Why Not Dryden?

Why should Batavia voters vote GRO–Gabriel, Rechenmacher, Olache–for Batavia School Board Tuesday, April 7, and not Dryden?

The following came out of an email discussion with a concerned voter:

While I did agree with John Dryden on the issue of the survey that got him in the news last year, and I admit he could be entertaining to watch if he were on the board, I have deep reservations about electing him to the school board.

I would characterize him as a bomb-thrower with a personal axe to grind. He’s likely to be divisive, and on his own can accomplish nothing. Remember that of the remaining board members, 3 of the 4 voted to sanction him. And Dryden has bashed the current board enough that there is a good chance there will be hard feelings all around.

He’s also running not for the taxpayers as much as for the teachers. He said in a Daily Herald endorsement interview that even if he can’t afford to live here in retirement, education is worth it. I would disagree. So do all 3 candidates of GRO. Education should not drive from their homes those who built the schools. Increasing expenditures have not led to a correlation in higher test scores.

While Dryden speaks against administrators’ salaries (a valid point, one that GRO shares), he made more than 1/3 of them. Dryden ended his career with a base salary of more than $90,000 ($112,00 with benefits)–that was his compensation for 2013-14, the last year on record. When teacher union contract negotiations roll around in 2017, where will his allegiance lie?

On a political level, I know a parent whose child was in Dryden’s class the beginning of this school year, before Dryden retired, who said Dryden told the kids he was a socialist. He also said Dryden didn’t “make”, but certainly “suggested”, his students watch a video that questioned whether it was really Muslim terrorists who were responsible for 9/11, or was it a government conspiracy — a video the dad shut off, saying “that’s enough.” The video was pushing propaganda without a balanced counterpoint.

If you look at the website, ratemyteachers.com, some of the reviews from 2012 and earlier (before he made news) say things like:

“He is crazy. He offers extra credit ALL the time which is why it’s easy to pass his class. But if you don’t agree with his opinion on anything he mocks you and makes fun of your beliefs. He forces you to think socialism is great and taxes will help the economy…. he’s a crazy hippy.

“Mr. Dryden is one of those people where you either love him or you hate him; there’s no middle ground. Overall he’s a good teacher, but if I can take one thing out of his class that i learned, it’s that no matter where or when you are in history, everyone and everything SUCKS….. Also, he doesn’t really teach history so much as he preaches politics.”

he doesnt realize how one sided he is .. he is so libral that it annoys me so much”

You may question whether his promotion of socialism is all just hearsay, that maybe some students over the years heard him wrong, but who does Dryden choose for the one current leader who most inspires him in his Daily Herald candidate questionnaire? Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont who is a self-described socialist.

To some, Dryden’s political bent may not matter. To others, it gives insight into his thought processes. If you choose him to represent you, will he represent you as you would like to be represented?

On a philosophical level, I question the way he taught, undermining parental authority. Critically watch the radio interview he did after retiring.  Starting at 27:54, Dryden says, “I don’t know of a single authority figure that liked anyone to think critically….” His derision applies equally to school administrators and (some) parents. At 29:23, Dryden discusses, in a mocking manner by the end, the pushback of some Fundamentalist Christian students to his ideas. There are ways to teach children how to think critically, a necessary skill, without disparaging the religious faith and authority of families.  How might Dryden’s attitudes carry over to the school board if he were elected? 

Dryden demonstrates disrespect in other avenues too. Witness his farewell letter to his students: “So, I’m going to run for the Batavia School Board of Education next April, and if I win a seat, I’m going to make bean soup [of the bean counters]. I’m going to fight and claw and thrash out space for teachers to teach….” Those “bean counters” are the administrators and school board members that he would have to work with, were he to get on the school board. One can respectfully disagree without resorting to name calling.

You can see in his letter that in the end, the reason he retired was that the school district told him he had to submit his teaching materials for approval. There is specific policy for what materials are acceptable and unacceptable, a procedure for approving non-text materials that are regularly used in the classroom, and guidelines for materials that are timely, based on current events. That policy is there to protect the children and uphold the values and mores of the community (one of the stipulations). There have been complaints about Dryden over the years. The district, at last, tried to hold him accountable. He refused to comply and instead chose retirement. As a board member, how would he treat the rules needed to keep the district running smoothly?

Why might Dryden be appealing? Dryden has a theater background, and it shows. He’s smooth. He was very calm and measured at the beginning of the League of Women Voters forum recently. But by the end of the forum he was calling schools that have served students where public schools have failed, “stupid”, and speaking against Governor Rauner, saying he wouldn’t support anything Rauner does for the next 4 yrs. (Then Bill Gabriel, the next to answer, trotted out Rauner’s plan to give $300 million more to education, highlighting Dryden’s shortsighted prejudice.)

When Dryden claims the board needs a retired teacher, he neglects to mention that it already has one–John Gaspar. How many former teachers do we need on a 7 member school board elected to represent the taxpayers? (They already have a union to represent the teachers.)

What the school board really needs are people who can think critically, can evaluate the numbers, know education, know proper procedure, will dialogue respectfully with the community, and will represent the taxpayers. Gabriel, Rechenmacher, and Olache are those people. They complement each other phenomenally. Bill Gabriel has a background in financial mathematics; Ron Rechenmacher is also a numbers guy (an engineer at Fermilab), and excels in understanding procedure; Michelle Olache works well with people as a social worker, and understands education as a home educator. Together they make a fantastic team, and if all are elected, you have a better chance of getting positive change.

You can see their website at GRObatavia.org

If you have any doubts about them, please take the time to talk to them and ask them questions. They meet 6:30-8am Mondays at McDonald’s, Wednesdays and Fridays at Panera.

To his credit, John Dryden certainly has valuable insights into the workings of Batavia High School. But I don’t think that’s enough to warrant a seat on the school board. I do hope he will share his insight with GRO if they are elected. They certainly would listen.

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