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Student protest at De Anza High stirs debate over West Contra Costa school board’s decision not to retain law academy teacher

"Law Academy students at De Anza High protest "

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.

Thank you,
Pamela Fields”

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?

Posted on Monday, March 16th, 2015
Under: Education, Richmond, West Contra Costa school district | 3 Comments »

West County Community High charter denial leaves more than 100 students scrambling to find alternatives

The Contra Costa County Board of Education’s denial of the West County Community High School charter’s renewal petition on Wednesday leaves more than 100 students scrambling to find new schools.

Board President Cynthia Ruehlig said the decision would allow the charter students to attend “better schools,” but some teens, parents staff and community members said afterward that they disagreed.

Although the charter’s test scores were not as high as those in some other district schools, they pointed out that the charter served a high percentage of special education students and others who felt they didn’t fit in on larger campuses.

“A lot of these kids are really scared of where they’re going,” said history teacher Andy Wolverton, before hugging one student goodbye. “A lot of them have been bullied. A lot have been in gangs. They’ve done the public schools. That’s why they came to our school. I just hope they don’t go back to their old lifestyles at their old schools. And that’s the scary thing — keeping them out of gangs. Every student at our school has a story.”

Student Dante Spruit, 17, said he would try to take a high school equivalency test, then attend Contra Costa Community College, with the goal of eventually enrolling in the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. He told me last week that he still had vivid memories of a violent fight he witnessed between two teenage boys when he was in sixth grade at Hercules Middle and High School.

“One had on a white T-shirt and it turned red with blood,” Spruit said. “Everyone was looking. At West County Community High School, I haven’t seen any fights.”

Parent Suzanne Camp said she planned to meet with other parents to discuss options such as online learning.

“We’re facing a situation that’s a crisis for our kids because these students are either too small for their age or there’s some difficulty for them being able to work with these other students at these big schools,” Camp said. “I am, as a desperate parent, looking for solutions for these students who can’t adapt to these congested schools. It’s really difficult to put your kid into a school that’s not safe.”

During the renewal hearing, three parents praised the school’s “loving” environment, in which their students thrived.

“There are kids that need that school that feel welcomed, feel loved and feel safe,” said parent Carlos Casares.

Theresa Padilla echoed these sentiments, saying her son struggled in algebra as a freshman at another school.

“Thank God for West County Community High School,” she said. “With the help of loving staff, he brought his grade from a D to a B. He chose not to return to his first school. ”

Sue Britson said her family selected the charter over El Cerrito High because of the caliber and dedication of teachers, parent involvement, safe environment and staff’s commitment to helping students like her son.

“Richmond is a large community,” she said. “We need places for students who are smart, but have challenges.”

Although trustees were sympathetic to students and parents, they said they could not overlook insufficient budget and curriculum materials submitted in the charter petition. Trustee Pamela Mirabella said she brainstormed with some parents after the meeting about how to meet their children’s needs.

“It is our fear that when a charter goes under like this, you have kids that have to be sent back to the district,” she said. “It disrupts their lives. They just have bonded. You have families that feel they have a loving relationship.”

In response to some who complained about difficulties reaching agreements with the West Contra Costa school district, Mirabella suggested the county could see whether it could provide an avenue for appeals regarding disagreements.

“I let them know that this is a learning experience,” she said. “It’s very sad, but we can do it better next time.”

Camp — who took over as treasurer for the school in February and was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting — told me Thursday that she filed a police report in April regarding discrepancies in the financial reports that could indicate some money was missing. Richmond Police Lt. Bisa French said police were investigating, but no arrests have been made.

Here is a link to a downloadable version of the County’s staff report: https://efudd.cccoe.k12.ca.us/retrieve.php?key=003b48b1fdad5afd5ab0fc31730a74f9

Video clips from the meeting are at http://qik.com/tharrington and http://www.youtube.com/tunedtotheresa.

What alternatives do you think parents should explore?

Posted on Friday, August 17th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education, Richmond, West Contra Costa school district | 3 Comments »

West county kids slam stock exchange with powerful poetry

Bay Area students travel to New York to recite poetry.

Bay Area students travel to New York to recite poetry.

By Theresa Harrington
West Contra Costa County education reporter Shelly Meron wrote Friday about students from Richmond and Pinole who recited their poems at the New Stock Exchange.
Elishama Vallare of Ford Elementary in Richmond read his poem “Devasatation of Povery on the Streets,” and Shannon Chand from Stewart Elementary in Pinole shared her poem “Slavery.” They recited the poems as part of National Poetry Month in April.
The poetry event was organized by America SCORES, an organization that empowers students in urban communities using soccer, writing, creative expression and service learning, Meron reported.
I spoke to Elishama and Shannon today to find out how they got the ideas for their poetry and talk about their trip to New York, which neither of them had visited.
Elishama said he got the idea for his poem because he knows what it’s like to be on the street.
“I had the experience of being a poor person,” said the 11-year-old. “My aunt put us out, so we stayed in a mission for a while.”

Elishama Vallare recites "Devastation of Poverty on the Streets"

Elishama Vallare recites "Devastation of Poverty on the Streets"

Here is his poem:

“Devastation of Poverty on the Streets,” by Elishama Vallare
Did you know almost 39.1 million people in California are poor?
Poor people are older people, children, maybe even families.
On the street, I see gangs, dark mysterious alleys, and as I’m turning a corner
I see a poor man asking for money.
He looks sad, I can tell by the look on his face.
His clothes are tattered with holes.
You may not know what it feels like to be poor.
But I do.
When I was seven years old,
my auntie kicked me, my mom and my 24-month-old baby brother out.
A few days afterwards, we stayed at a mission in Seattle, Washington.
Living in a house with strangers, everyone looks dull without energy.
Strong feelings of frustration because an aggravated lady yells at my mom.
This is my story.
I try to help people who are poor by giving them a buck or two.
So pitch in to help your community!
You might be the one to end poverty in California.
This is it — you can “make the change.”

Although he was a little nervous about reading his poem at first, Elishama said he soon gained his confidence.
“It was like, ‘Okay, I can do this,’” he said. “Afterwards, a lot of people asked me to sign their pamphlets and some people said my poem made them cry.”
The people in the audience received pamphlets with information about the students. Elishama was happy about their reaction.
“It made me feel great inside,” he said, “like I was doing the right thing.”
Shannon, 11, said she enjoys soccer and poetry in the SCORES program. She didn’t find it difficult to write about slavery, she said.
“The subject just popped in my mind and I just started writing,” she said.

Here’s her poem:

“Slavery,” by Shannon Chand.
I have a dozen, or two, of friends.
They all are different colors.
Colors of black, brown, white, and others.
I would never judge on how they look.
Long before I was born, slavery was all over the world.
Slavery was bad.
Slaves were taken from their homes.
They were beaten for no cause.
They died from diseases and the lack of food and water.
They were shoved around, treated badly; creating bruises and chances of dying.
I don’t know how it felt, but I’m positive my ancestors knew slavery was a huge deal.
Martin Luther King Jr. did a lot to save us.
Maybe today we would be suffering with slavery, if it weren’t for him.
We should be proud of ourselves.
Also, we should be happy we aren’t a part of it.

Both children said they plan to write more poetry in the future.
“I like writing,” Elishama said. “It’s something I’m good at.”
How did Elishama and Shannon’s poems make you feel?

Posted on Monday, May 3rd, 2010
Under: Education, Pinole, Richmond, Theresa Harrington | 1 Comment »