The parents and teachers of Calahan Street Elementary school are angry, but that is not the emotion that affected me the most as I sat in on their PTA meeting last night. It was the genuine sadness. The meeting in the school library was standing room only and had the feeling of an intervention. Speaker after speaker expressed how much the school community meant to them and then went on to detail the many problems that they are facing this year. Unfortunately, there was not a happy ending as the subject of the intervention did not agree to take a trip to rehab. They only promised to try not to hurt the community when they went on their next binge.
Many of the stakeholders used the words “our school” when speaking about Calahan. The PTA President describes the school as having a “family atmosphere, amazing teachers and involved parents.” Despite being a Title I school they have raised enough money to fund after school enrichment programs and a PE coach. Believing the promises of the district they became an affiliated charter so that they could have more control. They especially liked this option because it would not negatively affect their teachers the way becoming a full charter would.
The problems at the school started when their long-term Principal suddenly retired within weeks of the start of the school year. When the new interim Principal arrived, she started making changes to make the school conform to district policies. She did so without any communication with the stakeholders. In fact, many of the parents complained that they only heard about these changes through their children. Some parents said that these changes have resulted in children who used to look forward to school now not wanting to go.
The first of the changes seems mundane, but is indicative of how input from and communication with the parents would not have only prevented an escalation of anger and resentment, but would have resulted in a better solution. The incoming Principal felt that the gates near the teachers’ parking lot presented a danger to students so she locked them. Unfortunately, she did not tell the parents so they continued to drop their children off in the same area. This meant that children were in an area deemed dangerous for a longer period of time while they walked around to another gate. As the information was finally circulated to the parents through their children, they dropped off their children at different gates. These were already being used by other parents and resulted in traffic problems.
The school has a history of using field trips to augment their curriculum, but these have become a casualty of conformity. One long-planned trip was indefinitely postponed, with the district blaming the Humboldt bus tragedy as the reason. Apparently, the district did not have the correct permission slips for all of the students involved in the bus accident so they felt the need to cancel an elementary school’s local field trip. They could have salvaged the trip by simply double checking that all of the permission slips were properly in place.
The latest change is the reassignment of a full time Physical Education coach to other full-time duties. Despite the fact that he has filled this role for many years, the district is ending the program because “coach” is not the job description under which he was hired. They also had problems with the fact that the PTA was paying him extra money to be the PE coach while the district was paying him to perform some of his other duties. This is not a rule that the district follows itself as there have historically been some on the senior district staff, including former Superintendent Deasy, who have had their salaries subsidized by outside interests during their tenure.
This problem also brought the most audacious moment of the meeting. Apparently the school’s last API score had dropped and the district official suggested that perhaps this is because the school had focused too much on physical education. This is one more case that proves that the district relies too much on test scores above all else. Previously, he had described the school as a “gem,” so obviously something is working. It also sends a clear message to teachers. Although they are now responsible for PE instruction, it certainly is not a priority for the district.
The school community initiated a Principal search committee, as is their right as an affiliated charter school. They had forwarded two candidates to the district, but it was announced last night that the district had rejected both candidates as “not the right fit for the school.” This went against the purpose of having a local search committee. The district could have found any other reason to reject these candidates, but the purpose of the local search was to find people that the school community felt would fit with their vision and these two had passed.
Although invited, Tamar Galatzan did not attend the meeting. Perhaps this is because she could not use her canned speech about how Title I schools are stealing all of your funding and this is why you have to use fundraisers to buy toilet paper. This school is Title I and is obviously not flush with money. These parents are also forced to raise funds, but within a community where these funds are harder to come by. She did send her Chief of Staff, Barbara Jones. Unfortunately, her only input to the meeting was to ask at the end what the parents specific complaints were. I thought that they had made them quite clear.