NORWALK — The principal of John H. Glenn High School spoke glowingly and at length about his top graduating students at a school board meeting last month.
He introduced them to the board, outlining their achievements in and out of the classroom, taking care to enumerate the rigorous college-level courses they had taken in their senior year.
Then Robert Schilling, a Glenn teacher, stepped to the podium. Elaborating on a petition signed by about half of the high school's regular teaching staff, he painted a jarringly different image of student performance at Glenn.
Schilling spoke of failing, chronically absent students who were transferred out of his class in the last days of a semester--apparently so they could be awarded passing grades, including A's and B's. He spoke of declining academic and discipline standards, of an administration that wants students to pass and graduate, regardless of whether they deserve to.
Petition Signed by 37
The petition, signed at the end of the school year by 36 of the 76 teachers, and one member of the non-teaching staff, complains of low faculty morale, inflated honor rolls, defiant students who are not properly disciplined by the school administration and pressure to give passing grades.
Elias Galvan, Glenn's principal, said he was upset and surprised by the petition, which was given to him, the board, district administrators and faculty representatives of the district's other two high schools. He argues that the majority of teachers who signed it are primarily concerned with attendance problems.
While advocating a school atmosphere that stresses students' potential for success, Galvan insisted he has never imposed a policy of "zero failure." Moreover, he denies that discipline is a serious concern at his school.
"I just don't agree. . . . We have very few problems with" students, said Galvan, who has been Glenn's principal for the past eight years.
Several of the teachers who signed the strongly worded, page-long petition contend the problems it outlines have been festering for years at the 2,000-student high school, which serves the poorest neighborhoods in the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District. About 80% of the student body is minority, mostly Latino, and Glenn has the greatest minority enrollment of the district's three regular high schools.
'A Real Problem'
"The very fact that you have about 37 teachers signing indicates there is a real problem at the school, and it certainly can't be passed off," reading teacher Carl Wade said.
In comments that mirrored those of other teachers, he asserted that it is so easy to make the Glenn honor roll that it is "really a joke." He said Galvan has an unwritten policy that students should pass "regardless of academic record or even attendance. And if they don't pass, it's the teacher's fault."
When he gives students slips for being late, Wade said the teen-agers often "just wad 'em up and throw them away" in front of him.
While the teachers often remarked that they personally like Galvan and believe he exerts considerable effort to help students, they maintain he wears rose-colored glasses, ignoring real problems while promoting the school's image in the community.
At this point, both the school board and the district administration seem disinclined to step into the controversy.
"The board is not really going to do anything," board President Jesse Luera said last month, adding that he thought Galvan would resolve the issues.
"I'm not panicking that everything is terrible at John Glenn, " said District Supt. Bruce Newlin. Though he said "there are certainly some issues that need to be dealt with," Newlin expressed support for Galvan. "I feel he's on the right track in dealing with a wide variety of students with a wide variety of backgrounds and skills."
Cites Special Attention
As for complaints that failing students are pulled out of class and placed in alternative classes in which they often earn much better grades, Newlin said it is quite possible that such students can master course work in an environment in which they are given special attention.
But Schilling, pointing to a list of 13 of his English students who were transferred at the end of the first semester this past year, complained that their failing efforts for most of the semester were ignored. He cited one girl who was absent from his class 11 times and earned 31 "X's," his mark for a student who is in class but makes no effort to do the work. She was transferred in December to the Learning Center, an alternative class for students experiencing classroom problems, and was given an A for the semester, according to his records.
Teachers who fail a significant portion of their class receive letters from Galvan in which he notes that their failure rate is higher than the school and department average.