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Revolving door for Willard

By Ben Lumpkin Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday March 21, 2001

One class minus  

3 teachers equals negative learning 


Parents of Willard Middle School sixth-graders are concerned that an unusually high rate of teacher turnover in sixth-grade math has left their children far behind and in danger of failure through no fault of their own. 

“I’m not sure how much they’ve lost in the course of all these events,” said Willard parent Beverly Dynes, who has a daughter in one of the troubled math classes. “I’m just at a loss right now to know what to do.” 

The problems began in the fall when the students’ full-time math teacher, Ann Strong, was replaced by a substitute, parents said. In February, yet another substitute took over the class. And then he disappeared as well. 

“It’s a very unique situation,” said Berkeley Unified School District Associate Superintendent for Instruction Christine Lim. “It’s been a series of unfortunate situations,” she said. 

Parents said the situation deteriorated over the course of the year, with math class becoming more and more chaotic for their children. 

“There’s been very skimpy homework for the last three months, which is an indication that there is not a lot going on in the class,” Dynes said. 

Paco Montfort, who has a son is in one of the math classes, said the school district ought to consider providing summer classes to help the students get caught up. 

“There are only two months of classes left,” he said. “I don’t think they’ll be prepared for seventh-grade.” 

Last week two of Willard’s most experienced math teachers agreed to teach sixth-grade math for the rest of the year, even though it means giving up a preparation period to which they are entitled under contract, said Willard Vice Principal Ellen Dean. Dean said school administrators are confident these teachers will help the students overcome any deficits they may have developed in math.  

“Certainly everyone is aware of how disruptive the program has been,” Dean said. “Every effort is being made to make sure these children finish the school year with the same preparation as other children.”  

But, while parents report being impressed with the new teachers so far, they wonder if this solution might not be too little too late. 

Rebecca Poliskin said she plans to enroll her daughter in a UC Berkeley math class this summer to help make up the deficit.  

Dynes said she cannot afford to pay a tutor to help her daughter get up to speed. She plans to work with the youngster herself over the summer but, she said, “That’s really not a good solution. I don’t even know the curriculum.” 

“I’m concerned that she’ll fall behind and become discouraged and lose confidence in her abilities,” Dynes said. “It’s more than unfortunate. It can be a turning point in a kid’s life.” 

Dynes and Poliskin expressed frustration that, despite repeated efforts, they hadn’t been able to get Willard Principal Gail Hojo to respond to their continuing concerns.  

“She refused to acknowledge that there was a problem,” Poliskin said. 

Hojo did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story. 

Lim, a former principal at Willard, said she believed the problem is being solved by the students’ current teachers, who “know the curriculum and the community” and can “hit the ground running.” 

“We have a plan for the rest of the year that is going to stick and remain,” Lim said. “And it’s a good plan.”