LONG BEACH — It began with the frustrations of a new teacher. It evolved into the dissatisfaction of a group of parents when the teacher resigned. And unless passions wane, the dispute could result in the boycott of an elementary school during the visit next month of a state evaluation team.
"It's uncomfortable for me to be doing this, but I have to," said Sarah Hoard, one of the parents in question.
Added Judy Tansey, another parent: "I want a better education for (our children)."
Teacher Unaccustomed to System
The school is Minnie Gant Elementary. At issue is the availability of curriculum and materials in the school's Gifted and Talented Education program, especially its availability to a teacher new to the system and unaccustomed to its vagaries.
Back in September when Cindy Allison, 37, took over the mixed third- and fourth-grade class in Room 15, she was full of enthusiasm for her new job. Holder of a master's degree in special education for the mentally gifted, she felt uniquely qualified to teach the 28 gifted youngsters assigned to her class. But she had been away from teaching for six years, and most of her experience had been in private religious institutions like the Hebrew Academy in Long Beach.
So when administrators told her that she would have to develop her own social studies lessons based on materials that she would select, she was taken aback.
Nonetheless, she tried her best and, by most parents' accounts, succeeded admirably. She created a science unit using materials purchased at her own expense. And by being creative, she came up with geography lessons despite the fact that she considered the district's only available books on the subject to be outdated.
She Bought Her Own Materials
In three months as a Gant teacher, Allison said, she spent $100 of her own money on materials. Although district money was available, she said, the two or more months required to procure materials with it was prohibitive. And though she met with consultants hired by the district to develop curriculum, she said, their suggestions were only mildly helpful.
On Dec. 16 Allison formally announced her resignation, effective at the end of the fall term.
"I wasn't used to teaching without textbooks," she wrote in a six-page letter of resignation. "I believe the demands and expectations of me . . . are unrealistic and unattainable. I don't want my students to be shortchanged."
She resigned, she said, out of the frustration of having to devote so much of her attention to developing curriculum rather than teaching.
"It was a matter of personal integrity," she said of her decision in an interview last week. "These kids are wonderful and their education (was being) limited by my pocketbook. Somebody had to know."
20 Parents Signed Letter
Parents were swift to react. Hailing Allison as one of the best teachers they had ever seen, a group of them held four meetings in January and early February to discuss the matter, including one with Gant Principal Rowena Anderson. Last week they mailed a certified letter to the district Board of Education accusing the district of failing to provide the curriculum and materials necessary to give their children an adequate education. Of the 28 children in the class, according to petitioners, 16 have parents who are among the letter's 20 signers.
While the parents say that they do not expect Allison to be reinstated, they want to draw attention to the frustrations that led to her resignation and to the fact that, although the class is now being taught by a new teacher, the shortage of curriculum and materials persists.
What they would like, the parents say, is for the district to give talented teachers such as Allison more support and guidance in the performance of their tasks, and parents more say-so in the development of curriculum.
Among other things, the letter demands a public hearing on the matter, the dismantling of GATE combination classes until curriculum can be developed, and the implementation of an "effective and ongoing" parent participation plan. If the parents' concerns are not addressed, they say, they will boycott the school during a two-day visit next month by a state evaluation team. Specifically, they say, they will not allow their children to attend Gant during the team's visit and will picket the school to make their point.
Contacted last week, Anderson would not discuss the matter except to say that she had made every effort to supply Allison and her successor with the guidance and materials necessary to conduct the class.
Unequipped With Materials
Sandy Williams, district administrator for GATE, blamed the entire conflict on "a collection of misunderstandings between (Allison) and the principal" coupled with the routine travails of setting up a new classroom that had not been used by GATE before and therefore was unequipped with GATE materials.