated and slightly annoying sophomores to very confident, indomitable team members of over 500 competitors," DVHS senior Liya Khan told the school board members. "If you remove him from our club, you are failing us. You are failing your obligation as educators."
In all, about 15 students, plus several parents, spoke about MacMillan for more than an hour during citizen input on non-agendized items at Tuesday night's meeting in Danville. Board members said they could not respond specifically to comments because the issue was not listed on the meeting's agenda.
"Your passion and your dedication to Mr. MacMillan couldn't be clearer. That's really all I can say, but please know that we have listened to you," board president Rachel Hurd said after public comment closed.
MacMillan, who did not attend the board meeting, said in a phone interview Wednesday, "I'm moved and touched that so many people would come out in support of me."
The decision to remove MacMillan was made by school district staff and the school board was informed about the move, according to CJ Cammack, the district's new assistant superintendent for human resources.
"Despite the change in head coach, the DVHS speech and debate program continues to prepare and compete at the same level as before," school principal Danny Hillman said in an email Wednesday.
Teacher librarian Kerri Pike is filling in as interim head coach, and the school has posted the position online as part of its recruitment for a permanent coach, according to Hillman.
Hillman, Hurd and San Ramon Valley schools superintendent Mary Shelton each declined to comment about why MacMillan was removed, citing confidentiality associated with personnel matters.
MacMillan, 33, contends he was not given a specific reason for his dismissal as coach, but he said it occurred in the wake of a district investigation into an incident between other people at this year's DVHS speech and debate summer camp.
"I was under the impression that it was how I managed the situation," MacMillan added, declining to reveal any other details about the underlying incident -- in part citing that district staff advised him not to specify any further.
MacMillan said he was interviewed during the district's investigation and "never even imagined that being removed was on the table."
"I don't have the answers, and that's really hard for me," he added.
Some of his students came to the school board looking for some answers Tuesday night. One by one, speech and debate team members took to the podium and implored the school board to reinstate MacMillian or explain why he was removed.
"I respect that you guys decided to take him away, but the simple fact is that you never gave us a reason why," student Shaoyie Suh said. "We deserve the right to know."
Many of the students and parents offered praise for MacMillan, calling him irreplaceable and commending his commitment, positive leadership, financial responsibility and administrative skills. Critics of the dismissal referred to the decision as "unfortunate," "detrimental to our education" and "shrouded in secrecy."
Club president Connor Riano said the team's ability to compete has been "severely threatened" because of the coaching change.
"In the weeks after Mr. MacMillan was dismissed, our program has suffered. We haven't had classrooms to hold our meetings, and most times, we've had to sit outside in the 100-degree weather in order to practice so we might be prepared to compete," he added.
The team boasts 200-300 student members annually, more than 10-times the membership of the first squad more than five years ago, according to MacMillan. DVHS finished last season ranked seventh by the California High School Speech Association.
The students demonstrated their strong public-speaking skills Tuesday, with impassioned voices, forceful inflections and confident delivery. Most team members opened by saying they attended the board meeting "of my own volition."
Several speakers also referenced an online petition in support of MacMillan's reinstatement that has more than 650 signatures to date.
Hurd was the only board member to address the audience immediately after non-agendized public comment ended.
Board member Greg Marvel did broach the DVHS speech and debate topic briefly during the board comments segment at the meeting, about 50 minutes after all but two of the team advocates had left.
"I would, as a very general comment, like to request that staff look at what is going on at Dougherty Valley in terms of ensuring a successful continuity of the speech and debate program. I was disturbed to hear comments like, 'We can't get a meeting room; we had to meet out in the hot sun,'" Marvel said.
"We can't talk, obviously, about what happened and why it happened, but we can ensure as a district that there is solid continuity and effort to cause the least disruption," he added.
In other business Tuesday
* The school board awarded an approximately $27.6 million contract to Benicia-based Lathrop Construction Associates, Inc., to build San Ramon's newest school, Bella Vista Elementary.
The campus, aimed at alleviating current and projected overcrowding in Dougherty Valley elementary schools, is expected to open in time for the start of the 2016-17 school year.
The overall project cost is estimated at almost $31.4 million, below the approved budget of $31.7 million, according to district staff.
The project budget does not incorporate a potential $1.2 million child care facility under consideration, but not yet confirmed, for Bella Vista. The $27.6 million construction contract, however, does include the cost of that component.
To help fund the potential child care facility, the school board approved putting $800,000 toward the project from the general fund by way of a reduced contribution to the district's self insurance reserve fund. The vast majority of the project is funded through the Measure D school facilities bond.
* The school board approved the time-line for development of the district's 2015-16 Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) and annual budget.
The drafting effort will include forming a LCAP stakeholder committee, reviewing progress toward existing district goals, collecting community input and holding public discussions before the school board leading up to final adoption, currently scheduled for June 23.
* Board members announced three new hires following closed-session deliberations.
Cammack, the district's former director of certificated personnel, was named to his new assistant superintendent position. Timothy Bonds was appointed as the district's energy management systems manager, and John Chwastyk was selected as the senior project manager.
* The board received two public presentations: one on the district's multi-tiered system of support for student instruction and intervention, and one on the TRAFFIX program, a regional effort to address congestion caused by school-related traffic in the San Ramon Valley's busiest intersections.
* October is National Bullying Awareness Month in the district after board members approved a resolution in support of the month-long anti-bullying campaign.