By Paige Lambert
Words of discrimination and injustice as well as words in support of the current administration filled the public forum portion of the Monday night’s school board meeting. Of the 38 speakers, 30 focused on the issue of campus leadership at Blanco Vista Elementary.
Board members received a petition with more than 1,000 signatures calling for the removal of Principal Rebecca Shae. Many parents and teachers cited not only a drop in the dual language program and cultural aspects reflective of the Mexican American population, but also hostility towards teachers, parents and students.
Alexander Villalobos, a parent of two children who went to Blanco Vista, said he has talked with teachers on campus and parents to understand what the issues were.
“It is clear that the systematic issues have created the symptoms we are experiencing today,” Villalobos said. “It’s clearly not an anomaly or by accident that we have so many here to voice their opinion about what is going on, and if the communication channels were opened more, not as many would be here.”
Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) Hays Educators President Carla Perez said parents, students and educators have faced hostility due to the mismanagement of the school.
“Allocations of resources reflect the value of the organization,” Perez said. “Parents have witnessed and experienced the dismantling of a nationally recognized dual language program created by bilingual educators.”
She added that there is a shortage of bilingual teachers and keeping them is becoming harder to do.
“When these veteran educators see the district is no longer valuing the cultural and linguistically diverse curricula,” Perez said, “they have no choice but to find a learning environment that will allow them the challenge and enrich their students learning.”
According to Perez, 40 teachers and other staff have left the school in the past three years, though Hays CISD officials dispute those numbers.
Elizabeth Udabe, whose child went through the dual-language program, used to volunteer. She said the program started out strong and had teachers who knew about teaching the language and culture.
“Once the current principal came in,” she said, “the program began to fade away.”
She said she stepped away as a volunteer because of what she called an unwelcoming environment.
Former dual language student Anabel Arvizu said her little brother is also affected by the issues at Blanco Vista and that he lost interest in school and his grades have suffered.
“The school is not the same as before; last time I visited Blanco Vista it felt empty,” Anabel said. “We would like a principal that has tenderness, understanding, and will value the culture of the people at this school.”
Rosalba Cortez-Concha, a Blanco Vista teacher, said while improvements are needed, not all teachers agree with the educators group.
“The story I know is of a principal with high ideals and expectations for both students and staff,” she said. “Her decisions and procedures may not always be popular, but she handles the complications that come from a growing school.”
Christopher Brown, K-12 music teacher, also said he disagreed with TSTA. He said he has repeatedly seen the principal and assistant principal working late into the night at the school.
“They said they are there doing work that they could’ve delegated … the teachers are working hard enough,” Brown said. “In the past three years we’ve had more after-school activities, concerts and activities than ever before.”
Ann Ybarbo, a Blanco Vista teacher and parent of two HCISD graduates, said she is aware of all the stress put on teachers and how it affects teacher morale. Staff reductions, resulting from budget cuts, play a huge role in increasing stress levels, putting more work on teachers, she said.
“We have had some morale issues, but I don’t think they are any lower than anywhere else,” Ybarbo said. “And I don’t think they are related to any change in the administration in the past three years. Teacher morale is a state-wide issue.”
The Hays CISD board did not vote on Shae’s contract at the meeting.
District spokesperson Tim Savoy said, “The Board will consider another group of employment contracts in April of which her contract will be a part.”
He added, “The district continues to listen to concerns from both sides of the issue at Blanco Vista. During public comments at the meeting, the Board heard from a number of people who participated in the petition, as well as people who are equally passionate against the petition.”
A series of focus groups will take place at the campus next week, according to Savoy. K-12 Insight, a third-party vendor, will facilitate the research.
“Parents and staff members will receive invitations to sign up,” he said. “We are planning to have seven focus groups, limited to 20 people each to foster deep conversations about the school climate and campus programs.”
Blanco Vista turnover comparedto district
Protestors say 40 employees left Blanco Vista since Rebecca Shae began. Below is Hays CISD data showing staff and faculty exits from Blanco Vista over the past three years. Just over 20 left the district entirely while 11 went to other positions with the district.
• 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%