Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees President Bob Weaver confirmed Wednesday that an investigation will be launched into Crowell Elementary School Principal Linda Alaniz and her ability to handle problems at the troubled campus.
On Tuesday, dozens of Crowell teachers and their supporters held a silent yet powerful protest before the TUSD Board of Trustees meeting. During the ensuing public comment period, current and former teachers listed their problems with Alaniz and said they wanted her removed.
“We heard what they had to say, and it certainly needs to be looked into,” Weaver said. “Everyone has a right to due process, and it might not happen as quickly as some people would like, and everyone has the right to confidentiality. These allegations are not being ignored, and there will be an investigation. At this time no timeline has been established, but the board will be updated on the progress of the investigation.”
The teachers were upset regarding Alaniz’s recent decision to move 12 teachers to new grade levels. Seven of the teachers filed grievances with the Turlock Teachers Association.
The seven teachers, who total 133 years of experience at their respective grade levels, maintain that moving teachers to new grades is counterproductive. They say the shift would affect their ability to provide adequate instruction to students, especially during the district-wide transition to Common Core.
Alaniz deferred comment on the situation to TUSD Superintendent Sonny Da Marto, who defended the reassignments.
“Alaniz based 2014-2015 staffing decisions on meeting the educational needs of students at Crowell,” Da Marto said in an e-mailed statement. “Her primary goal was to develop a staffing plan with the specific intent to develop strong teams of teachers at every grade level. In doing so, Ms. Alaniz considered teachers' strengths in content and instruction, needs of the grade level, and prior experience – while being mindful of not moving any teacher more than two grade levels.”
Da Marto went on to state that the reassignments would not affect in-classroom instruction.
“Moving a teacher up or down a grade level should have little to no effect on their Common Core State Standards understanding, because the shifts are the same across all grade levels and the design of the standards spiral towards the same anchor standards, creating a common language,” Da Marto said.
Turlock Teacher’s Association President Julie Shipman disagreed with Da Marto’s opinion.
“It’s insane, and there is no logical reason for it,” Shipman said. “All year these teachers have been preparing for the Common Core Implementation. Almost every one of the 12 teachers, which represents one-third of the teachers at Crowell, have zero experience teaching at their newly assigned grade level. How is taking experienced teachers and placing them in a new grade level where they have no experience in the best interest of the students? Don’t kids have a right to knowledgeable teachers?”
According to the teachers, the reassignment was just the latest in a number of ongoing problems at the school.
In March, Alaniz came under heavy scrutiny after a first grade student stabbed another student in the throat with a pencil. The victim’s father says Alaniz ignored numerous complaints about bullying. After the story came to light, dozens of parents publicly complained about bullying at the school and a lack of response from Alaniz.
Weaver admitted he began hearing about problems with Alaniz as a result of the stabbing incident that occurred in March.
Just weeks later, Alaniz was again under fire when she attempted to discipline a classified employee, Deirdra Martinez, for making a comment in support of an autistic student on social media.
Martinez says she feels Alaniz should be terminated because of intimidation tactics, including attempting to force her to sign a write-up infraction in front of students and other staff members. She says she also had a run-in with Alaniz after requesting time off to tend to her child, who was injured in an accident. According to Martinez, Alaniz requested her child’s birth certificate in order to prove the legitimacy of a notice of absence from a doctor.
“I don't believe the staff is the problem,” Martinez said. “This many staff having issues can only mean it's the administration that's the issue, not all the staff, in my opinion. I've worked for the district going on 7 years and I came from Wakefield where I never had any issues whatsoever. I experienced unfair treatment almost the minute I arrived at Crowell.”
Numerous other current and former teachers shared Martinez’s opinion of Alaniz and the request to have her terminated.
On Tuesday Sally Dickinson, a Crowell teacher with 15 years of experience said she has elected to leave TUSD because of working conditions under Alaniz.
“I have worked since I was 14 years old and I understand what it means to have a boss, given directions as an employee and how to work as a team member,” she said. “I have tendered my resignation because in all my years of working, never have I been treated so poorly as an employee, much less a human being. Crowell has become a toxic learning environment I can no longer stand, and I can no longer wait for something to be done about it.”
A former Crowell teacher and a National Board Certified Teacher, Kathleen Kennedy, who holds a Master’s Degree in Curriculum Development, also addressed the trustees Tuesday. She said that, on one occasion, when she asked for several unruly students to be removed from her classroom, Alaniz screamed at her in front of some of her students and told her that the student’s parents hated her.
Kennedy says she retired two years ago after 23 years of teaching because of Alaniz.
And another former Crowell teacher and current owner of PCR Baseball, Lance Boullion, says he also left teaching after dealing with Alaniz. He explained that he left over two years ago because he was moved from his designated grade level.
“When I saw some of these teachers I used to work with, I asked them how were things at Crowell,” he said. “And all of them looked around before they said anything. That is fear. In history, fear and intimidation only last so long until a revolt happens, and that is what is happening here tonight. How many good teachers are worth one principal?”
Several trustees said they were disturbed by the teachers’ reports.
“As you know, I cannot speak to personnel matters,” said Trustee Jennifer Carter. “However, there is nothing more important to me as a trustee and parent than having a cohesive and engaging environment for our students and employees that stimulates learning. The message was received, and we are looking into the situation.”
Trustee Deborah Martin admitted the board has had a yearlong headache, given the ongoing problems at Crowell Elementary School.
“I really respect and appreciate the teachers and how they shared their opinion, and most importantly their passion for teaching,” Martin said. “As a board, we are in a tough spot with Crowell, and we have to remain focused on the success of the students.”