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Unrest at Hercules Middle High School raises questions about the responsiveness of West Contra Costa school district leadership

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, May 5th, 2014 at 12:50 pm in Education, Hercules, West Contra Costa school district.

Hercules Police School Resource Officers patrol Hercules Middle HIgh School

Hercules Police School Resource Officers patrol Hercules Middle HIgh School

In response to a story published Saturday about unrest at Hercules Middle High School, I was copied on the following e-mail from West Contra Costa district resident Georgio Cosentino to Ken Whittemore, the district’s assistant superintendent for Human Resources. I am posting the e-mail with Cosentino’s permission to allow West Contra Costa school district students, parents, educators and community members the opportunity to comment on the issue of teacher exit interviews and whistle-blowing, as well as the larger issues addressed in the story.

“Hi Ken,

Recently, I asked you about the status of teacher exit interviews, whether or not they were being performed and what was being done with the information. You said that they are conducted, that you, as Director of Human Resources, have the results. I think this information needs to be made public to the taxpayer on a quarterly or yearly basis. I read the CC Times article today about the situation regarding Hercules Middle High School and it mentions a teacher resigning because of being mistreated by kids (and staff?). We need to know with what frequency this sort of thing is occurring. If possible, I will seek to have such interviews also given to a parent oversight committee.

I also think a review of the teacher whistle blower procedure/policy is also in order. The current whistleblower policy directs the teacher to report complaints to the WCCUSD district office. This is very risky for the teacher as the WCCUSD is the employer of the teacher. This same policy does mention the County and State Department of Ed as options, too. These entities are more appropriate, that the option of district office should be eliminated. As a state employee, I am told to report my complaints and concerns to the Bureau of State Audits, not to my employer.

Please consider developing a mechanism that will provide us with the exit interview data, Ken. I also ask that you have all exit interview documentation in order for audit via the Public Records Request mechanism. Although such interviews are confidential, names and other personal information can be redacted. The voice of the teacher must be heard by all of us. I will share this suggestion at the next board meeting in observation of teacher appreciation month.

Thanks for giving my suggestions any consideration you can, Ken. Take care.

Giorgio Cosentino”

Do you believe the West Contra Costa school district is adequately addressing issues raised at Hercules Middle High School?

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11 Responses to “Unrest at Hercules Middle High School raises questions about the responsiveness of West Contra Costa school district leadership”

  1. tmharrington Says:

    Dan Romero said he has also been saying privately to district officials for quite some time that it was too big a job for one principal.
    I have also received a comment from someone alleging that sixth-graders are not being challenged and that some students and parents may seek charters as alternatives. Even Romero sent his own children to Pinole Valley HS.
    Regarding Taylor: After the Gutierrez fight, he assured me that administrators were in the process of investigating Jewlyes’ claims of bullying. He said the parents were called the same day the bullying was reported. But, Guteirrez’ mother told me that wasn’t true. She said parents weren’t called until after the fight and after the students were suspended. Jen Bender also told me that all incidents of bullying are “investigated.” But, Gutierrez’ frustration was that the “investigation” was taking days to accomplish. Meanwhile, the bully was right back in class continuing the bullying behavior. And the teacher apparently just stood by and did nothing.
    It is up to Taylor to take charge of the training of students and staff. But, so far, very little training has taken place. Even Bender told me she didn’t speak at the multicultural rally because she didn’t want to confuse students by giving them a message that might be different from the message of the “No Place for Hate” campaign. But, that campaign doesn’t start until next fall. So, in the meantime, there doesn’t appear to be a cohesive message.

  2. tmharrington Says:

    FYI, here’s the official June 3 ballot language for WCCUSD Measure H, seeking $270 million in Prop. 39 construction bond funding:

  3. tmharrington Says:

    Speaking of teachers, here’s a story about the Antioch district’s tentative agreement with its teachers’ union:

  4. tmharrington Says:

    FYI, the County Board of Education has appointed a retired SRVUSD teacher to fill the vacancy left by the death of Board President Ellen Elster:

  5. tmharrington Says:

    FYI, here is a new blog post taking a closer look at graduation and dropout rates in Contra Costa County:

  6. Giorgio C Says:

    Hercules has not seen much evidence of representation by the school board. When I previously told trustee Todd Groves that I thought we needed a district or ward representative, he said things seemed ok in Hercules, that the scores looked good, but that Richmond had much more pressing issues. I agree with him that the situation in Richmond requires more attention than our situation in Hercules. Todd has made himself available to Hercules and has visited, so this is greatly appreciated. For the past couple of years, we were told that the WCCUSD board designated a liaison to Hercules, that being trustee Madeline Kronenberg. Honestly, I haven’t seen her here in a couple of years, including town hall meetings, etc. Can you contact her and seek clarification as to what the duties of “liaison” entail? With so much going on here in Hercules and not having a trustee from Hercules, the role of liaison might be more critical. Currently, the most help we have received that I can see if from Councilman Dan Romero. who is helping our School Site Councils get some support with respect to lacking protocol, etc. I can’t tell you how great it was to see our Councilman on TV talking about having Hercules science competition winners present at the City Council. He then showed up at a Site Council meeting at Lupine Elementary School. Outwardly, it appears we have more representation from a City Councilman than we do from our Hercules liaison. Again, if you could seek clarification on this, that would be great. Thanks, Theresa!

  7. tmharrington Says:

    It’s interesting that there are board liaisons to cities in WCCUSD. That is not the case in MDUSD. I have spoken to Dan Romero and found him to be very interested in the schools. He is on the city’s education subcommittee. Many cities don’t even have education subcommittees. He also told me he went to another event at an elementary school and that parents were very happy to see him there. He has called on the board to host a forum for Hercules MHS students and parents, but has been met with resistance. Instead, the district has promised to seek parent input into selection of the new principals, but I haven’t heard how that is going. Please be aware that Hercules MHS is also undergoing a WASC review. The committee’s comments are expected in the next month, so stay tuned.
    I can ask about the city liaison roles, but I assume they are similar to all other liaison roles, where some trustees take them more seriously than others. I have also heard that no board members have been attending CBOC meetings.
    Hercules Councilman Bill Kelly was recently appointed to the CBOC, so Hercules definitely is taking an active role in district activities. And with Dan Romero signing the ballot argument against Measure H, it will be interesting to see if that will change the board’s relationship to the city council. There is supposedly a joint board-city council meeting being planned, but there has been no date scheduled, as far as I know.
    Please also be aware that the district’s new PIO Marcus Walton is actively trying to improve the district’s transparency and responsiveness.
    I was very interested to see Ken Whittemore’s recent response to your e-mail questioning his comments regarding your PRA “ticking off” some staff members. The district’s staff may need to be educated in its responsibility to be accountable to the public.

  8. Giorgio C Says:

    Other cities might not have liaisons or City Council education subcommittees, but are these cities part of large school districts like the WCCUSD, with an at-large school board? I don’t think Hercules has ever elected someone to the board, yet another district city, El Cerrito, has on two occasions had 3 elected representatives on the board. What SHOULD school board representation look like? I think Councilman Kelly will do a good job on the CBOC, but he has a lot on his plate. Regarding the absence of board members at the CBOC, maybe this is a good thing. Their presence might overshadow the CBOC itself. As for KW’s response to my email, I have not read it yet. I figure I’ll wait until Monday, instead of letting it taint my weekend. I think I made my point and I’ll do so again at next week’s board meeting.

  9. tmharrington Says:

    Yes. MDUSD has no city liaisons and I believe that only Pleasant Hill has an education commission. I’m not sure if any of the city councils in MDUSD have education subcommittees.
    I was interested in your response to Ken Whittemore. Parents should be informed about School Site Council meetings. As I have mentioned, the district’s new PIO Marcus Walton is working to ensure that the district is transparent and responsive. Perhaps he would be receptive to your suggestions for improving communication with the public.

  10. Doctor J Says:

    WCCUSD & MDUSD are likely candidates for the ACLU to impose voting districts because of the disparity in populations. At the SBE last week some waivers were granted to avoid costly elections to impose voter districts .

  11. g. de la verdad Says:

    P. Hill has an Ed Commission, but rest assured, Bay Point MAC is taking care of business in that regard. They got a Keller grant to help provide crossing guards — something MDUSD couldn’t quite see as a necessary expenditure, even though they rerouted kids across major roads and highways.

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