Supporters of fired coach tell Arcadia Board of Education they want him back
By Jeanne Kuang 07/26/2013
Approximately 500 people crowded into Arcadia High School’s auditorium Tuesday night to hear dozens of speakers tell the Arcadia Board of Education they want fired boys’ cross country coach Jim O’Brien reinstated.
The tense session was the latest in a series of efforts by students, alumni, parents, friends and local residents to have school officials reinstate the popular O’Brien, who last month was fired after serving 17 years as coach.
In June, Arcadia Superintendent Joel Shawn said the reason why O’Brien’s was let go was for marking an “X” on school lockers that the coach had asked the district to fix.
Tuesday’s school board meeting, which was held in the auditorium in order to accommodate the expected high turnout, lasted until almost 11 p.m. Speakers — among them a former school board member, the teacher and girls’ cross country coach who is to take O’Brien’s place, current and former students and O’Brien himself — were each allowed to speak for three minutes.
Emotions ran high during the night, with speakers often stopping to fight back tears and the crowd bursting into applause in support of the coach.å
“We’re not asking for something so complex and so abstract and so unattainable,” Esmond Wei said to the board. “We just want our coach back.”
Wei, 19, graduated from Arcadia High in 2011, having run under O’Brien during his time there. He is one of several alumni managing a Facebook page titled “Keep Coach O’Brien at Arcadia.”
The speakers shared personal and professional experiences with O’Brien as team members and parents of team members denounced the board for its decision, citing O’Brien’s two national championship teams and inspiration to students as reasons to reinstate him.
O’Brien himself approached the microphone to a standing ovation midway through the meeting, acknowledging prior tensions with the district and expressing a willingness to cooperate with the board if allowed to return.
“I’m obviously not a perfect human being,” O’Brien said. “I own my mistakes … I’m hoping in my heart of hearts that if we can keep an open dialogue between myself and the superintendent and the board, that we can resolve this issue. I’m absolutely willing to adjust my behavior or my actions so that I fit into the protocol that you’re looking for.”
The board listened to the speeches with little reaction and at the end of the meeting thanked people for their comments, assuring them their voices had been heard.
“Time and time again you mentioned doing what’s right for kids, that we needed to do what’s right for our students,” Board member Janet Chew said. “For us on the board, that is our focus.”
O’Brien’s supporters remain tentatively optimistic and determined to continue their fight.
“We know that it might not make a difference but it’s important to have our stories be heard, and hopefully it will help sway the decision a little bit,” said Joyce Liao, a 2012 Arcadia High graduate and assistant cross country coach who spoke at the meeting. “It’s important to know that Coach O’Brien has been an integral part of all of our lives and he should continue to influence other kids.”
Wei called the board’s response “very political.”
“I think through these stories we have touched these board members’ hearts and I think they’ll start listening more,” Wei said. However, if the firing remains final, he said O’Brien’s supporters are considering attempts to recall board members.