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Clayton Valley HS teacher addresses MDUSD board regarding discipline

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, June 22nd, 2012 at 5:28 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Disrespectful behavior by middle school students toward adults has been making headlines recently, including a You Tube video in which seventh-grade boys berated a school bus monitor and a Times story that focused on abusive treatment of teachers by students at Oak Grove Middle School in Concord.

The Mt. Diablo school district and others around the state are beefing up their anti-bullying policies in response to AB 9, which goes into effect July 1. The law requires districts to adopt a policy prohibiting harassment based on gender, gender identity, gender expression, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or certain other characteristics.

Kipp Penovich, a Clayton Valley High teacher, addressed the Mt. Diablo board June 18 regarding the need to improve overall discipline policies, citing his own personal experience with a disrespectful student.

Here are his excerpted comments:

“I’m here to address this district’s need to improve their discipline policies at school sites. I have been a teacher at Clayton Valley High School for the last 20 years, and before that went through 1st-12th grades at district schools. So I have been associated with this district for over 30 of the last 40 years. In that time I have seen a deterioration of discipline that has lead to an increase in poor student behavior. I am primarily referring to personal behaviors, but I believe this has also impacted academic behaviors as well. I would probably be OK saying that a large majority of students attending our schools are good, decent people, but there is a growing number of students who are not displaying good behaviors (both personal and academic) that are negatively impacting the environment of our schools and which infringes on those students who deserve a safe and ethical environment. I’m here to pass along my recent experience with this. Just over a month ago I became involved in a situation where there were two students in the hallway (who turned out to be boyfriend and girlfriend) who were having an animated discussion when they should have been in class. And, it appeared the young man was preventing the female student from getting to her class. So I became involved and asked what was going on. I was told “None of your F***ing business”. I decided to become a little more involved and asked for the young man’s name, and was met with the same type of profane response. The interruption allowed the young lady to move on to class, so it was just he and I. He continued to refuse to give me his name, so I just walked around behind him as he wandered around campus (I came to find out he regularly does this during class time) regularly throwing out “F***ing” this or “MotherF***ing” that, and telling me I looked “F***ing stupid” (which I would agree, but I think I didn’t have much other recourse available to me). After about 5 minutes he did finally give me his name, and I went and talked to an administrator up in the office. I was told to fill out an Incident report. Now as far as I understand in following up on this, the only thing that was done is that there was a meeting at a later date (which I haven’t really been able to confirm) with the student and his parents to discuss his bad behavior. I was never contacted or given confirmation of this meeting. There was never any real discipline levied on this young man. And I understand that this student has a long list of disciplinary issues. Do you think this really is impactful? How do you expect teachers to get involved when this weak response is all that will come out of it? At the very least, the student and his parents (accompanied by an administrator) should have come down to me and had the young man apologize out loud to me for the manner in which he addressed me.

If there was anything that I would suggest doing, it would be to develop a system of consequences that is meaningful that would help deter students from poor behavior. Additionally, I would suggest empowering teachers and backing them in their attempts to instill discipline in their classrooms, and on campus in general. I think many teachers are unmotivated to get involved if they feel nothing will really be done about anything, or if they do, they will be criticized because of some technical issue that an administrator doesn’t agree with (which presently happens). You need more manpower in dealing with this overall issue, and if you won’t be bringing in more people, you ought to make better use of the people that are already there.”

How do you think districts could improve discipline policies?

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109 Responses to “Clayton Valley HS teacher addresses MDUSD board regarding discipline”

  1. anon Says:

    I commend Mr. Penovich for bringing this issue forward. It is my opinion that stringent district policies regarding behavior and consequences should be put in place from kinder through 12th. Mr. Penovich should also be aware that site administrators are often caught in the middle between irresponsible parents and dent administrators. the irresponsible parents always scream “lawsuit” and ALWAYS take the side of their child rather than the side of the teacher; and dent administrators don’t want to deal with the time and the cost of a lawsuit. consequently, site administrators’ only option is to appease the parents and gently slap the wrist of their disrespectful and juvenile-hall-bound child.

  2. lc Says:

    I agree with Anon. One of the biggest issues standing in the way of discipline is the litigious society we live in. In many cases, parents are ready to sue the teacher, school,and/or district at the drop of a hat if their child is reprimanded for something. Many refuse to accept that their child did anything wrong.

    Many parents/students feel entitled to scream at staff, use profanities, and blame the teacher while making excuses for the students. Some parents tell their children they don’t have to listen to the administration, and yet the first time some parents are called regarding their child’s behavior, they want to argue or run to the district office to complain.

    It is time for many parents/students to take some responsibility for their inappropriate behaviors without first looking to blame someone else.

    What’s frustrating is that students and parents can do or say anything to staff, but if a teacher says anything negative to these people, the teacher is in trouble.

    Teachers spend all day trying to teach classes of up 30+ students. They are entitiled to teach in a safe environment conducive to learning and students have a right to learn. When someone’s behavior interferes with this, there needs to be consequences.

    It is very refreshing when a parent is called regarding their child’s negative behavior and they respond by saying “Thank-you for the call and I will talk to him/her as soon as they get home…

    A successful school fosters a partnership between child/teacher/admin/and home.

  3. Giorgio C. Says:

    Approximately 12 years ago, as a high school teacher, I was nearly killed or seriously maimed by a student who now sits in jail for murdering two and seriously injuring one. I was teaching in an environment where I had no say about discipline policy.

    I left teaching after 3 years of every day walking into a classroom of uncertainty. I only missed one day in those 3 years. One might blame me, saying I was not in control of my class. Not true. I was powerless and the students knew it. Most students were supportive of me and my efforts. They wanted the school to back me, but that did not happen.

    The following report cites statistics of attacks on teachers
    According the U.S. Department of Education, 127,120 (4 percent) public school teachers (K-12) were physically attacked at school—hit, kicked, bitten, slapped, stabbed or shot—during the 2007-08 school year. Another 222,460 teachers (7 percent) were threatened by students with acts of violence.

    It is time to start treating this as a safety issue for both teachers and students. Parents have no right to jeopardize the safety of others. It is not their call. It is time they learn this.

    If there isn’t a “school safety act”, then it is time to establish one.

  4. Wait a Minute Says:

    Well Kipp,

    I’m shocked that the vaunted Sue Brothers did…nothing effective in your incident!

    It seems the West Sac Principals and teachers I spoke to who said that Stevie Lawrence and Sue Brothers did more to undermine discipline in their schools then any administrative team that West Sac had ever had previous then they where right.

    These were the same Principals who told me of how they were high-fiving each other in the hallway after Interim Superintendent Michelle Lawrence put Sue Brothers in here place at one of the fist admin meetings.

  5. Jim Says:

    Amen to everything that (soon-to-be-former-MDUSD-teacher) Mr. Penovich said. I agree with Giorgio C above that behavior is a serious safety issue. But behavior is also an ACADEMIC issue. When students or teachers fear for their safety, there is no way that academic achievement remains unaffected. From elementary through high school, I attended schools where the administrators had completely lost control of student behavior, and in those environments, too many decisions are overridden by safety concerns. Whether I spoke up in a class, whether I took a class in certain dangerous parts of the building, whether I participated in an after school activity — everything was colored by the question, “Will it be safe to do this?” People who have always attended safe schools have no idea what it is like to spend every day in a physically threatening environment — how demoralizing and downright scary it is for the people who just want to do what they are supposed to do in school. School districts spend millions on new curriculum, professional development, and all of their other “turnaround” strategies, but in many cases, NOTHING can have as big of an impact on academic achievement as improving discipline. This is why parochial schools often produce such superior outcomes, even with large classes of students in disadvantaged communities. They recognize that just ONE student with unchecked discipline can impede the progress of a whole class for an entire year.

    I reject the excuse, alluded to in Anon #1’s post, that districts are stymied by litigious parents. Of course those parents exist, but do we really think that MDUSD, of all organizations, is afraid of what parents think? How often have they shown such concern in other areas? Do we really believe that that THIS district, reckless in so many of its own legal matters, is that afraid of lawsuits from parents over a child’s behavior?!? MDUSD didn’t amass some of the highest legal expenses in CA for a district its size by walking on legal eggshells. No, the problem is general indifference and dysfunction, just as in so many other areas. It takes planning, work, and thoroughness to succeed in improving discipline. And when you’re not accountable to anyone, why bother? It’s not like most families have a choice, right?

    In our current litigious world, where people are so sensitive to discrimination, school districts need to approach behavior and discipline systematically. They need to COLLECT INPUT from teachers and the community, DISCUSS the needs OPENLY, DEFINE a CONSISTENT policy on behavior and discipline, COMMUNICATE it clearly to all school communities, IMPLEMENT the policy according to the PLAN, and then collect RIGOROUS DATA on all incidents, so that they can show that the policy is being implemented fairly and consistently. Sadly, the words I have capitalized all reflect persistent institutional weaknesses that have plagued MDUSD, again and again, in so much of what it undertakes.

  6. Giorgio C. Says:

    Well said, Jim. Yes, if folks are worried about litigation, all the more reason to draft and implement policies that are objective, as opposed to the often vague, subjective policies that are inherently discriminatory.

    Regarding collecting input from the community, I believe that is why we have what we have. Schools are a reflection of the pressuring voices of the community instead of policies developed by those qualified to run our schools.

    In some communities, there is a movement to do away with suspensions. I’m not sure if I could support this, but would be willing to listen. I would like the state do away with the practice of punishing schools by withholding ADA dollars for those kids who are suspended or truant. Teachers-administrators have to spend extra hours addressing issues caused by truants and those suspended, yet the state withholds this funding?

    I currently do not know who is running our schools: politicians, parents, the superintendent, the school board, principals or teachers? I can’t even get simple job descriptions of district managers from my own district (WCCUSD) because they apparently are outdated, or so they tell me. And I’m not sure where the Org charts reside.

    All I ask is that our schools be run by those who are qualified and competent. Maybe this request is not consistent with the definition and mission of public education.

  7. Al Fortis Says:

    What a great article! I have 2 children in the San Ramon School District who have been bullied. The consequence for the bullies….0. I hate to say it but the grand experiment that has been in effect of building children’s self esteem by being sensitive is a bust. Since discipline has been taken out of the equation children today are less respectful and think it’s ok to yell profanities at anyone. The attitude of of because I can has gone way over board. Teachers are afraid for there lifes. That is wrong. Administrations need to get back to old school administering where students are held accountable as well as the parents. The students who teashed the school in Brentwood a few weeks back were held accountable by a judge for there actions. Some parents sued hoping to keep their children from accepting responsibility. Finally a school administration that held it’s moral ground and won.

    Parent’s teach your children respect and you will get a higher quality person in the long run. While your at it parents’ review the Golden Rule for yourself. In the end if you don’t those children will be in charge of your care when you grow old. What would you rather have.. A child who respects and loves you or a child who could give a damn about you. It’s not too late yet. Teachers are people and deserve respect. They have chosen a profession that will help teach your child how to be in this world. It is up to parents’ to teach their children how to respect others.

  8. RLH Says:

    Jim and Giorgio have it right: at this point nothing can have as much impact on school success as improved discipline. The incivility that is currently so dominant in our culture has filtered all the way down to children. I teach middle school and I’ve witnessed a quick descent to this level of behavior over the last four years, give or take. It is a very complex issue which I could go on and on about. However, I feel we can only deal with how the issue manifests itself at school, and that is with student conduct and discipline. On another note, I think what administrators fear most in dealing with parents over discipline issues is that parents will remove their students from the school, thus loosing the ADA, which they can little afford to do… a sad sign of the times.

  9. Kim C. Says:

    I think we need to start at the most basic level and establish a foundation for respect by instituting school uniforms. If students presented themselves in a respectful manner they might also act in a respectful manner. This is just one tiny baby step, but a start. I am appalled at the way not only the students but even the teachers dress. How can there be any respect on either side?

  10. anon Says:

    I am happy to say that, as a parent of a middle school student at Pine Hollow, discipline and consequences are alive and well there.
    The administration is top notch, takes no crap from students, and is accessible to both parents and students.

    If parents want to sue over their children being disciplined, let them. I would happily contribute to the districts defense fund!

  11. Theresa Harrington Says:

    When I wrote the Oak Grove MS story, Rose Lock told me that she had been informed by Principal Lisa Murphy Oates that an anti-bullying campaign had been implemented on the campus in February, as part of a new school climate or school culture committee. However, Lock said she didn’t have details about it and suggested that I follow-up with Murphy-Oates. When I mentioned this campaign to teacher Bethany Monk, she said she had never heard of it.
    Today, I dropped by Oak Grove MS and asked Murphy Oates about the anti-bullying program implemented in February. She didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.
    She told me she had called someone in February to talk to students about bullying in March, but then had to cancel the presentation.
    “We need to reschedule that,” she said.
    She also pointed to the district’s anti-bullying policy in the parent handbook and said the school complies with that.
    I said: “So, there is no schoolwide anti-bullying program that is specific to Oak Grove.”
    She did not disagree.
    I said, “Maybe Rose misunderstood what you told her.”
    So, it appears that Lock believes there is more being done to combat bullying at Oak Grove than is actually the case.

  12. Doctor J Says:

    Clearly Rose Lock’s credibility and integrity has been compromised — she did not have credible documentation about an anti-bullying “campaign” — and one speaker could not have constituted a “campaign”. In order to keep her position as Asst Supt under Steven Lawrence, she has had to compromise her integretity, as we have seen, “time after time”. It is indeed a sad state of affairs in MDUSD, including Lawrence’s veiled threat to principals recently who overstate their needs for teaching positions — “it will be included in your evaluation”.

  13. Jim Says:

    Theresa #11 — You were smart to ask people on the front lines what is actually happening. (If only more reporters would do that after getting the talking points from a school district!) What you encountered at Oak Grove is typical in so many districts. They think that if they spend a little money on a consultant’s visit, or some random offsite professional development session, that that constitutes a “program”. Spend some money and then forget about it. It is the formulaic, top-down, reactive approach characteristic of so many bureaucracies that have no real accountability to anyone. Just going through the motions — and too often, not even that!

  14. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s a blog post highlighting interesting closed session and consent calendar items:

  15. brenda aaron Says:

    Ms. Smith just contacted me moments ago, before tonites board meeting, in which she stated that she and Mr. Wogan had presented a presentation to PAC that was implemented at some of the schools in the district. She could not address which ones, but Soul Shoppe was one, but could not give answer as to which schools had implememted the program. I told her that if such a program existed she would know which schools had trained staff for the program that she and Mr. Wogan presented. She did not know.
    Wow! if I had trained staff for any program that I claimed I certainly know what schools attended my training and when the training was held?

    Theresa: Thanks for your wonderful reporting. I got answers that I thought, but now I know, thanks for the clarity.

  16. brenda aaron Says:

    The rules for discipline has to be clear and consistent. Consequences are given when rules are broken, but kids must know the rules before they are broken, not after. Consequences like, acts of kindness, also known as community service.

    When appropriate behavior is being displayed,and respect is shown, kids must be acknowledged. We must set the example. In some homes profanity is acceptabe and everyday language. Don’t assume that the values in your home are the standard in others.

    Can you define what RESPECT is? What does it look like? or can you only tell me what disrespect is and what it looks like?

    The Nurtured Heart Approach address these questions.
    Great workshop for parents and teachers.

    Free workshop for both parents, teachers and staff given September 12th

  17. brenda aaron Says:

    STANDARDS must be in place, before you can expect kids to abide by them. LOW standards = LOW Performance NO standards = confusion.

    What are the standards? so that both, student, parents and staff can know the expectations, then implementation and enforcement can take place. This means in attitude, dress codes, behavior, performance.

    All must be defined not just expected that both student and staff knows the consequence when rules are broken, but before hand.

    How do we teach children to be respectful, responsible for their behavior, when methods, policies, guidelines and procedures are not in place.

    Who trains the children when the staff have not been trained in anti-bullying methods?

    Go back and start afresh before you can move foward. Identify the problem, then come up with appropriate solutions, then implement, then enforce. Don’t say that you have something in place when you don’t. why mislead, then try to blame our way out of it.

    How can we expect our children to have integrity when those at the top have none!

  18. anonadad Says:

    at Brenda Aaron #17: i couldn’t agree more. there should be district-wide board policies regarding behavior. It doesn’t make sense to me that if my son is a student at one school, the consequence is different than my my buddy’s son who as at another school-but both our sons are in the same school district. Both my buddy and I stand by what the principal dishes out as a consequence; but my son wishes he was at the same school at my buddy’s son, because my son spent a week on the bench during all recesses while all my buddy’s son had to do was write an apology note-and both disciplinary incidents were relatively the same; they were both being obnoxious and they both deserved a consequence. My point is yours: “what are the standards?” for discipline, district-wide? And I agree that low standards for discipline will only bring about low standards in academics. I also agree that at least 3 board members have no integrity-so let’s make sure not to vote for eberhart, whitmarsh, lawrence in november so that cheryl hansen can advocate that whether it’s curriculum or discipline – board policies will be followed district wide.

  19. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Actually, Trustee Gary Eberhart voted against approving school site safety plans because of inconsistency between schools. Here is a link to video of that discussion:

  20. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Interesting customer service survey in San Jose USD:

  21. lc Says:

    It must be nice to be some of you who think you have all the answers regarding schools, behaviors, and discipline policies. I agree that many things could improve. I do not agree that most students are UNAWARE of expectations and/or consequences.

    Also, to say that teachers/staff only acknowledge inappropriate behaviors is so far from the truth at many places. Many teachers have classroom incentives /rewards for students who are on task and showing appropriate behaviors.

    What is interesting to me is how so many people criticize the school for their child’s inappropriate behavior and talk as if everything is great at home. If proper behaviors, social skills, rules and respet were taught and followed at homes, there would be fewer problems at schools. I am not trying to blame the family, but having taught at many schools in this district, I have seen that often the same parents criticizing the policies regarding
    discipline/behavior/consequences have many of the same issues with their children at home. It is always easier to blame someone other than ourselves.

  22. brenda aaron Says:

    #21 so the article written about the principle who is no longer at Sun Terrace was false. Parents and staff that signed the petition all 60 felt that they were supported? what is the solution or are you only able to identify the problem. Either at home or school. The reality is a change is needed. Look at the news, was the incident in New York with the kids on the bus, bad behavior at home or the students only behave that way at school.

    Standards need to be in place and consistent.

    Yesterday at 5pm was meet and greet the new principal at Sun Terrace. Only 3 parents attended the meeting all others were the staff along with Ms. Locke from the district.
    We are talking about KIDS! Keep it real. You are part of the solution or part of the problem, but closed mouths don’t get heard. My childrens, safety, academic success are a priority for me. Not associated with a pay check. The top saying that programs are in place and implemented were not true.
    It takes a village to turn this around. The Mt. Diablo UNIFIED school district has to UNIFY. District WIDE, parents, staff and teachers.

    There is no BLAME! CUTS,CUTS and more CUTS = Poor performace. Unemployment is on the RISE! If you can’t stand the heat get out the kitchen! Parents and Teachers = Success!

  23. Doctor J Says:

    Meet and greet at 5:00 pm ? Most parents can’t make that. How much notice was given ? How much involvement in the principal selection were parents given as promised by Lawrence ?

  24. Theresa Harrington Says:

    lc: The issues you are raising are being looked at by the Equity Advisory Team. Lock told me that sometimes students who appear rude to teachers are not actually trying to be defiant. They just express themselves differently than teachers are used to. So, the district is trying to educate teachers about how to be culturally responsive.

    Richter told me she fears an underlying reason Oak Grove MS is hesitant to suspend students may be the loss of ADA funding.

    Also, Mildred Browne has told the CAC that the district is very concerned about being disproportionate in its identification of African-American and Latino students for special ed, suspensions and expulsions. There could be penalties if this persists, she has said.

  25. Anon Says:

    Ok Let’s talk about rude.
    I have a teenager who is a truly great kid. My student is well behaved at home and at school. My student has never been in trouble either at home or in school. If I say please unload the dishwasher, the dishwasher is unloaded. If I say be home at 10, my student is home at 10 pm. No arguing ever.


    I am tired of the politically correct response. Sure there are GREAT teachers out there but this idea that teachers in general are over-worked and underpaid, that they do nothing wrong and it is the fault of bratty students with disengaged (or over engaged) parents is also getting old.

    Let’s talk about respect. Do our teachers show respect toward the students, toward parents, or toward each other? Is it respectful to have a zero tolerence policy when it comes to timely work from the student but then those same students don’t get any feedback on that work for weeks (sometimes ever). How can they learn under those conditions and why would they be compelled to care?

    How about the teacher who chats on his cell phone for 25 minutes in class? I would FIRE an employee who did this in front of a customer, that is not respectful.

    How about the teacher who sits at their desk for the first 10 minutes of class and does not even acknowledge that the students have arrived. Not one time, but every day! That too is disrespectful.

    How about the teacher who says you get a C in my class because you never sought me out for help! REALLY! If my goal was to be good at my job I would seek out solutions to solve the problem.

    How the teacher who gives every student an 85% on an essay… REALLY!!!!! Why bother doing good work when your effort is so disrespected.

    How about the teacher who doesn’t bother to post any grades until the last day of the quarter. How is a student to know where they stand, how they can do better, or if they should seek help as referenced above?

    How about the teacher who misses 45 days of school (one and two days at a time). Imagine the District letter a parent would get if their student missed 45 days of school. Could a student possibly get a grade higher than an “F” after missing that much school. Well that teacher should get an F as well. Again how disrespectful to those student who are there to learn.

    The children in this District deserve much better. You show me a classroom full of respectful children and I will show you a classroom led by a respectful and engaging teacher! There is my suggestion for the first line in any behavior policy!

  26. Anon Says:

    Anon 25-
    Ditto. I share your pain with a hundred examples. The fact is that a quality teacher with administration support can turn a class around. A friend of mine subbed at Oak Grove a few years ago. The teacher did not leave any lesson plan-it was all in his head. The sub rearranged the desks, found some good worksheets, and took a personal interest in each student. The students responded great and the principal told the sub they would be welcome back at Oak Grove. I am appalled to hear about the Oak Grove discipline failures. Whatever Dent and SASS are attempting (or not) is a failure. Sadly Oak Grove is just an example of the staff failures in the rest of the district. That’s failure with “F”

  27. Anon Says:

    Well said 25!!!!! I agree with you 100 %.

  28. brenda aaron Says:

    #5 Jim: You are so right I attended parochial school from k-12th I wore a uniform and the standards were set high or you had to leave. Tution was high and my parents made the sacrifice for 4 children. The standards are too low in public schools. You knew that profanity was not acceptable language at school. Dress codes were enforced. Respect was taught not assumed. Teachers had parent involment. You knew the rules and the consequences.

    Education was the priority.

    You can teach your child at home and even at church but, 6 hours with children who have not been taught about respect nor the Golden Rule have no clue what you are talking about. This is the product of a lost generation of morale character.

    Define Respect to a kid? Peer pressure and acceptance are more important, even to a child from a good home. Six hours every day in a enviroment that does not teach character, just head knowledge and not integrity as part of the curriculum is doomed to produce healthy people who have ethics.

  29. Anon Says:

    API is designed to grade the school-the admin and teachers. The 2011 API rankings for MDUSD high schools declined or stayed the same (with the sole exception of MDHS): YVHS is 2/2, CHS is 4/2, CPHS and CVHS both are 7/1, and Northgate is 9/2. The second number, similar school rankings are all in the bottom 1-2 deciles, that CDE defines “Well below average for schools with a comparable mix of demographic characteristics.” The rest of California schools are doing better.

    Kudos to MDHS for raising its ranking to 2/7.

  30. brenda aaron Says:

    #23: I received the recorded district msg on Friday about the meet and greet new principal Ms. Kris Martin-Meyer at 5pm. you are so right most parents are not off work. Very POOR show!

    #25: You got it!! if only others would take note. One good teacher can make a difference in a child life. Regardless as to what is happening in the home, but you must first take a personal interest in each child. A well trained teacher should be able to manage their classroom.
    A dedicated teacher can create an atmosphere where the interest and enthusiasm is so great that the students strive for a STANDARD of Excellence! Not fair as the standard as you said FAILURE!
    Thank You!

  31. anonadad Says:

    @ANON #25: COULDN’T AGREE MORE…but, I have 3 children; elementary teachers generally teach children, while middle and high school teachers teach curriculum. The teachers in middle and high school pull these arbitrary grades out of the sky based on an assignment that has no connection to the California State Standards. My oldest son had a rough year in Science just this past year; the previous year he earned high marks. When I asked him (and then grounded him) as to why his report card indicated “socializing affecting grade” for this last quarter and why he had done so well the previous year in Science, he simply stated: “we were too busy to socialize”. In my opinion, there are way too many prima dona’s as teachers in middle and high school. When lessons are engaging, students behave and learn. But when teachers are merely assigning work at the end of a chapter and then testing, there is no teaching and learning going on. Even my son who’s “socializing is affecting his grade” can assign classwork and homework and hand out a test. We need teachers who teach and engage students according to the California State Standards, not those who just assign and test. There, I said it.

  32. Theresa Harrington Says:

    In her own words, here are videos I shot of substitute teacher Rebecca Richter, talking about her experiences with lack of administrative support for discipline at Oak Grove Middle School (she also praises the administration at Riverview MS, in contrast to Oak Grove MS):

    Part 1:

    Part 2:

    And here is a video of Richter going into the office in search of her timecard, which has apparently been lost by the school and district:

  33. MDUSD Board Watcher Says:

    I can just about guarantee that Eberhart ordered the “loss” of Ms. Richter’s time card. There are many stories of his reaching out to make life difficult for both employees and students who don’t “get with the Eberhart program”.

  34. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s an article that reinforces what some of you are saying about the importance of a good teacher who can engage students:

  35. Anon Says:

    Bye Bye Mildred Browne!!! Can’t wait to see who will replace you. Hope you enjoy your party today!

  36. g Says:

    Party? Her birthday is in November, and her contract isn’t up until June—-what party?

    Did she resign?

  37. Anon Says:

    That is what I heard. there is a farewell party today.
    She will stay on in a contractor capacity and the job will be posted internally.

  38. g Says:

    Hmmmm. Anybody want to bet on McNorthgate

  39. Doctor J Says:

    I will bet on SteueGATE.

  40. g Says:

    You know, if that rumor is true, it means that 1) EberMarsh was in on it before they put everyone -except Browne- up for renewal;
    2) They agreed to a “contract position” and new hire without bringing it to the board for a public vote;
    3) One more “staff” position financing that could have gone to SPED assistants or busing or a few other things.

    Who loves ya honey?

  41. Doctor J Says:

    Any agreement to an Asst Supt contract position by the “Board” was in violation of the Brown Act. Just like there was a secret deal to appoint an “interim” SASS Director of Secondary for the entire school year, and never brought to the “Board” in open session so if taken to the Board, it had to be in violation of the Brown Act.

    Lets wait and see how this unfolds. Who’s your mama ?

  42. Anon Says:


  43. MDUSD Board Watcher Says:

    Sue Brothers is one piece of work. They do need to payback McMorris though for his sycophantic ranting about the CVHS charter petition.

  44. Kipp Penovich Says:

    I’m going to jump back in the discussion here because of Rose Lock’s comment about culture back up in #24. I have listened to this idea since I was getting my teaching credential, and it is wearing thin with me. I think it is totally wrong. There may be subtle things that are cultural that we can deal with in schools. But cultural norms that would have students using profanity and intimidation towards adults and other students is unacceptable (I hope this would be true of all cultures). This is a totally lame PC comment that people throw out there to make themselves look like “peacemakers”. What they should do at the district level is come up with some very basic norms regarding personal behavior and conduct that are “lines in the sand” that shouldn’t be crossed without consequence. I think you could come up with a nice list that would apply equally to all sites (and cultures). Maybe, according to Ms. Lock’s theory, there isn’t that much bullying going on. It’s just a manifestation of a cultural difference, and we need to understand that, and in the process of that understanding we won’t have to do anything about it. Pure silliness.

  45. Theresa Harrington Says:

    At Oak Grove MS, I was told that a sign listing “Expectations” and “Consequences” was on every classroom wall. But, substitute teacher Rebecca Richter said she never saw such a sign on her classroom wall.

    Also, according to Richter, the consequences did not appear to be enforced.

    Here’s what the signs are supposed to say, according to a flyer I picked up in the school office:

    1. Students will be on time to class, ready to learn.
    2. Students will stay in their assigned seats.
    3. Students will use academic and respectful language school-wdie:
    – no profanity, name-calling, insults or disrespectful gestures
    4. Students will be engaged in the learning process:
    – listen when the teacher or others are speaking
    – no calling out (raise hand or wait to be called on)
    – no side conversations
    – work quietly when doing independent work.
    1. Verbal warning given to student
    2. Detention assigned by teacher
    3. Support call to parent
    – When the teacher is prevented from teaching
    – If the student fails to attend the detention
    4. Second support call plus class suspension and parent conference
    Severe or repeated disruptive behavior will lead to suspension from school.”

    Richter and teacher Bethany Monk questioned why severe and disruptive behavior in their classes led to the students being sent back into the classroom, where they disrupted the learning process for everyone else.

    What are the consequences when the administration fails to enforce its own stated consequences?

  46. Michael New Says:

    Like other readers, I have followed the news about school discipline in the paper with some interest. In my case, the interest arises from the fact that I am a school teacher, and I am writing a book about public school education in the United States. I became a teacher late in life, after spending many years in business. I became a teacher, in part, because of what I saw in the classrooms of my own children. I saw disruptive students, but what I saw allowing the disruptions were teachers who seemingly didn’t want to do anything all day except baby sit the students. I have been, as the parent of two students, appalled at how little my children were taught. As it has become evident to me that the United States cannot compete economically with the rest of the world if our students are vastly under prepared, this unwillingness, and, now, inability of teachers to educate our children, have come to seem to me treasonous. Not to educate our young people adequately is nothing less than selling military secrets to our enemies; one will turn us into a vassal nation as rapidly as the other.

    The history of the problem with public schools in the United States is long and involves philosophical ideas, like progressivism; historical events, like World War II; and social upheaval, like the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, and the counter-cultural movement of the 1960s. Whatever the exact cause of the problem, we are now left with the problem, and we need to take care of it quickly. Therefore, without prolonging my assertions with detailed arguments, here are some of my reflections on the issue of public education and “discipline.”

    Administrators. The biggest problem in education right now is the administration of our schools, from the top of the district to the site administrators. There are too many, and they are almost universally incompetent, even at the level of the superintendent. Because for a decade or more, the focus of reform has been on improving incompetent teachers, teaching in the classroom has improved. What have not improved are the administrators; in fact, the administration of public schools has gotten worse. I’ve noticed in my twelve or thirteen years of teaching that the worst teachers often become administrators! If someone doesn’t like working with young people and doesn’t know anything about what he or she is supposed to be teaching, you can bet the person will end up as an administrator. I’m not sure anyone knows what an administrator of a school is supposed to do. Mostly, they do nothing. As department head for several years, I was able to observe the administrators during the school day, while teachers were in classrooms teaching. In the classroom, I knew, the battle was fierce, with teachers having to struggle against half the classroom to teach anything, while in the administrative offices, the secretaries were playing FreeCell on their computers, and the administrators were sitting in someone’s office, laughing and trying to decide where they would order out for lunch. If you have inferior teachers, the reason is that an incompetent administrator hired and gave tenure to this person. (I knew a principal who hired and gave tenure to a teacher because she served him lunch every day while she showed her classes movies from the first bell until the last.)

    Teachers. I am a teacher, so I feel freer to speak harshly of this group, knowing I’m speaking harshly of myself. I know I’m not as good a teacher as I can be, and I’m going to work harder next year to become a better teacher. The only road to wisdom, which is one of the virtues necessary in order to be a good teacher, is humility, and not enough teachers possess this virtue. Most teachers think they know it all because they know more than a sixth grader. Most teachers weigh their intellectual abilities and knowledge on a scale with children. Most of them, I’ve come to believe, don’t want to teach students anything, because then they might realize they don’t know very much. Even those who realize they are ignorant of the fundamentals of the area in which they teach aren’t motivated to change the situation, because belonging to a teachers’ union immunizes them from any consequence for their lack of skill or knowledge. Think of the effect on our healthcare, if doctors belonged to a union that said they got paid regardless of whether they cured patients or allowed them to die. Anyone who cares about education needs to do whatever he or she can to dispense with tenure. Even if collective bargaining continues, good teachers are tired, tired, tired of our profession being dragged down by incompetent teachers. We have to be able to get rid of them. This is vital.

    Students. Again, the causes of the challenges we face with students are several and hard to explain briefly, and the solutions can’t be put into place without good teachers and administrators. Of one thing, I am sure: the students are not the problem. They are the result of the dysfunction of the schools. Students have physically threatened me, thrown things at me, called me abusive names, pushed me, and every day, I’m subjected to the pinnacle of disrespect for a teacher: complete disregard. Anyone who thinks this problem is going to disappear quickly or by having rules on the wall or a discipline plan in the main office is deluded and prone to magical thinking. “Teaching” children, in any real sense of the word, means preparing the young people to live and to prosper and to support some culture. On this site, several people have talked about the word “culture.” What is culture? Whose culture are we talking about? What exactly does the process of enculturation entail? We are, right now, because of all the technological innovations that have been introduced into our culture, undergoing rapid cultural change. (Technology is the primary reason that cultures change.) Many cultures are now developing in our society. Typically, in societies where there are many different cultures, the education of the young people goes on within the culture to which he or she belongs; here in the United States, we are trying to make public schools the great melting pot of all cultures. In our public schools, students from an array of cultures will be taught to live and to prosper and to support the culture of the United States. That is a very tough challenge. Consider the thought about federalism that the new healthcare law has provoked. Who has the right to dictate what others should do? Can Washington D. C. tell Arizona what kind of culture it must have? Is our culture the “California culture?” Is the culture of California the same as the culture of North Dakota?

    Parents. Again, I want to bring what personal insight I can to these questions. In my career as an educator, I can only remember one parent ever overtly siding with the student instead of with me. One, out of the more than a thousand students I’ve had in my classroom. Perhaps, behind my back, they were taking the part of their son or daughter against me, but it never felt that way. What I have found instead is that most teachers don’t want to develop a relationship with the parents of their students. Teachers brag about having parents who don’t care because then those parents won’t be calling to ask the teacher questions. Some parents are ineffective in controlling the behavior of their sons or daughters, and when I speak to them about their student’s behavior, the response is often, “I’m getting the same thing at home.” Some don’t prepare their students for school by honoring learning, by reading a book themselves, by turning off the television, by engaging in critical thinking.

    Solutions. I always tell the teachers I mentor not to go to administrators with problems but with solutions.

    Administrators. We need fewer. Most research shows that district bureaucracies are top heavy. Bureaucrats love to give other people jobs because that creates loyalty, which keeps the bureaucrat in power. With well trained teachers, smaller schools can be teacher led, with no need for a site administrator. Administrators need to learn that their job is to enable educators to provide the best education. This means, in general, to find the money. Sometimes to obtain the money, an administrator might have to tell the teachers that the quality of the education needs to improve, but the administrator’s role in the pedagogy ends there. We need professional administrators who know how to find and facilitate the growth of educators, administrators who can build the structure to support the intellectual and pedagogical work of teachers. We need them for nothing else. If they are not working to enable teachers to bring higher-quality education to the students of the district, they are worthless, doing nothing more than collecting a welfare check from the taxpayers, and currently, there are many such administrators in our districts.

    Teachers. I’ve already mentioned the need to eliminate tenure. It has to go. Collective bargaining can go as far as I’m concerned too. The training program for teachers needs to be more rigorous. Teachers need to work eight hours a day and at least two hundred days a year. This extra time should not be spent in the classroom, delivering instruction, though, but in collaboration with other teachers so that teachers can develop professionally, learning to create exciting lesson plans that engage students, in working with individual students, and in doing home visits to develop closer relationships with the parents of the students.

    Parents. They need to turn off the television and communicate with their children. They need to read a book. They need to think. They need to believe in the power of knowledge to inspire their children. If we can learn together, discover the truth of what lies within our experience of life, then the future fills up with hope, which is the world we all promised our children when we brought them into being.

    Students. Whatever they need to do, they are going to learn from us, so they need us, people who care enough to want all of them to learn what an incredibly interesting place the world is from the way myosin and actin work together so that our muscles contract, to the way that Shakespeare’s King Lear consoles his daughter to their imprisonment by telling her that in prison, they will take upon them “the mystery of things,” as if they were “God’s spies.” For me this almost a perfect image of education: We are all imprisoned in this life, but it can be a wonderful experience if we learn the mystery of things.

  47. lc Says:


    Feel better now?

  48. Flippin Tired Says:

    Wow, secretaries who have time to play freecell? I’m lucky I get a chance to pee. Lunch is almost always at my desk because the district cut my hours and increased my work load.

  49. Jim Says:

    Michael #46 — Very revealing observations. It is probably not a coincidence that you are able to see these things, and make these connections, because you have experience from outside the bizzaro parallel universe in which public education operates. One of the great misfortunes of our current system is that few people with outside perspectives enter public education, and too many of those who do often flee after experiencing just a few years of the dysfunction and unaccountability so prevalent there. The cultural isolation of public education breeds arrogance and the sense that “no one else can understand what needs to be done”. It also means that some pretty average people are given responsibilities and promoted into roles that are far above what they would ever see elsewhere in the world (MDUSD providing numerous stellar examples, of course).

    But the big question remains: “What is to be done?” Michael, you have suggested that we have fewer administrators and better ones; that we end tenure and perhaps collective bargaining, while improving teacher education; that parents turn off the TV and communicate more with their children, and become more actively engaged in their child’s learning. These changes may all make sense, but how would this happen? Will the people in the system somehow become more responsible, more moral, more intelligent, or more hard-working? How likely is that to happen on a nation-wide (or even district-wide) scale?

    Our educational system is accountable to no one in any conventional sense. It consists of geographically defined district monopolies found in almost no other country in the world. These local monopolies have cultivated a take-it-or-leave-it mentality that breeds cynicism and passivity among educators AND families. Parents and students, who hold the greatest stake in the learning process, have almost no choice in education, unless they can afford to move or enroll in private school. You offer valid observations about what is wrong. But after 30+ years of “reforms” and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, do you think that our current one-size-fits-all approach has any chance at all of delivering what is right?

  50. Michael New Says:

    I’m supposing LC’s comment includes the idea “now that you’ve got it off your chest.” I get it off my chest quite regularly, which is probably why my relationship has been strained with administrators and with other teachers (mostly the older ones). In fact, two years ago, when I began to challenge the idea of a teachers’ union, my relationship with other teachers took a very bad turn, until my health collapsed, and I was out of school for two weeks. these two weeks, while I shivered with a fever, I decided to that mess off my chest by writing a book, which I did, called “The Union Breaker” which is available for Kindle at Amazon.

    I’m not truly sympathetic to Flippin Tired’s workload. My father dug ditches with a spade in the middle of a cold Midwestern winter to buy a potato for our family. When I was in business, I often worked all night long, and anyone who didn’t work at least sixty hours a week was considered a slacker. In this country, t virtue of hard work has been replaced by the desire for entertainment. A successful life has come to be defined by the number of trips to a ball game or by the number of vacations to an island rather than by hard work. The ship of public education in the United States is sinking; if we are not prepared to work through our lunches and to work harder, then it will sink and drown all us rats.

    Jim said much and said it very well. Education has become a bureaucracy. A place where people “do a job” but where real work, in terms of valued added, doesn’t happen. Prior to a change in thought during the early 20th century, brought on by some misreading of John Dewey, teaching was seen as a kind of graduate school, where young people learned more about some subject while teaching it to children. The teacher, after a few years of this, moved into industry, into business. This created a link between education and the real world of economic supply and demand.

    I liked Jim’s point about the “unaccountability” in education. Recently, Deborah Kenny wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal about charter schools, where she spoke of how good teachers want to be held accountable. Only the incompetent don’t want to be held accountable. I wish everyone who wants to would pass through my classroom and question what I’m doing and examine the test scores of my students and read some of their essays. Accountability includes the idea of reckoning, balancing the scale; if I am not doing work of equal value to the wages I’m being paid, I want to know that. I want to earn my way in life; it’s only through earning we deserve anything.

    I like too, “The cultural isolation of public education breeds arrogance and the sense that ‘no one else can understand what needs to be done.’ It also means that some pretty average people are given responsibilities and promoted into roles that are far above what they would ever see elsewhere in the world . . . .” What does Shakespeare say? When the mad lead the blind, the world will be beset by plagues.
    Jim asks a good question: How will this be done? It will be done by teachers, through students. Even if we work very hard, it will probably take a generation, but if we can find the teachers to teach the children, things will change. The children are our hope, and we can only realize that hope through those who educate those children. That’s mostly teachers, but as I’ve said, teachers need to develop closer relationships with the parents so that they can influence parents too.

    Will this affect a district, a city, a state . . . ? In what I first posted here, I brought up the idea of federalism to show the confusion we face on this idea. In a country with a longer, more homogeneous history—I’m thinking of China—maybe every school in the country can be doing the same thing at the same time every day. I’m not sure that’s a good model for the United States. I believe the experience of the formation of the United States entailed the idea of local autonomy. Freedom was such an important concept for people in the colonies. By definition, it seems to me, a democracy means a “city-state.” In ancient Greece, the idea that a Theban was part of the deme of Athens was incomprehensible. I think we should take care of our own school district; if we are successful, then others will follow—and I mean successful in dollars and cents. If communities are to grow wealthier, it will be because of their educational system, and if our educational system really improves that will be seen in economic improvement of the community.

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