Mountain View Whisman School District Superintendent Maurice Ghysels has acknowledged that he is in a relationship with a district principal, Carmen Mizell.
According to Ghysels, the two of them — who were each married and are in the process of filing for divorces — have been involved for a period of time which Ghysels declined to specify. By last July, he said, their relationship had "evolved to a point where we felt we had to inform the board (of trustees). We wanted to make sure that it was handled professionally, and that everyone was sure there was no conflict of interest."
Ghysels said he and Mizell, who is principal of Landels Elementary School, individually notified the board about the relationship at that time. District trustees responded by consulting a lawyer regarding a possible conflict of interest.
"We had a closed session with an attorney," said trustee Ellen Wheeler, adding that she can't give specifics on personnel matters discussed in closed session.
"I can confirm that they called us individually over the summertime and informed us of this romantic relationship," she said. "Maurice told us that he was going to ask another supervisor in our district office to be the supervisor of Carmen."
Ghysels followed up by altering the chain of command so that Mizell no longer answered directly to him.
"I changed the reporting structure from Carmen-to-me to Carmen-to-Mary Lairon," the district's associate superintendent, he said.
"Because we have a personal relationship, it makes more sense that (Mizell) reports directly to Mary," Ghysels said. Now, "Mary evaluates her, Mary supervises her."
He added that he is "dedicated to maintaining a professional relationship with Carmen at work."
For several days, rumors and accusations about the relationship have been circulating on the Voice's Town Square, and some saw a conflict of interest given the fact that Mizell, a former principal at Castro School, was reassigned last year to the higher-performing Landels.
Ghysels said that reassignment, which happened in the early fall of 2008, "wasn't done in isolation. That was a reorganizational move."
The move shuffled three educators: Judy Crates went to Castro, Phyllis Rogers left Landels to become director of quality and English language learners, and Mizell went to Landels.
"We played to the strengths of all three administrators. And I think the results speak for themselves," Ghysels said. "It was a totally agreed-upon move by all three. And it worked."
When it comes to romantic relationships among district administrators, "There is no written board policy," said Stephanie Totter, assistant superintendent for administrative services.
Totter said the district takes its cue on personnel matters from the California School Boards Association, which gives "any updates of any board policies that we're either mandated to have or recommended to have." But the association has provided no guidance on this issue, she said.
Wheeler noted that the issue was unprecedented for her. "This is the first time it's come up," she said.
But she added, "From what Maurice has described to me, and what Carmen has described to me, and what I have observed, I think that they have behaved appropriately and done the right thing by informing us."
"We're doing what I think is our due diligence to ensure that they're behaving professionally on the job," she said.
Asked about further perceptions of a conflict of interest, Ghysels said he felt the issue had been adequately dealt with.
"That's why the reporting structure to Mary is important," he said. "And I'll have to be particularly diligent."
"My professional life remains focused on my goals for the students, for the staff, for the community. And my personal life will not affect my professional aims."
As for the rest, he said, "We have a personal life, and it's private."