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Rosa Parks School Faces Huge Turnover

Tuesday May 25, 2004

At least four teachers will be transferred involuntarily from Rosa Parks Elementary School next year—and many more might follow them willingly—two months after more than three-quarters of the faculty signed a letter of no confidence in their principal. 

Instead of reassigning second-year principal Shirley Herrera as the teachers had requested, Superintendent Michele Lawrence chose to keep Herrera and reassign some of the teachers who signed the petition. 

Lawrence refused to comment on “personnel matters,” but said any teacher who wished to transfer would be accommodated. 

Several teachers interviewed Monday said they were considering leaving the school because of low morale and their frustration with Herrera. With 29 credentialled teachers on staff, that could mean a major overhaul for the West Berkeley school, which is home to some of the district’s poorest students and has been plagued by subpar standardized test scores. 

The school is in year three of program improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which gives the district discretion to replace staff in consultation with the teacher’s union. 

Lawrence, however, insisted lagging test scores had nothing to do with the teacher transfers, and called her action Monday purely “a personnel issue.” 

Barry Fike, President of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, challenged Lawrence’s motivations. “The evidence demonstrates that this is an attempt by the district administration to implement a phased-in reconstitution of the school unilaterally,” he said.  

Fike said the union was considering filing an unfair labor practice charge with the state Public Employee Relations Board. Under the teacher’s contract, the superintendent can transfer a teacher only for either matters of irreconcilable differences or an absence of classroom learning. 

Assuming Herrera remains at Rosa Parks, Fike also wants a “healing process” at the school to address teacher concerns about the principal’s leadership.  

Lawrence refused to comment on which schools the Rosa Parks teachers would be reassigned to and how the district would re-staff the school.  

She had alerted teachers several weeks ago that Herrera would be retained and some teachers transferred. Throughout Monday, Lawrence met individually with teachers to discuss the transfers.  

Lawrence hired Herrera in 2003 to bring stability to the school after a revolving door of principals passed through in preceding years. On Monday, Lawrence said the principal was “working in the best interest of that school and the children that she serves.” 

But teachers said the past two years had seen problems remain unsolved and morale drop so low they decided to sign the letter asking that Herrera be reassigned. 

“People felt like there wasn’t much hope to work productively with [Herrera] to solve the problems here at the school,” said one teacher, who wished to remain anonymous. 

The administration under Herrera had provided “unreliable leadership, inequitable treatment of students, teachers and staff, inconsistent evaluations and a serious lack of knowledge, respect and/or support for various policies, programs and families,” according to prepared statement from the Concerned Citizens of Rosa Parks School, a group comprising parents staff and teachers. 

The largely Latino school is a tight-knit community. After the district condemned the former school building—Christopher Columbus Elementary School—at the site for being seismically unfit, the local community fought to build a new school they renamed after Rosa Parks. 

Many of the teachers have been at the school since it reopened seven years ago, making the thought of leaving it and its students particularly agonizing. 

“I love this place and the families,” said one teacher who lives near the school. “It would be tough to leave, but right now it would be tough to stay.”