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March 22, 2011 > Hayward Unified School District Board meeting report

Hayward Unified School District Board meeting report

Public comment centers on potential school closure and reductions to certificated staff

By Robin Michel

"Have Faith. Don't close our school!"
Although closure of an alternative school in the Hayward Unified School District was not on the March 9 Board of Education meeting agenda, there has been enough discussion in the district's Fiscal Integrity and Transparency Advisory Group (FITAG) to create a groundswell of activism among parents, students, teachers and classified staff who turned out en masse to plead for the continued operations of Faith Ringgold Art and Science Elementary School. Every seat was taken, with many parents holding small children on their laps in order to free up additional chairs-and still, the crowd spilled into the lobby.

More than a dozen adults gave stirring and thoughtful public comment while students in the audience as young as kindergarten age held up yellow signs reading "Have Faith," or green signs urging the Board, "Don't close our school!" Each talked about what the program meant to them and their families or students, in terms of improved test scores and having a sense of belonging, of true community. One parent of a fifth grader described her daughter as an atypical student who would be lost at a traditional school, not understood and picked on. "She is thriving at Faith Ringgold," the mother said, "she is reading The Iliad, her academics are stellar, and she is a wonderful person to be around."

Many of the teachers spoke of the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) grant that supported programs at Faith Ringgold, including the smaller class size that was raising test scores and helping to create a community that supported learning and individuality among students. Another mentioned how not only would one school close, but all the students distributed to other sites would increase class sizes elsewhere. "It is a choice school," said one parent. "It is not a private school or for the privileged," she added, "but a school that gives parents a choice."

Board President Lisa Brunner invited all students to come forward and speak. Kindergartener Lola said, "Please don't close my school! I will collect cans to help keep it open."

A twelve-year-old student with autism said, "Less kids means more learning and I will be smarter." Many spoke of how they were part of a community and accepted for who they were. As one student said, "That's what makes it so special-acceptance."

Board members thanked the community for turning out to speak on behalf of their school. Trustee Maribel Heredia said that she has always and will continue to support choice for parents. Trustee Jesus Armas thanked those who provided additional information (i.e. grant funding, test scores, etc.) and that he was open to meeting with representatives of the "Faith Community." He added, "The key seems to be offering the program...not to be bound by the facility, [but in keeping] the program."

Trustee Luis Reynoso said that hard decisions had to be made, but there were many possibilities, such as a school within a school; and Trustee William McGee commended everyone for their community support and how much he appreciated that the speakers did not talk just about what they needed, but offered some suggestions, too. He called the evening a true "transfer of learning and a lesson in free speech and activism."

In her comments, Ms. Brunner noted that although Faith Ringgold was not on the Board's agenda tonight, it was clear that "the district needs the [Governor's proposed tax] extensions on the ballot."

Board maintains current students to counselor ratio and does not reclassify child development teachers.

Items generating public comment that were on the agenda included the reduction of certificated staff. As requested at the previous board meeting, the staff brought back more information about funding and contractual requirements in a new resolution to consider reduction of counseling staff. The Board once again maintained its position of not increasing the number of students per counselors, and did not pass the resolution.

In response to a second board request asking staff to look into which certificated positions could be filled by classified personnel, staff brought forth the director of child development position for consideration to eliminate and reclassify so that it would only require a child development program director permit, thereby saving the district approximately $18,000 (based on highest step, base salary differential).

Tiffany Hopper, who works in Hayward's Child Development Program as a state preschool teacher spoke in protest of this resolution, saying:

"I have worked in the field for over 20 years. Early childhood education is a vital component in the development of the whole child: cognitively, socially, emotionally and physically. Our program focus is dedicated to providing a quality education that is developmentally, culturally and linguistically appropriate... What makes a good preschool program? Proper teaching qualifications and training: We have obtained bachelors and masters degrees and participate in classes and workshops yearly for professional growth...Last year our full day program was closed, due to budget cuts. The teachers were pink slipped...reassigned...reduced to half [time]...Now it's my understanding that the district is proposing to change our current status from 'certificated' to 'classified.' This is an outrage. We have earned our position as teachers. It is as if we are disposable and insignificant... I invite you into my classroom so you can experience the quality and stimulating curriculum my children receive daily. Not only do I speak for myself, I speak for our children who do not have a voice..."

Ms. Hopper's passionate and thoughtful public comment had positive outcomes, as the Board voted to not pass the resolution to reduce the number of certificated staff and then made a motion to keep the position of Child Development Director a certificated position and maintain "the status quo."

Please note: In the last HUSD report, which ran on February 23, Hayward Adult School Principal Ana Solomon provided a statement (the two opening paragraphs) and correct placement and attribution was inadvertently omitted. Our apologies.

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