Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why are Serra High School teachers afraid of Sally Smith? Are they paranoid or could they actually lose their jobs?

Junipero Serra High School

See all posts on this issue.

I believe that administrators have failed the teachers of Serra High. (See my post on SDUSD general counsel Mark Bresee.) Teachers have a right to know exactly where they stand, and not live in fear that maybe their boss thinks they're not doing the right thing. One problem is that there is no real evaluation system for teachers. Evaluations are very subjective and based on minimal observations. Teachers should be observed by professionals from outside the school, and they should be given precise feedback about their performance.

Also, the district should provide teachers with specific rules about fees, and those rules should be district-wide, not just based on which school received a parent complaint.


Administrators and unions and teacher culture don't encourage teachers to engage in open, honest communication with anyone: not parents, not students and certainly not other teachers. They might say they do, but teachers and principals know that district superintendents and other officials, including the board, want them to keep a low profile. They know that the sound that officials love to hear is the sound of silence.

It is not surprising that the teachers at Serra High are clueless as to how to solve problems. They think if they band together they become untouchable; this is part of the delusion of mob psychology. But the board should hear their demands as a cry for help. The board should show some leadership at Serra High School. I feel sorry for the principal. He knows that if he doesn't support the teachers they will turn on him.

I agree with the eight speakers at SDUSD's recent board meeting that the board should do something about Sally Smith's complaints about Serra High School. But the board should not simply silence Smith as the speakers wish; it should discuss the complaints in a public forum.

One of the questions that should be asked is, "Why do these staff members claim to fear they might lose their jobs?" It could be paranoia, or it could be that they are really just angry and don't want to admit it. They want to appear as victims. That's what happened at Castle Park Elementary.

The teachers at Castle Park Elementary became so drunk with power, thanks to the legal tactics of the same attorney Mark Bresee who is giving advice at Serra High School, that they went out of control. Well, they'd been out of control even before Mark Bresee helped them cover up criminal activity.

Marsha Sutton

Teachable Moments: SD Unified considers ways to bring in money
By Marsha Sutton, SDNN
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

...Eight speakers - three staff members, three parents and two students - addressed the board during public comment to ask trustees for assistance in ending what they called the bullying by Serra High School parent Sally Smith of teachers and students.

Teacher Joe Schmidt said Smith has created an “atmosphere of fear” at Serra with “baseless” concerns and complaints. “It is time we take our school back,” he said.

Counselor Susan Skinner called Smith’s complaints frivolous, and physical education teacher Lorene Dabney, in tears, said Smith is “ruining the programs that support students.”

[Maura Larkins' note: Lorene Dabney is likely the Serra High staff person with initials "LD" who recently advised Sally Smith's daughter that it would be appropriate for her to look for another school to attend.]

Senior Lexie Ryan, a member of the School Site Council, said the school suffers from a “hostile environment that Ms. Smith has helped create.” To board members, she said, “You are elected to help the students.”

[Maura Larkins' note: The board is also elected to obey the law.]

Parents said the problems go beyond Smith’s zeal to eliminate illegal parent fees for programs that must be provided at no charge. They described “a culture of fear and intimidation” and said teachers “live in fear” as a result of Smith’s “harassing emails and threats.”

One parent told trustees, “It is your duty to protect us.”

Board members made no comment, although Nakamura thanked the Serra speakers for addressing the board. Serra High School is in Nakamura’s sub-district.


Parent Representatives
Ed Harris
Martha Morena

Mike Jimenez, Principal
Jann Allen- Counselor
Suzie Fore, Math
Mike Morales- Math
Matt Medina- Math
Keri Pisapia, Special Education (PHOTO BELOW)

[Wait a minute. Do we have a bit of nepotism going on here? Is Keri Pisapia related in any way to
John Pisapia, the Athletic Director, who has been very involved in getting rid of Sally Smith? Did Keri Pisapia recuse herself from the vote on Sally Smith?]


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a Sally Smith supporter wrote this article....Maybe the person who wrote this should sit down with a few people to get the facts. Sally Smith's propaganda strikes again...

Maura Larkins said...

Dear Anonymous:
I'd love to hear some facts. Would you be willing to post some facts here?

Anonymous said...

Just another bogus article written by a Sally supporter...So childish ....Now stooping to a new low putting pictures on the internet & bashing teachers & administrators that care for children. Does it make you feel proud? Leave our principal & school alone & get a life.

Anonymous said...

Pathetic...Really? Where are all the other pictures of those that voted Sally off the SSC? & the 50 + people in that room that supported the vote. How sad that you would pick on two fantastic teachers. Does posting pictures of good teachers & making bogus comments about them make you feel good? How sad?

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you have the facts and yet still have the need to want to find something wrong in this situation. Do you understand that these people have lives and are devoted to helping students regardless of the situation. If you want to sling mug, find something more important to discuss, for example, budget cuts in the district and state wide reductions in teachers that directly effect the teaching environment. In the mean time, I was wondering, do you have permission from the teachers that you posted to put their pictures on your website? How about the photographers permission? Just wondering.

Maura Larkins said...

John Pisapia injected himself into the public discussion of Sally Smith's ouster when he spoke to a reporter at SDNN; his statements were published in this article.

Here's part of the article:

However, the school’s athletic director, Jonn Pisapia, and at least one parent, complained that the real issue is that Smith laughed at a student when the student struggled to express her view that it was unfair to impose fees that would eliminate popular programs.

In an email dated Dec. 7, after last month’s Serra SSC meeting, Pisapia wrote, “I am concerned with the conduct that I witnessed today at the SSC meeting that was held in the media center. Students brought to the table concerns that they had and while doing so one of the students was laughed and snickered at by Mrs. Smith. The student was speaking on something near and dear to her heart. These students are not only speaking for themselves but for many students and are trying to understand the process and the events that are taking place around them. …

“I found it disturbing and I have large concerns about an adult that would laugh at a student while she is getting emotional and putting her thoughts together.”

Smith responded to Pisapia the next day, saying, “Your email is unwarranted. You misinterpreted my reaction to the senior expressing her dismay about the law which requires the school to fund extracurricular activities. She stated, ‘Why are adults bringing up this law now?’ As a senior, she should, by now, understand that it is every citizen’s responsibility to obey the law. She was upset because somebody brought up this law and it’s going to affect students’ activities. As athletic director, yourself and the principal should have been honest with the students and stated that it is the responsibility of the school to fully fund these activities.”

Mr. Pisapia's wife injected herself into this public issue when she ran for site council of a public school and then voted to have a lawfully elected school site council member ejected.

It seems clear that Keri Pisapia's husband was very personally involved in a dispute with the ejected site council member. I think it is a legitimate question whether Mrs. Pisapia should have recused herself from the vote. What do you think about this question?

I have no personal involvement with any of the players in this drama. I've never met Sally Smith, and in fact the issue of schools charging fees isn't one that interests me much. Two things that do interest me are (1) the people who control schools and (2) whether schools obey the law.

The photos of the Pisapias are from a public website of a public entity, and are therefore public domain.

I have no doubt that the Pisapias are fine teachers and that they have many supporters in their efforts to silence Sally Smith.

But public schools are public entities, and even the most popular teachers are subject to the law.

Anonymous said...

Maura, These individuals that you are bashing have lives, children, & careers with children. Please give them the courtesy & respect they deserve. These folks are busy helping children grow & succeed in life. Take the time to see it with your own eyes. Maybe then you would realize why so many are hurt.

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute...Is Maura Larkins related in any way to Sally a plaintiff/petitioner in Almond vs Chula Vista Elementary School District case # GIC783495 dated 2/20/2002....?

Maura Larkins said...

The CVESD teacher named Sally Smith who sued CVESD along with a long list of other part-time teachers in 2002 is a different individual from the parent activist Sally Smith. The lawsuit was about teacher pay.

Maura Larkins said...

P.S. I was not involved in the above lawsuit.

P.P.S. Does "respect and courtesy" mean staying silent and allowing public employees to act in any way they wish simply because they are paid to take care of children?

Public employees have a duty to the public since they are paid by the public to take care of our most precious resource, our children.

Maura Larkins said...

I believe that administrators have failed the teachers of Serra High. Teachers have a right to know exactly where they stand, and not live in fear that maybe their boss thinks they're not doing the right thing. One problem is that there is no real evaluation system for teachers. Evaluations are very subjective and based on minimal observations. Teachers should be observed by professionals from outside the school, and they should be given precise feedback about their performance. Also, the district should provide teachers with specific rules about fees, and those rules should be district-wide, not just based on which school received a parent complaint.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the teachers at Serra are not afraid of losing their jobs. They are afraid of receiving more complaints from a parent who cannot seem to follow the 'complaint process', by going to the teacher first.
Your comment about teacher evaluations doesn't seem to be the issue here. My understanding is that the administration and teachers worked together to try and resolve the issues with the parent, but the resolution didn't get very far. The parent continued to complain. The complaints seemed to be about very small issues that could have been resolved with a simple meeting over a cup of coffee, but instead, the parent went around the teacher. Weird!
So to say this has something to do with observations and evaluations is very odd to me.

Jazzoo said...

Dear Mrs. Larkins
What happened when a teacher acted so negatively towards a student that has an IEP on ADD to the point that the students is scared and uncomfterble in class

Maura Larkins said...

Dear Anonymous:
What exactly are teachers afraid of, then? Why is there fear involved?
Maura Larkins

Maura Larkins said...

Dear Anonymous:
You seem to be saying that teachers are afraid of a parent going directly to the principal without talking to them first. That could be irritating, certainly, but you haven't explained why teachers claim to be afraid.
Maura Larkins

Maura Larkins said...

Dear Jazzoo:
Good question, and very germane to this discussion about a parent who was ejected from elected office for allegedly laughing at a student. Basically, both the teachers union and the district support teachers who are harsh, even vindictive, toward kids. Open hostility toward students is not only tolerated, it is a badge of honor among many powerful teachers. In many teachers lounges there seems to be a contest going as to who can make the most damning statements about his or her own students. My union president, Gina Boyd, told me proudly that kids had a saying: "Avoid Boyd." It's fine for a teacher not to smile much, and to impose reasonable consequences for failure to meet reasonable standards, but some teachers seem to have emotional problems that result in destructive behavior toward the students they are being paid to help. Addressing this issue would go a long way toward fixing the dropout problem.

Anonymous said...

From my understanding, the fear came from the personal attacks that accompanied the complaints. Not only would there be a complaint about something small, like what a teacher may(or may not) have said, but there would be accusations of unprofessionalism, and inappropriate behavior by a teacher that supposedly did not occur. Information seemed to be twisted. If someone is being accused of something they didn't do, then you would think they're in the clear because they are innocent. But if it creates an illusion of misconduct and bad behavior, and their character is in question (practically a defemation)I think it can cause them to be afraid of what others will think of them, like their boss or their superintendent (who really doesn't know everyone), especially if it is portrayed in the media that way. Teachers have to answer to a lot of people above and around them.
After answering to one complaint, another one would follow. Stress, anxiety, hostility, and yes...annoyance probably took place.
I understand that not knowing who was watching or listening in to the teachers and reporting back to the parent was causing a sort of paranoia within the school. What ever 'spies' there around, were taking information back to the parent to be twisted and placed into a complaint. That can't be proved, but it seemed to be happening. That can cause fear.

Maura Larkins said...

Dear Anonymous:
Thank you for clarifying the situation. But if there are accusations swirling around, then it seems my idea of a full and fair investigation is a good one, no? Surely we don't want to simply silence complaints about people who take care of children. The evil is in the secrecy, and I thank you for breaking out of the secrecy. But also I must say that if people are worrying what the superintendent will think, it sure does sound like they are worried about losing their jobs. It seems my statement about the need for an investigation was correct.

Anonymous said...

Yes, your idea of a fair investigation is a good one, since there shouldn't be anything to hide. Everyone has a right to complain, but I also think that going directly to the source of a complaint (like going to the teacher) instead of going to the supervisors would be an even better soloution. Things could get resolved a lot faster.

Anonymous said...

Whoever complained about posting pictures on the internet - The school takes and posts the pictures of all teachers on the school website already. If you're a teacher and you don't like having your picture taken then just don't work at Serra. It's policy. It's also a stupid thing to complain about when there are so many other things wrong with the education system that actually matter. Stay on point people.

Anonymous said...

Other than you Maura, doesn't seem to be a lot of support on her for Ms. Smith.

Maura Larkins said...

Dear Anonymous:
I support open government. You seem to think this is a popularity contest, and of course, that's exactly what Mrs. Smith's opponents are trying to conduct. This tactic is all too typical in San Diego county schools. When the law is inconvenient, adults in schools tend to rely on whipping themselves into an angry mob instead of taking appropriate political action. They try to silence opposition instead of working to create a legitimate solution to a problem. The goal seems to be to keep everything exactly the same, no matter how illegal it might be. This is a terrific opportunity to teach kids how our government should work. Instead, Serra adult leaders are teaching kids to ignore the law and silence opposition.

umad? said...

Sally Smith= silly no life, butt hurt old woman, that gets a kick out of causing drama :D

Maura Larkins said...

To Umad,
It sounds like you are angry and you're in the mood for a bit of name-calling. But I'm willing to consider the specific names you've chosen to apply to Sally Smith, who has had a huge impact on San Diego schools through her campaign to eliminate illegal fees charged to students.

First, let me say that for a long time I stayed off the school fees bandwagon. In fact, I'm still not a big fan of eliminating all fees. But it's the law. The law must be obeyed. Anyone who doesn't like it should organize opposition to the LAW, not to an individual who insists that the law be obeyed.

Second, I have been a strong supporter of Sally's right to voice her complaints about problems in schools ever since I first read about her in a news story. She has the law on her side on this issue, too. I have a feeling you don't much like the First Amendment, but it's the 1st item on the Bill of Rights for a good reason: it's the basis of our democracy. I'm very much on the bandwagon to support the Constitution.

Finally, let's consider your epithets.

"Silly" is, well, silly. You wouldn't be so mad if Smith's complaints were silly. You're mad because her complaints are not silly.

You've hit on one I never heard before. "Butt hurt"? Where did you come up with that one? Did one your classier friends teach it to you, or did it bubble up from your own mind?

"Old" is another winner. You must be trying to tell us that you are younger than Smith, since Smith is not old. Are you a student? If you are a teenager, that would explain your problems with articulating your thoughts. Are you a cheerleader or athlete angry about the difficulties of funding your extracurricular activities? Why don't you get involved politically regarding the issues that upset you? Or perhaps you are the parent of a teenager. Either way, I hope you develop some new vocabulary in the coming years.

The fear of "causing drama" is typical of girl culture. Girls and women should keep a low profile, right? Go along to get along? Of course, we like people who cause drama when they fight for something we like. Women who fought for the right to vote were held in contempt a century ago, but now they are heroes. Drama is necessary in a democracy, and our failing schools certainly need a little drama in order for any reform to happen.

I think there should be a lot less secrecy and a lot more open, honest dialogue in schools. I hope you'll comment again, and tell us your opinion regarding specific issues that upset you.