TUSD To Launch Investigation At Crowell Elementary


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.”

Comments 8

  1. Turlock teacher says:
    Da Marto is out of touch. The CCSS do connect between grade levels, but designing lessons is not the same from one grade level to the next. Teachers have spent hundreds of hours preparing for this shift (which is coming to TUSD at the last possible minute, so we are already rushed). To say that this will have "little to no effect" is like saying a hay farmer will have no problems becoming a fruit farmer at a moments notice.
  2. here we go again says:
    here we go again dj fransen attacking the education system because he's the only one who doesn't like superintendent da marto
    when will this blog be shut down? businesses should boycott the site and stop advertising
  3. Witch Hunt says:
    Another one of Jonathan McCorkel's witch hunts!
  4. L. Boullion -- Former Crowell Teacher says:
    Teachers who left Crowell due to Linda Alaniz: Audrey- Doug -Kathleen- Myself. Kristin. That's 5. How many others? Well, there are 7 right now who filled a grievance against her. I know this list is not complete. How many parents too? Anyone who does not see that there is a problem and this needs to be investigated is blinded by other motives.

    I want to thank the Board for deciding to investigate this matter and for TCN for reporting it and bringing it to light. That is all that is asked-- Find the truth. The truth needs to come out. Either the 5 teachers listed above, along with the 7 filing grievances, and the two others in this article plus TTA president are lying and wrong and have decided to all gang up on Mrs. Alaniz, or maybe the 15 people with similar problems and similar stories all were mistreated. The investigation will shed light on the truth. What I have found out in life is if something happens once, its not that big of deal. Twice, then just coincidence. Three times, well maybe. Four, starting to see a pattern. Fifth, this is getting to be routine. Now, the iceberg effect says that we can see 10% of the iceberg while 90% is [b]hidden [/b]under the water. The investigation will be able to shed light on the other 90%. Do you know how many teachers have not said anything because they don't want to get the full wrath of the principal. Fly low under the radar, and maybe they can avoid the problem?

    Teachers at Crowell have been divided for sometime. Mrs. Alaniz has her favorites and her loyal teachers who are given more privileges, and in return are required to report to her on the other teachers. This is where most of the problems start.

    Mrs. Alaniz is very good at intimidation and insighting fear in her employees. She can scare employees into getting what she needs out of them. She will gather information about the individual she is targeting, by means of using others to report to her and by lying to one person to get a response from another. She makes remarks to trigger a response and get a teacher on the defensive, such as "you are the worst teacher at this school," (which she has said to at least two teachers at the same time) or "all the parents in your class hate you." These skills would serve her very well as a detective or law enforcement while interrogating criminals. Unfortunately, in an elementary school setting, working with kind-hearted, positive, and compassionate teachers this does not serve well.

    Mr. De Marto: You are incorrect in stating that students will not be effected. Students will be greatly effected with the drastic change of teachers to new grade levels. Would you recommend putting your grandchild in the class of a new Kindergarten teacher who has taught just 2nd grade for the past 15 years, and one who did not choose to be there either? I hope that TCN can pull Crowell's scores from 2014 (this years) and then when 2015's scores come out, if all these teacher changes come through, that they can compare them and submit Dr. DeMarto's words from this article. Now, testing is not the only measure of how students are effected of course, but it is the standard that is easily measurable.

    I taught 4th grade for 8 years. By the 8th year, I had everything down to a science and could focus on the minor issues to perfect. My classes test scores were very high as they should have been for having 8 years to perfect my practice. The following year, I moved to fifth grade where I had to learn 7 new subjects. Test scores dropped. It was starting over again. I even went voluntarily with a positive attitude and high hopes. Moving the third year in a row to 6th grade, was a nightmare and everything was new again, students were effected. Given the choice between putting a student in a teacher's class who has experience [b]OR[/b] one that doesn't feel comfortable at that level and has no experience and has a harassing, nonsupporting principal; I think it is clear what parents would would want.

    But what do I know, right? I completed 20 credits out of 25 with a 4.0 GPA in the Master's Program for School Administrators (yes that is for principals). I job shadowed three principals to see what a day in the life of three administrators was like, which I will agree is not easy-- It is a difficult job, much like teaching can be. Currently, I employee over 50 workers, manage a budget in the 7 digits, hire, fire, empower, manage, solve problems, put out fires, lead, learn, grow, and improve. When I say, I know what it takes to be a leader, I mean it. I had two children attend Crowell so not only was I an employee, but I was also a parent. I have nothing but positive remarks for my children's teachers, coaches, and school administrators since Crowell. The district is full of quality staff.

    I can see when an ineffective leader has had her time to show what type of school she can create, and in that time, the school is full of unhappy workers. Divided staff. Low moral. Hostility between administrators and employees. Poor decisions in emergency situations. Blaming others. Loss of great quality teachers.

    Then it is time for a change.
    Crowell school needs new hope and that can only begin with new leadership.
  5. Respond to: Here we go again says:
    Why do you want the site shut down when you clearly read it and know so much about it? It's called freedom of speech. You have the right to not read it and boycott what you want. I however, will be doing the opposite. And you know they can see your IP and tell when you post twice.
  6. TUSD Employee says:
    First of all, thank you Jonathan McCorkell for pointing out the witch to the public. Despite years of complaints, Dr. Da Marto has left her in a position to continue her reign of terror on the Crowell School community. Now, just as he did at Cunningham when 8-10 teachers were transferred to new schools and grade levels, he has found a way to blame and punish teachers for problems that lie with bad leadership and for speaking up about it.

    If the board members are sincere in finding out the truth and the scope of the actions by Alaniz, and they appear to be, then an independent investigation needs to be conducted by someone who does not work for Dr. Da Marto. Heidi Lawler did speak to a few teachers during an earlier investigation, but when more teachers contacted her to make appointments, they were told the district had all they needed. And what was the result? Twelve teachers were involuntarily reassigned to new grade levels. Sound familiar? An independent investigation could reach out to classified employees and parents as well, without anyone having to fear retribution on themselves or their children.

    Crowell School parents and community members, you need to speak up.
  7. Talkoh says:
    This does not surprise me at all. School administrators do things like this all the time and then they blame the teachers for low scores. Duh.
  8. De Marto needs to go says:
    The same thing is happening at Medeiros right now with the wrath of Principal Yacoub. 2 excellent teachers left today to be coaches off site, teachers have been moved around constantly, and countless staff have left because of Yacoub. It will never change until De Marto retires because they are buddy buddy. You should ask the staff how relieved they were at Las Palmas Elementary in Patterson when she left!

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