The other shoe dropped Friday. Landing with a clunk, the announcement that Kayde Naylon a tenured ag teacher and FFA advisor at Corcoran High School, had resigned her position, sent shockwaves through students, parents and community members.
Naylon’s departure at the end of the year joins that of Jonathan Spreng, a second year ag teacher and advisor, who submitted his resignation a couple of weeks earlier.
The two have been credited with making strides in the ag program at CHS, adding innovative classroom offerings and reinvigorating students interest in the FFA program. Their hard work also brought to light deficiencies at the ag farm and resulted in rumored clashes with Corcoran High Principal Antonia Stone.
Apparently, issues regarding the ag program continued to percolate during the current school year, perhaps starting as early as last summer, resulting in both teachers feeling the need, or the pressure, to resign. District administrative personnel have been unable to discuss the resignations, since personnel issues are considered confidential.
The resignations have been particularly unnerving following the FFA being named Corcoran’s organization of the year at the Chamber of Commerce banquet, held the first week of February. Within days, word that Spreng had turned in his resignation surfaced. Also at the banquet, the FFA Boosters organization won a free one-year membership to the chamber, with its innovating sponsored table, focused on Naylon’s flower exhibit, a result of her horticulture project at CHS.
Concern that some of the projects/programs begun under the two teachers will continue has been expressed. When asked about the horticulture program, Stone said that when it comes to the high school’s master schedule, class offerings always depend on student needs and how classes fit into current pathways. She added that right now, the plan is to be “status quo.”
There seems to have been a fairly longstanding issue that has allowed the ag department to work almost independently from the remainder of CHS. As an example, the ag farm property has been ignored by the high school and the district until recently; the school board toured the facility in November and found its infrastructure in need of many repairs.
This occurred after the district hired a position that was to see to farm maintenance. The district has now taken strong steps to make improvements at the farm.
According to Superintendent Rich Merlo, a new fence has been built around the farm. Unfortunately, the
Merlo said heating and water issues are also being addressed, along with electrical improvements. Bathrooms at the facility will be improved, the sheep area has been rid of pests, and the area housing the hog pens will benefit from heating and additional lighting. Water and power is being added to the pheasant area and the front of the farm will be landscaped. Also new cement walkways will be added in front of the farm.
He said the district was not made aware of things that were not working at the farm site. Board members also expressed concerns that the ag farm be treated the same as any other district facility, its needs addressed in a timely fashion.
Marty Raber, the district’s head of maintenance and operations, said the farm will be addressed as an adjunct to the high school, and work there will be included in the district’s rotational improvement plan. With Mark Twain and John Muir up the next two years, the high school’s needs are already in schedule for 2020, noted Raber.
It’s unclear if a plan to plant fruit and nut trees on the farm property will be included, or resuscitated, by then. The ag advisory committee put together a project to plant more than 20 trees on the property, and lined up all the private sector aid to launch the program—from drip irrigation to land leveling, to donated trees, but the project was halted.
Some blamed Stone. Others said Raber was involved. Both board members and Merlo said the problem was more a fault of communication than anything else.
“That’s a major project, which will impact the property for years. We want to make sure it is done right. We were not against it, but we needed to see a completed plan for the project,” he noted.
Stone said the project had no plan in place to delineate expectations, responsibilities or location of the trees. According to a member of the ag advisory committee, the plan was launched, in part, to help make the ag program more self-sustainable, by generating income once the trees started to produce.
The benefit was meant for the CHS students who have made the FFA program a standout at Corcoran High; now about 300 strong, the group earned the organization of the year award for 2017 and was recently honored at the Chamber annual banquet.
Merlo said the district is committed to the ag program and plans to build on what has thus far been accomplished. Improved communication between the district, the ag advisory committee and site personnel is a top goal.
New teachers will replace Spreng and Naylon and Merlo wants the program to continue to thrive.
Interviewing potential new staff typically takes place by a panel that includes a mix of site and district administrators, said Stone. The panels also contain teachers, in some cases. She did not indicate whether or not school board members or ag advisory committee members would be asked to participate.
Many in the community will be depending on excellence in the new hires. The high school’s ag program and FFA have been diligently working with the local 4-H program, which is dependent on that aid. The Chamber of Commerce is planning to implement a local farmer’s market and hopes to partner with the department to be successful. And, since Corcoran bills itself as the “farming capital of California,” many eyes are currently focused on what happens next with the signature CHS program.