New principal tries to break up PTA

Some Tilden Elementary School parents were dismayed this week to learn that their new principal, Rachelle Sallee, wanted no part of the school’s PTA.

In a rather abrupt e-mail to parent Steve Asztalos and other PTA members, Sallee announced that she planned to disband the existing parent group and create a new one that would focus on “fundraising and community engagement.”

Date: Tuesday, October 7, 2008, 8:03 AM
Dear Steve,
As the administrator of Tilden, I am selecting NOT to have
a PTA this year. I have established another group that will be
working towards fundraising and community engagement.


Rachelle Sallee
Tilden Elementary School
Oakland Unified School District
(510) 879-1560

Tilden serves a large number of disabled children, and parents had worked closely with the previous principal, Joslin Johnson, to address safety issues (such as an evacuation plan and the lack of a coordinated alarm system), Asztalos said.

“It’s a rather stunning development,” he said. “This is a school that needs all of the help it can get.”

Contacted this week by phone, Sallee dismissed concerns that she was trying to discourage parent involvement. “It’s not that serious,” she said, about the e-mail exchange.

Sallee said she planned to create a new group named Partners for Tilden, with a different scope of work. She said she didn’t have a problem with the group of parents and teachers on the PTA.

Then why the change?

“I don’t want it to be called that,” she said. “I want it to be called Partners for Tilden.”

I didn’t realize a principal could make such a decision on her own, especially in a district that talks up “parent engagement” as much as OUSD. Has this happened elsewhere?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Catherine

    I don’t even know if this is legal. I would contact the ACLU.

  • Alex G

    How do these administrators continue to find employment. Didn’t anyone at OUSD google this woman?

  • Katy Murphy

    I actually asked the same question when I saw the list of new principal hires. Check out page 6 of this report about an Arizona charter school Sallee ran, which was shut down a few years ago. (I didn’t get an answer, though.)


  • turner

    Katy, this is scary. Clearly, Oakland did not to a background check. They invited someone whom Arizona rejected to run one of our schools. How typical of OUSD leadership?

  • Steve Asztalos

    I am further told that teachers are being given poor evaluations if they are deemed to be too friendly with those who oppose the principal.

  • Teacher

    First, in response to Alex G, we’ve been asked “not to Google” (said by an OUSD network executive officer) as it “demonstrates malicious intent” by the teachers. Also, this is one of many things that she has decided to implement this year, ruining our school environment. For a school that has done all it can to band together for the children, she’s trying to do all she can to destroy the close knit community.

  • spedteacher

    I do not work at Tilden, but have heard very dismaying reports from the school this year. The principal sounds as if she has no knowledge of special education services or practices, and only wants to have parents involved when she is able to dictate how. As an OUSD parent (as well as teacher), I would be outraged by a principal who tried to reject PTA formation. My guess is that she does not want parents to freely communicate amongst themselves or with faculty, a way to prevent positive change and maintain status quo at a school that needs every bit of help possible. This school has an unfortunate history of facilities problems that requires parent involvement with staff to affect change. I hope the parents and staff are able to come up with a way to move forward; it can be impossible when you have a director who rules by edict.

  • Nextset

    An interesting story. Will someone have a little talk with this woman behind a closed door and let her know how it’s going to be – what she can do and what she can’t get away with? The existing parent groups are not her employees and she will be hard pressed to “disband” a working parent group with issues and concerns. Chase them-off premises to a Pizza Parlor maybe.

    Well she can always give them a new common enemy – that always spices up the PTA meetings.

    You’d think the “principal” would know better. Well they were here before she arrived, and they will likely be here when she’s gone. Does her contract have a parachute?

  • Ryan

    I’m sorry, but that’s just ludicrous. There is no reason for a principal to try to disband the PTA – especially in a school district like Oakland’s – unless she’s trying to run the school in a way that the parents would not approve of. If I were a parent of a child that attends Tilden I would be extremely upset by this. The parents of these children should all be writing formal complaints about this principal… no one who has this mentality about community and parent involvement should be running ANY school, much less a school that works with so many disabled children.

  • Manny Lopez

    It’s not her school. Period. It’s the community’s. She’s clearly ill-equipped to be the so-called leader of the school. I, for one, intend to follow up with the OEA’S Rep (teachers’union rep) at the site and figure out how we can advocate for the teachers, which I assume are being ill-treated as well. Looking forward to the challenge.

    Manny Lopez
    OEA 1st Vice-President

  • John

    Who says someone with an administrative credential, whether a principal or department head, must know anything about the expertise and function of those she presides over? She’s likely “serving at the pleasure of a superintendent” or state administrator with a closet mandate favorable to the deterioration of special education services and its “encroachment” on regular education resources, used to cover insufficiently or non-funded mandated special education services.

    Hiring an administrator with a background and understanding of special education services could weaken her resolve to run interference for, and take direction from, the higher ups that hired her to help disallow IEP students and parents their full entitlement.

    Of course, in this era of dwindling resources and high test score an ‘administrator job security consultant’ might argue that it’s in their best interest to marshal resources in a manner that achieves the best test and job security results.

    Another contributor to this blog observed that some urban educators will be seeking to fill their class with the best and brightest to boost test scores and avoid sanctions. Does not the same principal apply to the distribution of education dollars?

    Perhaps an OEA Executive Director or two wouldn’t mind being disturbed long enough to advocate for teachers suffering retaliation as a consequence of their advocacy for special needs students? Just kidding!

  • Shawnee

    How many of you people have even been to a PTA meeting in past years? I’ve never even seen or heard from Manny Lopez up until now. My child’s teacher has nothing but good things to say about Ms Sallee. She’s very dedicated and hands on from where I sit which is just what Tilden needs. It sounds as if the reporter may be jumping the gun and not getting the full story. It doesn’t sound like Ms Sallee is trying to break up the community, but perhaps put a spin on elements that were not working in the past in order to improve the boundaries of what the parents and community can do for the school. Instead of bashing her, let’s attend the meeting on Wednesday and get her side of things. Who knows, we may be plesantly surprised.

  • Another_Teacher

    I appreciate that perspective, Shawnee; I’m very hopeful that “the full story” does come out. The challenge is to realize that Tilden doesn’t have one “full story”. It’s not one person’s school–it’s the community’s, as others have said. And “the community” itself at Tilden is a huge, diverse and wonderful spectrum of concentrations, gifts, opinions, and concerns. Right now, it’s simply a fact that most–not all, but most–of that community feels an unprecedented sense of disconnection from the person who is supposed to hold it together. I think that really needs to be examined, and, if possible, fixed.

    I don’t envy any administrator’s job, but this is an especially tough one. What’s absolutely, urgently needed is an instructional leader who recognizes and values what EVERYONE brings to the table. Someone who is willing to set aside a wish that the entire Tilden community lockstep with a pre-conceived way of doing things in favor of a realistic, communal approach. Someone who understands that even the best idea can’t be achieved on the backs of people who don’t share it–someone who gets that you need to hear everyone’s ideas. That’s honestly not what I’m seeing when I read “I’m selecting NOT to have a PTA.” I’m willing, and eager, to be proven wrong.

    Study after study has shown that the critical factor in a child’s academic and social progress ISN’T exactly what curriculum gets used or which schedule gets adhered to–it’s the relationships built and nurtured by the people in the child’s life, which motivate, support, and enable him to grow. When my students know I care about them, listen to them, and am willing to meet them where they are, I get results.

    I don’t think it’s that different here.

  • djsarver

    The PTA has a lot of rules regarding how and when money can be spent. Perhaps the principal needs funds that can be used in another manner?

  • another teacher

    I am also in the Tilden environment, and have seen how little this new principal understands disabilities and young children. She has been acting as a dictator, and I am surprised with the amount of friction that she causese with the faculty, parents, and outside vendors, that she is still at the school. Has anyone noticed that there is no more PE? Where did it go? All the money for the entire year was already spent!!!