This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.
The Careers in Teaching program at Hercules High has garnered widespread attention, including a front-page story in this newspaper on Friday that featured student Camille Winfield, who is blind, working as a Teacher Cadet with Hanna Ranch Elementary students.
But Winfield and teacher Sarah Creeley, who has mentored several Teacher Cadets over the past decade, told the West Contra Costa school board on July 24 they were concerned that cuts to the class from three sections to one could limit opportunities for future Hercules High students.
"I cannot exaggerate the power of the connections that are made by these Hercules High School Teacher Cadets who go into their own community to help children, at times revisiting their own former classrooms," Creeley said. "It seems as though the Hercules High School administration, with the support of the school board, is trying to push out this class by cutting it down to one section despite continued high enrollment since its inception."
Creeley pointed out that Hercules High teacher Janet Headington won the prestigious Warren Eukel Teacher Trust award in 2009 for her work with students in the program. Winfield won a 2013 Regional Occupational Program award of excellence for her work with Creeley's students as a Teacher Cadet. And Justin Jones, another Teacher Cadet in her class, was named 2013 "Youth in the Year" in Hercules, Creeley said.
"This is a program that has garnered many awards," she concluded. "Whatever you can do to bring it back up to three sections would be very much appreciated."
Winfield said the children showed her love every day when she worked in their classroom.
"Some of them have told me that they would love to be Teacher Cadets when they are older," Winfield said. "It's just upsetting to me to know that the experience could go away."
Creeley added that Winfield gave a powerful presentation about what it is like to be blind to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Hanna Ranch Elementary.
"That never would have happened if we hadn't had the teacher cadets," she said.
Creeley has also sent a letter to this newspaper expressing fears that the program is in jeopardy. The 2013 Hercules Educator of the Year, she wrote, is Michelle Thibault, who teaches at Hercules Middle School and is a former high schoolteacher cadet.
"I hope that the leaders of Hercules High School will listen to our Hercules community leaders and students," Creeley wrote, "and return this exceptional Hercules High School program to three classes to help Hercules children!"
In response to an e-mail from another Hercules resident about this issue, West Contra Costa school board President Madeline Kronenberg wrote that "the program was still in effect, although the specific scheduling had changed."
"The program is not being removed," she wrote, "and in fact, in our strategic plan we are highlighting the need for the district to expand the direction of this type of program district-wide ..."
Creeley fears the rest of the district's gain could be Hercules High School's loss. In an e-mail to Kronenberg, she wrote that the scheduling change amounted to one class of 40 students, even though 85 students expressed interest in enrolling.
"If you hope to start other Teacher Cadet programs in other high schools, I am all for it," Creeley wrote. "I have seen first hand how powerful this program is. Hercules must not be punished by losing our Teacher Cadet program and teacher to another school."
Trustee Todd Groves, who was elected in November after pledging to try to mend rifts between Hercules residents and the district and give more autonomy to schools, also responded to Creeley's concerns in an e-mail.
"The board is charged with policy setting at the highest level," he wrote. "I personally favored allowing sites more flexibility as a campaign pledge. I will look further into the issue, but cannot promise any outcome."
Do you think the district should cut the number of Teacher Cadets at Hercules High, while starting up the program at other schools?