By Kim Hilsenbeck
Parents at Hays CISD’s Blanco Vista Elementary say they want a change in the school’s leadership — the top administrator at the campus must go, they say.
They are circulating a petition to remove the school’s principal, Rebecca Shae, saying she is not supportive of the dual language program, among other accusations including creating a hostile work environment for faculty and staff, as well as not respecting parents and cultural events that are important to Mexican Americans.
“Teachers are afraid to sign it,” Hays Educators President Carla Perez said, citing fears of retaliation from Shae.
Several parents and teachers, including a former Blanco Vista teacher, spoke during the open forum portion of Monday night’s school board meeting about the issue.
“The reason we’re all here is because of our children …” Perez said. “ … but when we’re feeling bullied or harassed or intimidated, it’s not good social environment for our staff, our kids or anyone who has to work in that environment.”
Perez told the Hays Free Press Shae lacks social skills and doesn’t make connections in the community with parents.
At the board meeting, she reminded the audience and trustees that Hays CISD rolled out its fourth annual district-wide stakeholder engagement survey on Monday. District employees, parents and community members are welcome to participate.
Perez, a teacher at Hemphill Elementary, asked her colleagues to take the survey.
Regarding the situation with Shae at Blanco Vista, Perez said in a phone interview Tuesday, “The school climate has changed since [Shae] started.”
She was speaking on behalf of current faculty whom she says are afraid to speak out themselves, fearing retaliation from a principal that has apparently caused teachers and campus staff to leave the school. The situation is so bad that, according to Perez, 40 teachers and other staff have left the school in the past three years.
District officials dispute those claims, saying in the past three years, 22 Blanco Vista teachers and staff left Hays CISD, while 11 transferred to other jobs within the district.
According to district spokesperson Tim Savoy, for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, the turnover rate at Blanco Vista was 28.6 percent and 30.8 percent, respectively, compared to 18.1 percent and 19.7 percent for the district average.
So far this school year, the campus saw three teachers leave the district and no transfers to other schools in the district. That equates to a six percent turnover rate at the school, compared to 17 percent for Hays CISD overall.
2012-2013 – 28.6% turnover (9 exits from district and 5 transfers to other jobs in the district) at BVES compared to district average of 18.1%
2013-2014 – 30.8% turnover (10 exits from district and 6 transfers to other jobs in the district) at BVES compared to district average of 19.7%
2014-2015 (to-date) – 6% turnover (3 exits from district and no transfers to other jobs in the district) at BVES compared to district average of 17%
Perez said one of her main concerns is academic in nature.
“The dual language program’s reputation is diminished,” she said.
But Perez said it’s more than just that — she said Shae caused a hostile work environment and employees feel intimidated by the principal.
According to Perez, teachers from Blanco Vista spoke with Hays CISD administrators and were told Shae would receive training.
In a written statement issued Wednesday, district officials say they are glad parents brought their concerns to the school board and district leaders.
“Following Monday’s school board meeting, we have also heard from a number of campus teachers and parents in support of the principal,” Savoy said in the statement.
He continued, “We all share the same goal, and that is to make sure our students at Blanco Vista have the best campus culture, climate, and education possible. With that in mind, our focus now is to look at the concerns, address any problems, and to identify the best ways to help everyone feel valued, heard, and included.”
The statement said Hays CISD is listening and wants to work with parents and staff on solutions.
For example, Savoy said the district is planning focus groups to gain deeper insight about the issues raised by parents and teachers. The district’s community engagement partner (K-12 Insight), would conduct that research.
“We want to identify not only the specific concerns that have been expressed, but also any other problems that might be contributing to the concerns,” the statement said.
Savoy said the district’s stakeholder engagement survey is another way for employees, parents and community members to join the conversation.
Maria Fuentes, a parent of four students at Blanco Vista, told school board trustees that she noticed a lot of teachers leaving and a lot of changes at the school that aren’t good for the students.
“We have been seeing changes in our cultural activities,” she said, “and we have been advised by teachers that that’s something the principal doesn’t think is really important … the time we can have those activities like Cinco de Mayo, Posadas, dia de los muertos.”
She added, “We as Mexican Americans … we believe our culture is really important and it should be part of the curriculum of a dual language program.”
Savoy said in the statement that prior to Ms. Shea’s arrival, cultural celebrations were often limited to only the dual language classes on campus.
“The campus has made changes to expand the celebrations to be inclusive of all students. Some of the celebrations have been moved outside of instruction time in the classrooms so that instruction time can be maximized,” he said.
He added, “The dual language program has not been minimized. In fact, the district is working to improve and strengthen the program, not just at Blanco Vista, but districtwide.”
Savoy said the district’s dual language and bilingual programs are in the middle of a planned audit by the district’s third-party, independent auditor hired by the school board.
“When it is complete in the coming months, we hope the audit will provide a number of ways to grow and improve the programs,” the statement said.
At Monday’s board meeting, Fuentes also highlighted the hostile work environment at the school for staff.
“A lot of teachers are stressed … they’re in a hostile environment,” she said. “We want our teachers, our students and us as parents to be treated with respect, we want to feel welcome at the school, we want to feel our culture or our beliefs is just as important as any other culture in the United States.”
Fuentes said initially addressed the problem of teachers leaving the school with the assistant principal, who told her that teachers are leaving because the district doesn’t pay enough money or they left for personal reasons.
But one former Hays CISD dual language teacher who spoke at Monday’s meeting as well as with the Hays Free Press Tuesday, said many teachers who left Blanco Vista didn’t give district administrators their real reasons.
Edith Valadez, who worked in Hays CISD for nine years, said she left Blanco Vista because the working conditions were horrible.
“If it hadn’t been such a bad work environment, I would have stayed,” she said in a phone interview. “The reason teachers don’t speak up is there is retaliation.”
She claimed Shae targeted her for speaking openly about the issues.
“She can write you up, humiliate you, move you to another grade,” Valadez said. “She moved me from kindergarten back to third grade.”
She said Shae knew she didn’t want to go back to third grade.
Valadez also cited incidents with former colleagues where Shae reportedly humiliated them in front of students and other staff. One teacher was reduced to tears in front of her students, according to Valadez.
She also said parents spoke with Tim Persall, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, but he has not yet responded to their concerns.
When Valadez left Hays CISD, she said no one from district headquarters conducted an exit interview with her, which she said is standard practice for departing employees.
Hays CISD officials say they welcome the chance to discuss the issues at Blanco Vista and develop an action plan of possible solutions.
“We want to listen to what everyone has to say and identify solutions to the concerns,” Savoy said.
TAKE THE SURVEY
Click the button in the middle of the Hays CISD website: www.hayscisd.net.