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Track coach’s firing latest shake-up in Healdsburg High sports

Sunday, September 30th, 2012 | Posted by


Former athletic director Jenean Bingham saw what she considered a disturbing pattern at Healdsburg High School over the past couple of years, with a number of successful coaches either leaving the school on their own or being fired by the administration.

Jenean Bingham

Bingham wasn’t entirely prepared for what came next — her own termination as track and field coach on Sept.7.

That move brought a wave of shock and outrage at a Healdsburg Unified School District board meeting on Sept.9. As first reported on patch.com, so many of Bingham’s supporters stood up to speak at the meeting that the school board waived the usual time limit for public comments, listening for more than an hour to testimonials on her behalf.

Those endorsements continue.

“She’s outstanding at everything,” former Healdsburg baseball coach Mark Domenichelli said by phone. “She’s an outstanding athletic director, coach and mom. I worked with Jenean for eight years. What’s not to say good about Jenean? She runs a professional program and the kids love her.”

To Bingham, who teaches physical education at Healdsburg Junior High, her firing represented only the latest evidence that Healdsburg High has become an unattractive, even hostile, place for a person to coach sports.

In spring of 2011, Domenichelli stepped down, later to coach at Windsor. Last April, Bingham was stripped of her athletic-director title and her track assistant, Travis Carranza, was fired. A month later, basketball coach Travis Taylor left for Windsor. (Domenichelli and Taylor still run the PE department at Healdsburg.) In June, the school fired Christine Mooney, the boys and girls tennis coach. Also last spring, revered football coach Tom Kirkpatrick announced he would retire from the position in 2012.

Then came Bingham’s dismissal as track and field coach — something of a bombshell considering how well her program had done against mostly larger schools in the Sonoma County League. The Press Democrat twice named Bingham its Redwood Empire coach of the year, most recently in 2011.

The district and the high school have largely declined comment outside of prepared statements, citing the restrictions of the California Education Code.

“Personnel issues are kept strictly confidential and, as such, I am not at liberty to divulge the factors that contributed to this change or any change in personnel,” HUSD superintendent Jeff Harding said in a press release. “That being said, all personnel changes are made with considerable forethought. We weigh many complex factors and make decisions that we believed to be in the best interest of our students.”

Healdsburg High actually fired Bingham twice as athletic director. The first time, in March of 2011, she said, principal Chris Vanden Heuvel explained that she wasn’t flexible enough, and that she was “too close to the community.” Bingham appealed the move and was reinstated five days later, largely because she hadn’t been working under a formal job description.
Bingham said it was she who eventually wrote the job description, but it didn’t protect her position.

According to Bingham, when the school decided not to renew her contract in April, Vanden Heuvel told her it was because the district needed her to teach PE full-time at the junior high. (She had been splitting time between the two campuses.) Healdsburg High, like most schools, gives priority to on-campus coaches.

Bingham reapplied for the job and, she said, was denied an interview. The school hired Brian Osborn, a social studies teacher and girls varsity basketball coach at Healdsburg, as athletic director last May. It has not hired a new track and field coach.

A day or two after Bingham’s firing, a group of eight athletes met with Vanden Heuvel to gather more information about the dismissal. It was not a satisfying meeting for junior Taylor Engelke, who said the principal “just sat there and nodded,” and didn’t take notes.

“I personally don’t know if I want to return to the program without her,” said Engelke, who won the 100-meter title in the SCL as a freshman. “She really helped me achieve. It still makes me really emotional to talk about it.”

Several sources agreed that the Greyhounds track program had become something of a soap opera recently. Two athletes mutinied against the demanding Carranza last year, refusing to compete if he remained on staff. One set of parents engaged in a two-year campaign against Bingham. They lodged a formal complaint with the school in 2010, and the father reportedly criticized the coach in front of athletes at practices and meets.

Bingham declined to name the parents, but other sources identified them as Scott and Rachelle Kozel. One of their sons, Thomas, graduated from Healdsburg in 2010 and two others, Andrew and Aidan, are in the program now.

“My take on the situation, my supposition, is that Ms. Bingham has been dismissed after a thorough review of her performance, and that the only people who know the facts are Jenean and the board and administration members who dealt with it,” Scott Kozel said. “Any details beyond that are supposition.”

Several people close to the program are convinced Rachelle Kozel wants to coach track and field at Healdsburg. She politely declined to comment.

What upsets Bingham most, she said, is not her firing after 13 years on the job, but what she perceives as a lack of institutional support for coaches at Healdsburg High — and more specifically, a disregard for the chain of command.

“It became apparent to me that people were going directly to the superintendent and the principal,” she said. “A coach and I would be called forth, and we honestly wouldn’t know what we were in there for. It leaves the coaching staff feeling unsupported.”

The high school, not surprisingly, does not agree with that assessment.

“While I cannot comment on any specific complaints, I can share that we do have several policies and procedures in place, at the site and district level, to handle complaints regarding school employees,” Vanden Heuvel wrote in an email. “… They are all designed to resolve issues at the lowest possible level — directly with the staff member. However, there are instances when, due to the serious nature of a complaint or failed attempts to resolve it directly with staff, administrators must become directly involved.”

Kirkpatrick, a math teacher at the high school for 31 years and a coach in various capacities for 35 years — including 19 seasons as varsity football coach — said the lack of backing was a factor in hastening his retirement. He spoke at the board meeting on Sept.19, an act that he described as out of character.

Kirkpatrick’s letter to the school board included this passage: “Those parents who are in the habit of raising the most dust are going to be gone when their children graduate, leaving behind the remains of once-vibrant programs.

“This pattern has become the norm at Healdsburg High School. Coaches feel unvalued and unsupported. A skeptic might look at the recent events in total and properly wonder whether there is in fact a strategy at work to purposely dismantle the athletic program, piece by piece. Because this is the net effect of recent events.”

Vanden Heuvel strongly disputed Kirkpatrick’s characterization.

“The suggestion that there is any effort to diminish the athletics program is outrageous and unfounded,” he said. “… In rare circumstances, we feel compelled to make a change in personnel when we believe it is in the best interest of our students. In our role as school leaders, we have access to confidential information not available to other members of the public or staff. However, I want to reiterate that personnel decisions are never dictated by disgruntled parents.”

Asked if she were considering legal action or a grievance against the district, Bingham replied: “I am addressing my concerns through appropriate channels.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

  • Gary

    As a former coach both for schools and youth and community organizations, one major factor is the reason why coaches are dismissed, demoted, and move on: #1. Parents. Parents of the athletes can make or break a team or organization. Even the best meaning Parents get caught up in the turmoil when others are intent on destroying a good thing.

    There are so many coaches out there that refuse to even get involved anymore because of these Parents who think their kids are immune to the rigors and disciplines of organized sports in the schools, and out. Boards of directors have become the devils groups to coaching staffs. And way to often, those who serve on the boards have become jaded because of past experiences, just like politicians.

    “Soap opera” is right on the mark! Let the students decide after the coaches are vetted properly, then Parents, stay out of it, you’re only making things worse!

    • Parent

      Appears you have a lot of extra time on your hands, and full of advice. Maybe do something productive with your life rather than being angry and acting like a 2 year old on message boards. Sad.

      • Ike

        Parent. You make coaches great and small leave coaching. Sad.

  • JJ Pz

    Come to Windsor! We love our program, support it, let the Coaches coach and the Players play. I lot less drama, better facilitys, and less”full of themselves” Parents….plus we are a growing program, not a dying one.

  • Hmart

    My son had her as a teacher and athletic director. She was the most immature teacher I have encountered. Any teacher that would make an “L” on her forhead with her fingers at a student, I have no use for. She had a superior attitude and never returned my phone calls. I did not work with her but I have spent enough time volunteering in schools to hear how the teachers talk about the parents. Some of the teachers need to grow up and stop acting like they are going through puberty. If you dont like teaching anymore, dont teach. (I love the one where another teacher told my son that his opinion was wrong and he was dumb to have it) WOW!!

  • Gary

    And as “Hmart” has demonstrated, we only hear one side of the story. Thus I rest my case when I stated it’s the parents who are the number one, #1 problem. Hmart’s poor little son was what, treated like he acted?

    Parents, please, if you have no experience, no formal education, butt just want to be the center of attention, time for you to take your kids out of any type of activities both in school and out.

    Hmart, if you don’t like parenting, stop having children!

  • E

    Gary: Though I can appreciate your passion towards your biased opinion in the matter, I find it funny that you feel the need to criticize Hmart and any parent for that matter who is concerned with the way their child is treated; you must not have any children of your own. How dare you assume these parents have no “formal education” judging from your comment you sir are the one that sounds ignorant, and uneducated. “Hmarts poor little son was what, treated like he acted” hmmm, so your saying it’s ok for these teachers and coaches to verbally abuse their students? I truly hope for the sake of these students you are not in any way a part of the Healdsburg High School administration, its people like you that ruin these kids self esteem. We need more people that are on the students sides, wanting them to succeed not tearing them down and making them feel inadequate.
    As far as the article itself one fundamental problem with Ms. Bingham and most coachs at Healdsburg High School is that they think they are coaching these kids for the Olympics, sports are suppose to be fun, and an outlet for kids, somewhere to go when they have no where to go. Being a former Healdsburg High School student athlete I remember the rigorous schedule, the harsh demands, and the punishments that came with a loss. I loved the sport but wasn’t interested in making it my life. I understand the want to win, but I feel like the coaches need to realize that at the end of the day these are not athletes, these are student athletes with far more important things on their teenage minds then sports. I think that the schools decision to let Ms. Bingham go was one that was a long time coming, this is not a personal grudge, I just think that the kids deserve better and I think the high school administration can finally see that.

  • gary

    @ E, Wow, a lot of hot air being expelled from you. You have no clue as to what my background is, so here’s a little bit; successful coach of 35+ years with small clubs, schools, and then on to nationally ranked clubs and NCAA schools. My former students and ‘Friends’ still stay in contact with me, from as far away as Europe and Asia. The ones still in the area get together with us and discuss all the petty incompetents like you and Hmart who destroy the future of children’s dreams because of their litigious intent if they’re are not served up what they, the parent only want.

    Call me what you want, but my confidence and success precedes my coaching and teaching style with numerous letters and awards from Parents and children of several communities locally, to include Nationally too.

    Good luck E and Hmart, your only digging yourselves into deeper graves with your pathetic pettiness. BTW, the “L” was used by me to motivate at times, not criticize ones abilities.

  • gary

    @ E, participation in sports should be first instructional, second competitive, and thirdly, fun for all who participate. And even those who don’t do so well, but try. However, too often parents feel jaded, and that their kids are not receiving the coaching or attention the better athletes are and then come down on the coaches first, and without having a one on one discussion as to why their kids are not excelling, or getting better.

    Sometimes coaches try and find out what kids want out of sports, but often never get real answers, or they get this, “my parents want me to be here, I don’t.” Try talking to those parents and getting the truth, because they want to live vicariously through them, when they were younger and unable to excel.

    I’m not the horrible person you have depicted me to be with you hot air expulsion attack, I speak from experience and the truth as I have witnessed it only.

  • E

    Gary: Forgive me but your achievements do not impress me. This is in no way a personal attack, simply a counter debate on your unethical views, if you can’t take the heat sir I suggest you stay out of the kitchen. I would speak on some of the points you have listed above but it’s clear that you have not received the message I intended to send. This isn’t about you, nor is it about me; this is about the students’ maybe we should just leave it at that. I too am not the person you perceive me to be but I was raised to be a strong, educated, opinionated women and I’m not sorry about that. I suppose I will just leave this with a big L for you, to motivate you to not be so closed minded. : )

  • gary

    E, you speak in circles. My counter debate is not fear of any heat your profess I can’t take young lady. You think you’re winning a battle here missy. And believe me when I say, I have been in battles, and a war, so heat I can take anything you bring to the table, SO BRING IT ON missy.

    If you’ve got a message that says I was wrong, YOU’RE WRONG, and completely misinformed about life’s experiences. So my challenge to you, and with the open mind I always have, is to open up and show your cards missy.

    A loser always backs themselves into a corner, as you have, and a liar, becomes a pathological one too.

    √ & mate!

  • gary

    E, what “unethical views” do YOU only refer too?

  • Mr B

    E – Your words and points are very well written and make complete sense. It is refreshing to hear a young person these days have an opinion and be able to express it with intelligence. Kudos to you! As far as the above comments, I can only say Gary clearly does not make sense and with all his (or her) life experience and accolades I shudder to think this person too was a coach to our youth. Read your words again Gary and learn how to write. Mr. B

  • gary

    Mr B said, “learn how to write.” And what is your reference pal? You too spew vitriolic dribble with no credibility nor factual statements of points you accuse me of. Bottom line, you both speak in circles now, never stating what you mean, always skirting around the issue in question.

    If you have something to say, THEN SAY IT! Don’t be afraid, JUST SAY IT! You’re both well hidden behind your keyboards afraid to come out and socialize with the real world. Thus is the pettiness and cowardice of much of todays society.

    I have pointed out very clearly my facts, and clearly enough for even a fourth grader to understand. Butt you two are seemingly unable to understand, and comprehend, and even subjectively state your case.

    Just do it, and stop with the dribbled such as the far right and far left seemingly subject everybody too.

    • kick in the grass

      It appears that all of you need a lesson in grammar and spelling. Unless you are referring to someone’s backside, the word “but” is spelled as such. Not “butt”. All of you are acting like 7th grade boys. “My stick is bigger than yours.” However, I do agree, parents can be very difficult to assuage when coaching teenagers. Generally, the parents who cause trouble, are the ones who wanted to coach but, were not chosen or hired to do so. I said generally, not always. The best way to handle the situation is to “listen” to them and let them know they are heard. Let them know that you will take what they have said into consideration. Thank them for their time and input. Maybe suggest giving you time to think their suggestions over or to see how they might fit into your program. Let them know they can get in touch with you any time to discuss the progress of their student. This isn’t necessarily a solution but, it is a suggestion that I have found helps to diffuse and angry or defensive parent. Otherwise? Good luck!

  • M Wow

    Woowww G-Man (Gary) I really don’t think you are the type of person who Bingham wants coming to her defense. Are you still coaching? What sport were you involved in? I actually would want to have my child coached by you if he or she were going into hand to hand combat. LOL You call yourself a coach?? What a joke…

  • Coach

    It appears that everybody here has lost track of the real issue, and that’s the students. I once coached the Healdsburg Sharks Swim Team back awhile back. But before I was hired, I was vetted by the board of directors, of whom said, ” you are not looked at under a magnifying glass, but under a microscope, because these are our children.” So true, and I felt proud to be a part of an organization that prided themselves in their children.

    After being hired as an assistant the first year, I tool over the reigns as the Head Coach the following. Those were some of my most memorable times as a coach, and I’ll never forget them. However, we did have one particular problem swimmer, and by todays standards he would have been diagnosed as ADHD. He was an exceptional swimmer, but was constantly goofing off in the pool and disrupting the other swimmers. So too often he was asked to get out and or leave. this didn’t bide well with his Parents of whom were paying for him to swim, not sit on the deck. We tried to discuss the matter, but the Parents were insistent on having him swim regardless. I couldn’t allow that because of his disinterest in doing what only he wanted to do.

    In conclusion, he eventually left the team, and we regretted it because he had so much potential, but his personal issues were not for a coach to have to deal with, nor did I have the expertise either.

    So please people, let the kids/students enjoy themselves, and not treat them as items for winning only, but as a growing experience in life for their future.

    • kick in the grass

      Very well put!!

  • Coach

    Oops, sorry for the misspelled words.

    Coaching is not as easy as some might think, and putting the kids above all else is most important. Seeing the younger ones come running at a practice eager to swim, and eager to compete, even knowing they might not win, makes it all worth it. Putting the older kids in charge of the younger ones is important too, and by doing these simple things, you become a big happy family, win or lose, you still walk away knowing you did your best.

  • JS Finn

    I had the pleasure of working with Jenean as a classified employee from October, 2013, until my unfair firing in March, 2014, so I understand. Was I a perfect employee? No. But, like Jenean, I put everything I had into my job at HJH while, for the majority part, working alone and unseen by the myopic peanut gallery. An “undercover boss” played a role in my termination, a violation of long held CSEA contract provisions. “Tea Party” politics also played a role, but that’s another letter. I’ll end this with the following quotation: “When granting (or not) permanent status to any employee, we never know if we are doing the right thing” ~Superintendent Jeff Harding

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