Certified Letters

I got a pair of certified letters last Saturday transferring me to two school sites for the 2012-13 school year. It wasn’t a complete surprise. Ever since someone in Oakland’s special education department (called Programs for Exceptional Children) made a multimillion dollar accounting error, PEC has been frantically trying to solve its budgeting crisis by reducing its human resources. The first response was to fire all of the program specialists — a group of teachers who work outside the classroom to provide support to the school-site special education teachers. Most of them were rehired a few weeks later.

The second response was to reassign and expand the case-loads of a bunch of resource specialists — teachers who provide services to students who primarily remain in general education classes but who need additional support to be successful in their classes. In many cases (like mine) the reassignment took the form of splitting a teacher’s week between two schools instead of one. About a third of OUSD’s resource specialists were sent transfer notices like the one I received on Saturday. Now, instead of just being responsible for students at Edna Brewer, I’ll also need to serve students at Westlake Middle School. Last year there were four resource specialists between these two school. This year there will be three, and I will shuttle back and forth between the sites.

What was bizarre about the letter was the rationale that was given: “As you are aware, student needs change, and we must ensure that we meet their needs promptly and fully.” It’s certainly true that student needs change — every day is a new challenge for many of the kids I serve. But the issue that triggered this transfer has nothing to do with student needs, and everything to do with the massive, avoidable, accounting error made by PEC administration.

It’s absurd to claim that my transfer will ensure that the district is better able to meet student needs promptly and fully. The students in the resource program at these two schools will now have three teachers instead of four serving their needs. That’s a 25% reduction in resources. The aide who supported students at Edna Brewer last year will also be split between the two campuses — another 25% reduction in available resources. PEC is disturbingly confused about how to “promptly and fully” serve student needs.

The fact that this decision was made without teacher input and announced a few days before the beginning of the school year also meant canceling a special program that I have been designing for my students. I had been designing a class that would have targeted students who need a program that draws on their existing skills and interests. Many of the students in our program have struggled in school for so many years that they have lost their enthusiasm for learning. The program I had designed, with input from my students, was intended to help rekindle their curiosity and reinvigorate their love for school.

Katy Murphy wrote about this situation on her blog yesterday, and several teachers have left comments. My situation is not unique, and in some ways, less disruptive to student needs than some of my colleague’s situations. It’s extremely disheartening to treated like a widget. PEC’s decision, made without regard for the relationships and programs that exist at many schools, is disrespectful of resource teachers, students, and of the staff at the affected school sites.

The school board meets tonight, and I think a few resource teachers will be attending in hopes of sharing our frustration over PEC’s ham-fisted handling of their self-inflicted crisis. PEC has a new director, hired over the summer to replace the director who presided over the accounting error. If this is an indication of our new director’s leadership style, we’re in for a rocky ride.

UPDATE: I just got a third copy of the certified letter. I guess they really want me to know they’re serious.

UPDATE 2: I went down to the school board meeting to ask politely to have my transfer rescinded. When I got there, three of my colleagues were already there. They read a letter which many of the staff at Edna Brewer had signed. I was so grateful. Perhaps there is hope — apparently many of the transfers have been rescinded over the past couple of days.

Wednesday August 22, 2012 — Mark —