HERCULES — Ninety-four percent of tenured teachers at Hercules High School have voted no confidence in Principal Jennifer Bender, citing a “bad” school climate, lack of respect for teachers and ineffective leadership, according to a teacher at the school.
“Her expectations for students and teachers are not in line with reality,” the no-confidence resolution states. “She has not engendered any trust in her staff, nor has she created a safer school, but has instead created a toxic environment for students and staff.”
Taking the no-confidence vote was “an extraordinary step and hard decision,” but after observing Bender for a year and a half, teachers saw no way forward with her as principal, according to the resolution.
The teacher, who did not want to be identified due to fear of retaliation, said the vote took place Feb. 12-25.
“This vote was only on the high school side,” the teacher said, noting that most middle school educators did not participate.
The combined middle and high school campus serves about 1,800 students in grades 6-12. Bender, reached by cellphone while on lunch duty Thursday, said she couldn’t talk at the time. She later responded to a request for comment in an email.
“Running a school requires that I am often out of my office, so I am not able to always be timely,” she wrote. “At this time, the district will be contacting you with a statement.”
District spokesman Marin Trujillo said he would not address specific complaints in the resolution and could not predict Bender’s fate. However, he said Superintendent Bruce Harter was taking the vote seriously and was working with teachers and administrators to move forward.
“Teaching and learning continues at the school, so that hasn’t been impacted,” Trujillo said. “What the outcome will be is not de facto. There is no protocol. This is an ongoing conversation. Our intent is to come to a resolution that works for everyone.”
The two-page, single-spaced typed resolution paints a picture of a school that has gone so far downhill since Bender’s arrival one-and-a-half years ago that learning and safety have been adversely affected. It alleges the principal has alienated teachers and community members while failing to provide students with clear expectations. “Students know that this unacceptable behavior is tolerated so they continue to act accordingly,” the resolution states. “This lack of reasonable expectations and clear guidelines is counterproductive for students and creates a toxic school climate. It has led to altercations, fights and arrests of both students and parents.”
In November, transgender student Jewlyes Gutierrez was arrested and charged with battery after a fight that she said occurred because administrators did nothing when she complained earlier that she was being harassed and bullied by other students.
In December, the West Contra Costa school board held a special meeting to address districtwide bullying and sexual harassment, in response to a federal Office of Civil Rights report that found the district failed to adequately address these issues. At that meeting, some district teachers and parents spoke about bullying at Hercules High and alleged that Bender retaliated against popular English teacher Janet Headington after she raised concerns at the school. Headington was involuntarily transferred from Hercules High while on medical leave.
The no confidence resolution alleges that Bender blames others for her own errors and vindictively docks the pay of teachers with whom she disagrees, reprimands them or places letters in their personnel files.
“Without the recognition of mistakes or the willingness to listen to key stakeholders there is no hope for learning or improvement and thus no way forward,” the resolution states. “We, as professionals and union members, feel that this cannot continue.”
Ballot: “I, as a staff member at Hercules Middle High School, have lost confidence in our Principal Ms. Bender. I feel that the climate at our school has become bad for students and staff and that there is no way forward with our current principal.”
Yes: 94 percent of tenured Hercules High School teachers
To see the Hercules Middle High School resolution for a vote of no confidence and balloting guidelines, go to www.contracostatimes.com/education.
PROTECT THE BOLLIN SCHOOL
We no longer have confidence in the Headteacher, Michelle Louise Brindle, of the Bollin School to lead and manage the school. We feel the Headteacher’s style of leadership is detrimental to the staff and as a consequence the children of the school.
OFSTED Parent View:
As of the 7th of February 2017 over 150 Bollin parents have completed the OFSTED Parent View questionnaire.
* 85% strongly disagree or disagree with the statement ‘This school is well led and managed’
* 76% strongly disagree or disagree with the statement ‘This school responds well to any concerns I raise’
* 86% strongly agree or agree with the statement ‘My child is taught well at this school’
* 70% would not recommend Bollin Primary School
* Complaints submitted by parents during November and December 2016 using the school’s formal complaints procedure were not responded to until last week. No explanation for this has been given.
* This breakdown in the complaints procedure prompted a group letter, signed by 130 parents, to be sent to the Chair of Governors in December 2016. A meeting to discuss this has finally been arranged for the 8th of February - 8 weeks after submission.
* 4 Parent Governors (2 elected, 2 co-opted) resigned in December 2016. We believe this was forced upon the Governors under threats of suspension due to alleged conflict of interest which the Governors categorically deny. Evidence of this conflict of interest has not been provided.
* 14 teachers have been working to rule (action short of a strike) since November 2016.
* 14 teachers and 2 support staff have submitted numerous grievances since November 2016.
* These grievances have not yet been heard, which is a breach of the school’s grievance policy. Contrary to the implication in the Chair of Governors letter dated 23rd November 2016, these grievances do not only relate to workload.
* An experienced and well-respected Year 5 teacher was suspended in January 2017. The Headteacher has told parents that Trafford Council made this decision. Yet Theresa Grant (Trafford’s Chief Executive) has confirmed to Bollin PEG that Trafford would have only intervened if it was a safeguarding issue, which it was not.
* Parents of that Year 5 class received a letter from the Headteacher after the departure of one supply teacher, alleging that the teacher had left because of intimidation by parents. None of the parents picking up their children that day witnessed any such thing. In addition, despite assurances that disruption would be kept to a minimum, the class has been taught for weeks by two different supply teachers. The acting Deputy Headteacher Mr McCarthy and another teacher are now sharing this role.