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E-mails reveal DeVincentis’ anger

School Board member has history of attacks on superintendents

School board member John DeVincentis is shown during a facilitated meeting between the School Board and Superintendent Donna Howell last month. Two board members who served with DeVincentis said he is attacking Howell in the same way he took on former Superintendent Cyndy Simms in 2002.
Brian Ray

E-mail excerpts

The following are direct quotes from a series of e-mail exchanges between former Strawberry Park Elementary School and current School Board member John DeVincentis and Joby McGowan, a teacher in Mercer Island, Wash., about former Steamboat Springs Superintendent Cyndy Simms.

"She is absolutely a liar-so much so that I would say it's almost pathological, if she in fact isn't? NEVER trust her." -Aug. 27, 2004

"She lies a lot. Be ready for that! And call her on every one! DO NOT let her get away with that. BUT do it calmly and politely even though that was one of the hardest things for me." -Aug. 27, 2004

"Your union would want to pay attention to all of the executive sessions that Cyndy has with the Board. Even though you don't have access to the executive sessions, you may want to be prepared and try to figure out how to 'listen in.'"

"Go to her house and 'trash it.' Just kidding!! The sloppiest kiss that I could think of giving her would be from about three feet away, but then that wouldn't be a kiss I guess. Maybe I could call it that." -Sept. 2, 2004

"Yes, the throes of passion!! What a terrible image! Gross! I was just thinking about anyone going out with her - at all, let alone that!!" -Sept. 27, 2004

"The board president who was an IDIOT (gone now - one of Cyndy's biggest supporters and a BAST---) was banging the gavel and yelling 'You're out of order!! You're out of order!!' I went right on and it was all printed in the newspaper." -Oct. 6, 2004

"She is an idiot (I have many other words that I wouldn't mind using, but:)." -Oct. 7, 2004

"I have studied serial killers and psychopaths. I have learned that about 25% of people are psychopaths, but certainly a small number of those serial killers. BUT one thing that particularly stands out in my reading was stated that it is very bad if you have a psychopath as a boss. Thus my point with Cyndy. If you want, I'll look up and send you the descriptors. She fits nearly every one of them - which is very scary." -Oct. 14, 2004

"I wish I could have ended her career, but once again the game of 'Old Maid' (which she is) came to mind soooo : I made the intelligent move and told your suckered board members that she was great. I could tell right away what kind of people they were. I was not impressed with them either." -Oct. 14, 2004

"One of the staff made me a Cyndy voodoo doll. Do you believe in voodoo? Maybe a collective group of people with voodoo doll energy could end her career there." -Oct. 14, 2004

"NEVER GO TO EXECUTIVE SESSION. HAVE EVERYTHING PUBLIC!!" -Dec. 12, 2004

"How is Cammie, her daughter, doing over there? We've always been concerned about Cammie because Cyndy has always been a missing mom." -Dec. 13, 2004

"Cammi should be a sophomore now. Several of us have wondered about how she would be doing since her mother is never home. She was pretty much put on the back burner with her husband. Seemed like they were probably better off without her around. I can't imagine being married to her. I would have been arrested for battering and abuse!!" -Dec. 13, 2004

"I know one thing about Cyndy, she will NEVER make amends with you or anyone else who crosses her. She is a B----! Be aware she can raise her ugly (and I do mean ugly) head again." -Dec. 14, 2004

"Here our county was identified by license plates that started with WZ. She had a vanity plate that was WZ KIDS. Thought that meant she liked kids, I guess, although that is fairly far removed from her mind." -May 23, 2005

"It is getting very political here. Go on to Steamboat Pilot: It's the article about 'Havener Resigning.' It's always interesting here. It's no better than when Cyndy was here." -May 23, 2005

— During his last year as Strawberry Park Elementary School’s principal, John DeVincentis repeatedly attacked Cyndy Simms in e-mail exchanges with a teacher in Mercer Island, Wash.

Today, as a member of the Steamboat Springs School Board, DeVincentis has made current Superintendent Donna Howell his target, colleagues say.

In the e-mails between DeVincentis and Mercer Island first-grade teacher Joby McGowan, DeVincentis described Simms, a former Steamboat Springs superintendent, as a “pathological liar,” an “idiot,” “crazy” and made references to her divorce saying, “I can’t imagine being married to her. I would have been arrested for battering and abuse!” He suggests she has characteristics of a psychopath and a serial killer, jokes about spitting on her and accuses her of not being a good mother to her daughter.



He also gives McGowan advice on how to undermine Simms and admits to lying to Mercer Island School Board members to get them to take the “old maid.”

DeVincentis also predicts in the e-mails he will be elected to the School Board and that he will take on the new administration. He was elected a few months after the e-mails end and now is working to oust Howell, past board members said.



Simms, who still is the superintendent in Mercer Island, said she was aware of the e-mails but had not read them.

“I haven’t seen the e-mails, and I don’t want to,” Simms said. “I was aware of John’s feelings about me, but that’s all in the past. That’s really how I look at it.”

“You’re the watchdog”

The e-mails were sent in fall 2004 and spring 2005. Printed copies of the e-mails were dropped off at the Steamboat Pilot & Today office.

DeVincentis did not respond to repeated phone calls and e-mails sent to him. The Pilot & Today offered to make the e-mails available for DeVincentis to review. He came by the newspaper Thursday to place an ad, and copies of the e-mails were again offered to him. He refused them.

“I don’t want them. In the pursuit of liberty and justice, you’re the watchdog,” DeVincentis said before driving away.

DeVincentis’ wife, Soda Creek Elementary School teacher Allyson Spear, said the e-mails are not relevant in Steamboat Springs. She accused the Pilot & Today of unfairly attacking her husband and said the newspaper should remember DeVincentis was elected to the School Board with 70 percent of the vote.

DeVincentis apparently used his school computer and his Steamboat Springs School District account to send the e-mails. Two individuals who were school district officials at the time the e-mails were retrieved confirmed messages between DeVincentis and a Mercer Island teacher were taken from DeVincentis’ computer after he retired at the end of the 2004-05 school year.

Anne Muhme, assistant to current Superintendent Donna Howell, said DeVincentis signed the district’s “Electronic and Voicemail Acknowledgment” policy on Aug. 26, 1998. The policy warns employees that “electronic messages are not for private or confidential matters” and that “e-mail sent or received by the board, the district or the district’s employees may be considered a public record subject to public disclosure or inspection under the Colorado Open Records Act.”

Not very respectful

On Wednesday, from his classroom at West Mercer Elementary School, McGowan confirmed he exchanged e-mails with DeVincentis. He sent the e-mails from a personal e-mail account and said he never intended for anyone other than DeVincentis to see the e-mails.

“The intention was those e-mails were for (DeVincentis’) eyes only and not to be published in the newspaper,” he said. “I disapprove of them being shared with the public-at-large. I think it’s sneaky and a disservice.”

McGowan agreed school officials using school computers and accounts have a lessened expectation of privacy.

“It’s not respectful what (the newspaper is) doing, but of course, the things we said about Dr. Simms weren’t very respectful,” he said. “Those e-mails reflected several personal conversations and experiences with (Simms) that I had.”

Repeating the past

In the e-mails, DeVincentis says current Superintendent Howell “is very similar” to Simms and tells McGowan of his plans to get elected to the School Board to take on the administration.

“So you know, I’m most likely going to run for the School Board here when I’m through this year,” DeVincentis wrote on March 16, 2005. “Someone needs to hold the upper-level staff to getting things done and done well. Too much involved in all the explanation, but there is a lot to hold them accountable for.”

Tom Miller-Freutel, a former board president who has met with DeVincentis and two other board members in the past week, said DeVincentis now is coming after Howell.

The School Board members “as a group do not understand the ramifications of their decisions right now,” Miller-Freutel said. “I think John plays a huge role in this. I can’t say that enough. John is out to get rid of Donna Howell.”

Earlier this week, Board President Denise Connelly said “everything is up in the air” and that all options are on the table when asked about Howell’s job status. On Wednesday, board member Pat Gleason, Howell’s strongest advocate on the board, resigned because of differences with the board.

Gleason agreed with Miller-Freutel. He said DeVincentis’ agenda with Howell is no different than it was with Simms in 2002. “His agenda is to get rid of Donna Howell,” Gleason said. “That’s perfectly clear.”

Howell declined to comment on DeVincentis or his e-mails, saying it would not be appropriate. Hired in the summer of 2003, Howell has a contract that runs through the 2008-09 school year.

Looking to undermine

In the e-mails, McGowan expresses frustration with Simms’ successes in Mercer Island. “The board and Cyndy are tight and they have like thinking on many issues,” he wrote in September 2004. “She has been the community’s best advocate and made decisions that clearly reflect the wants of families over the needs of the staff, etc…”

DeVincentis suggests ways to undermine Simms.

In an e-mail dated March 22, 2005, DeVincentis tells McGowan to have McGowan’s principal call him if she is having trouble with Simms.

“Tell your principal that I not only survived, but I WON!! (Simms) is gone and that in itself was a HUGE success. The board hired someone very similar though, so: Luckily, I will retire and most likely run for the board: I was here 19 years and have a great reputation among teachers and parents and community members (most community members except for those few who were aligned with the b—-. Now I include them on my ‘losers’ list, too.”)

DeVincentis also suggests trying to gather information on her personal life. The two exchanged e-mails about Simms’ ex-husband, Chuck, and her daughter, Cami.

“Have you heard anything about her daughter, Cammie (sic), and how she is doing there?” DeVincentis wrote. “I just wonder and hope that she revolts against the ‘regime’ sometime and drives Cyndy absolutely nuts. When you see her, give her a ‘hello’ from me. She’d love to hear that from you!”

He advises McGowan to push for a staff climate survey about Simms to use against her.

“Has your association done an organizational climate survey of teachers in the district?” DeVincentis wrote. “Why not do something like that to get an indication of the level of discontent. My belief is that many other teachers may be concerned, but not willing to give the time and energy to getting ‘into it.'”

Using surveys

DeVincentis has pushed repeatedly for the use of climate surveys about Howell and current administrators. Last fall, climate surveys were completed by staff about all administrators in the district. Howell promised administrators the survey results would be seen only by the individual administrators and her. Administrators also collectively asked the board to follow what Howell had promised.

But the board, based upon a request from DeVincentis, issued a directive ordering Howell to release the survey results to them. The directive came after a Jan. 8 executive session that was called despite protests from administrators who asked that the meeting be held in public.

DeVincentis repeatedly advises McGowan to fight the Mercer Island School Board’s efforts to go into executive session.

“Your union would want to pay attention to all of the executive sessions that Cyndy has with the Board,” DeVincentis wrote on Aug. 31, 2004. “Even though you don’t have access to the executive sessions, you may want to be prepared and try to figure out how to ‘listen in.'”

Lying to the board

Simms was the superintendent of the Steamboat Springs School District until the spring of 2003, when she was named superintendent in Mercer Island, a district with 4,100 students. She left after an often bitter public battle with DeVincentis about a critical performance evaluation he received.

In the e-mails, DeVincentis said he lied to two Mercer Island School Board members who came to Steamboat Springs to talk to school officials and community residents before hiring Simms. DeVincentis said the board members did not impress him.

“Hate to say it, but I lied like a snake and blamed our board for everything,” he wrote in an e-mail dated Oct. 13, 2004. “I blamed (believe it or not) policy governance for being a major contributor to our problem. Another major lie on my part. It was (literally and figuratively) like getting rid of the old maid! Almost funny, huh? But not for you guys! Sorry. I will say that we were all high-fiving each other (teachers at our school) when she got the job. Everyone here hated her and most of the rest of the district were uninvolved and disinterested.”

E-mail in the dark

At one point, McGowan warns DeVincentis about the risks of using school computers and e-mail accounts. “Somewhere : out there : in the dark : a school district is listening, and I am sure my e-mails are flagged : so I’ll send you some mail from my Yahoo! Account,” McGowan wrote March 15, 2005.

Yet, DeVincentis appears to have always used his school account, jdv@sailors.steamboat.k12.co.us.

He writes to McGowan that he should go to Simms’ house and “trash it! Just joking.” He jokes about being in the “throes of passion” with Simms. He says he has a “Cyndy voodoo doll” and suggests that the staff in Mercer Island should try collective voodoo energy to end Simms’ career.

Simms said she moved on from her dealings with DeVincentis long ago. “Life is too short to hold grudges,” she said.

DeVincentis’ e-mails suggest he felt otherwise.

“See, I’m still angry about her dealings with me,” DeVincentis wrote in September 2004. “Nothing bad could happen to her that she wouldn’t deserve.”


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