Student protest at De Anza High stirs debate over West Contra Costa school board’s decision not to retain law academy teacher
A protest last week at De Anza High in the West Contra Costa school district over the board’s decision not to renew Law Academy teacher Tahitia Dean’s contract prompted the following response from the district:
“WCCUSD is committed to recruiting and retaining the best teachers for our students. California law provides that new teachers have a two-year probationary period. During that time, teachers are evaluated and must meet the California Standards for the Teaching Profession, which include six dimensions of professional service. Teachers may excel at some components of professional practices while needing to develop in others. Students and parents may observe many, but not all, aspects of these professional standards whereas principals must evaluate all of them. The probationary period is designed to reinforce teachers in their areas of strengths and support teachers in areas where they fall short of the standards. If, however, they are not meeting all of the standards by March 15 of the second year of probation, the District, at the recommendation of the principal, issues a notice of non-re-election for the following year.
While we value and respect the opinions of our students and parents, the ultimate responsibility for evaluating teachers lies with the principal and the District. The District does not and cannot legally review staff performance in public or share the specific reasons that particular teachers are not recommended for tenure, which is awarded at the end of the second year. The process is thorough, comprehensive and aligned with all of the California teaching standards. The District requires principals to non-re-elect teachers when, in the judgment of the principal, teachers do not meet all components of those six standards. Throughout the District, 16 teachers from various schools have received notice of non-re-election for the 2015-16 school year. While the timing, coming so early in the year, is unfortunate, it is essential that the District hold high standards for professional practice in all six areas before conferring tenured status to teachers.”
Here is a link to more information about the teaching standards: http://www.ctc.ca.gov/educator-prep/standards/CSTP-2009.pdf
But some students and parents question whether there may be other factors contributing to the principal’s decision not to recommend Dean for tenure.
Here is a letter to the school board from one De Anza HS parent outlining her concerns about the process for dismissing Dean, which I am posting below, with her permission
“Sent: Sunday, March 15, 2015 8:02 PM
Subject: Issues at DeAnza High School
Dear Board Members,
I am writing you based on the assumption that you have never been fully informed on events pertinent to the renewal of Miss Dean’s contract at De Anza High School. I have to believe this to be true as it is the only viable explanation as to why you did not at the very least review Miss Dean’s case before rubber stamping Principal Evan’s recommendation. I will keep this email as brief as possible. Please give me the benefit of the doubt as I am giving you the benefit of the doubt, read this entire email and trust that any details given are pertinent.
Also, please know that although I am writing to you as a singular person, my views are shared by many parents and students at De Anza, as witnessed by our protest last Monday. Also know that the events I am going to detail for you regarding Miss Dean have moved this from a plea to renew one exceptional teachers contract, to a movement to change what we have found as a system that allows for an abuse of power with no accountability for those who are making recommendations to the board regarding probationary teachers employment.
In order to paint the entire picture I need to go back to April of last year. Miss Dean and Miss Rivera accompanied 8 children on a trip to Washington DC and New York during spring break. My daughter Madelyn, a junior at the time, was the only child to participate who was not in the law academy. As such, I did not know anything about Miss Dean. When I picked up Madelyn and another child from the airport they informed me that two girls on the trip were rude and disrespectful most of the trip. Miss Dean and Miss Rivera disciplined these children who then called their parents to complain about it. Those parents in turn sent threatening texts to the two teachers. They then went to the district, fabricated stories about Miss Dean and began a campaign of lies with the express intent of getting her fired. I was informed by my daughter that Miss Dean was escorted off of campus the Monday after school resumed. Tuesday, I had a meeting with Mr. Evans. He told me that the matter was completely out of his hands and in those of the district. He assured me that he was interviewing all 8 children. When I asked if he would be giving my statement and theirs to the district he assured me he would. After a week or so of hearing nothing form Mr Evans or the district, I began soliciting the district for answers but getting none. I and a few others continued to put pressure on the district. A month or so after Miss Dean was escorted off the school grounds she returned to class. I assumed everyone had come to their senses, but learned she was back only until the end of the school year as her contract had not been renewed. I believed the district knew we would assume she was going to be back the following year and never imagined that we would find out otherwise.
Mr. Evans continued to assert he had no influence on the decision not to bring Miss Dean back. So we had a meeting with Adam Taylor. Mr. Evans chose not to attend. After about a half hour expressing our very strong opinions about the situation, Mr Taylor informed us that in fact, it was not the district, but the sight managers decision. Mr. Evans decision. He was brought in and asked why he lied to us for nearly two months about his role in Miss Deans employment. We were never answered. As disturbing as that was, it was equally disturbing that Mr. Taylor claimed that the allegations against Miss Dean by these two sets of parents were being investigated. However the district never reached out to any of the other parents or the students that were on the trip. Nor did they reach out to Miss Rivera. Mr. Taylor was suppose to get back to us on how that could be so, but never did so. Miss Dean was offered her job back about a half an hour after that meeting ended. Never imagining in my wildest dreams that less than a year later, I would once again be forced to fight for her job, which in essence is our children’s access to one of the best teachers at De Anza, I let both Mr. Evans and Mr. Taylor off the hook and went on with my life.
So less than a year later we find ourselves here. I am assuming you do know the details surrounding controversy of the children’s emails to Nancy Schiff the director of The Center for Youth Development. You do know that many parents and students believe Mr. Evans decision not to renew her contract is retaliation for those emails. I am not going to assume that you know about a meeting that parents, students and Miss Dean held Friday night February 27th which about 100 people attended including and unexpectedly Mr. Evans and Mr. Taylor. Parents spoke about Miss Deans positive effect on their children. The children spoke about the impact Miss Dean has had on their lives. Some crying and bringing parents to tears in the process.
It was after this meeting that Adam Taylor told us we needed to attend the school board meeting on 3/4. He also informed the parents that what we thought really did not matter and we should have the kids speak. Many of us are very curious as to whether or not it is a district policy that our voices do not matter, or just his policy. The children expressed fear of retaliation if they were to speak at this meeting. Mr. Taylor then turned to Mr. Evans and instructed him not to retaliate. A directive that certainly adds credibility to the belief that there was in fact retaliation to the letters written to Ms. Schiff.
Now here is what I believe based on the incidents that occurred last year in conjunction with those that occurred this year. In addition to some political power plays, I believe there is a personality conflict between Mr. Evans and Miss Dean. I believe that Mr. Evans has decided to put his own self interests ahead of the students of De Anza and get rid of what he perceives as a thorn in his side. I believe he never intended to bring her back. I believe that anyone in the district who knows or suspects this to be true is derelict in their obligations to the students and parents of De Anza and are complicit in letting this happen. I believe Adam Taylor is one of those persons, and if he is not giving you the entire story, his continued employment at the district should be questioned.
Furthermore, it seems the criteria for evaluating whether or not a teachers contract is renewed is subjective. So maybe that criteria should be reevaluated. Or better yet, how about reevaluating whether or not the person interpreting criteria is capable of putting aside his personal aspirations and feelings and is capable of doing what is best for the children. If any teacher present or future is able to increase their students grades from D’s and F’s to A’s and B’s and has community support but still do not have their contract renewed by the principal and the district, then I can only conclude that there is a systemic problem within the district.
Here is what I want to see happen. I believe I am speaking for many of us involved:
Revisit the renewal of Miss Deans contract.
Find out why the allegations against last year were never investigated.
Form a committee of parents and district representatives to come up with a procedure where parents and students voices will be heard before important decisions that effect their children’s education will be made, and where teachers can come without fear of retaliation.
Investigate whether or not there were other instances of the pushing out of good teachers at all WCCS high schools.
In closing I will tell you that as a tax payer and a parent, I expect to be taken seriously. When I went to bat for Miss Dean last year, I had no skin in this game. My daughter was not in the law academy and her eduction was not going to be effected personally. But I knew what was happening was wrong. Mr. Evans and Mr. Taylor can attest to the fact that I am tenacious when I perceive that there is a wrong to be righted. I will inform you now that I do have skin in this game. My son will be attending De Anza next year as a freshman. Before hearing those students speak at the meeting I was going to let him decide what academy he would be in. Now I have made the decision that it will be the law academy if Miss Dean is teaching. So I am not about to let this go. I am hopeful that now that you have the facts, you will attempt to regain our trust.
It’s my understanding that Fields, other parents and some students may speak during public comment about this at Wednesday’s board meeting.
How do you think the school district should respond to the concerns being raised by students and parents?