Unrest in the Sun Terrace Elementary community of north Concord marks third time in a year the Mt. Diablo school district appears to have failed to respond promptly to repeated complaints.
This latest uprising bears strong similarities to the frustration that swelled to epic proportions when Clayton Valley High teachers and parents pulled the plug from the district and converted to a charter that will open in the fall, with oversight by the Contra Costa County Office of Education.
The dissatisfaction and outrage being expressed by the Sun Terrace community also resembles the exasperation voiced by teachers at Mt. Diablo High in December when a majority voted no confidence in Principal Kate McClatchy. In response to that, the district sent administrators to meet with teachers to develop a plan to address concerns. Some teachers and staff members later praised McClatchy’s leadership at a board meeting, but many of those who first spoke out say several issues remain unresolved.
Like the teachers at Clayton Valley and Mt. Diablo high schools, some parents and staff members at Sun Terrace say they have individually spoken to the principal, district administrators and union leaders to try to get their issues resolved. When they felt that no action was being taken, they made the dramatic decision to publicly air their concerns at the April 23 school board meeting.
Although only four people spoke, parent Katherine Friedman told me that many more were prepared to speak, but backed down after seeing Principal Gretchen Jacobs in the room. Those who did speak said Jacobs has turned what was once a happy, warm and welcoming campus into a school where children and adults work in fear.
Some parents expressed concerns about a first grade class that has been taught by a string of 13 substititutes since the regular teacher went on maternity leave in January, as well as lack of communication from the principal about children’s injuries and other safety concerns. Friedman broke down in tears as she described her son’s classroom, where she said students weren’t getting the instruction they needed to progress at grade level.
But staff member Dan Roll, who oversees student services at the school, defended Jacobs, saying she appeared to be taking the criticisms to heart and was trying to make amends. Yet, many of the parents and former staff members to whom I’ve spoken since the board meeting say this is too little, too late.
Some said they miss the way things used to be before Jacobs arrived a few months after school started in 2010. She replaced former Principal Felicia Stuckey-Smith, who was promoted to Director of Student Services at the district office.
Friedman said she was touched when Sun Terrace parents and children hugged Stuckey-Smith, after seeing her at the board meeting. The entire mood on campus appears to have changed, she said.
Since the board meeting, district officials have met with parents regarding the first grade class and have agreed to provide extra staff to try to bring students up to grade level, Friedman said. In addition, she said Jacobs has reached out to parents to meet with them individually and try to reassure them about her desire to improve.
But Friedman said she and others worry that the district may not address concerns regarding Jacobs’ leadership style. About 60 parents and staff members have signed a petition regarding their issues, she said.
When Friedman met with Jacobs, she said she told the principal: “Your interaction with the kids is ‘No. Stop. Don’t. It’s always discipline. If everytime they see you, someone’s in trouble, then you’re not going to have a good relationship with them.’”
Former noontime supervisor and after-school program worker Christina Mares said she and many adults felt the same way. Mares said she left her job in February after experiencing anxiety attacks and depression because she feared she would be fired after Jacobs fired her mother, who was also a noontime supervisor.
Trustee Gary Eberhart asked Superintendent Steven Lawrence to report back to the board about the issues raised, but there is no report scheduled on Monday’s meeting agenda. In the absence of a plan to address all their concerns, some parents said they may again speak up.
Do you believe the superintendent should publicly report back to the board about Sun Terrace?