OAKLAND -- More than 100 teachers, students and parents gathered at 8 a.m. June 11 to protest the dismissal of second-year teacher Judith Ganley from Montera Middle School.
Ganley was still in her probationary period when she asked a question about the deployment of new computers to be used for standardized testing at a Feb. 24 faculty meeting. Her question was said to be constructive and respectful, but Ganley was given a poor evaluation and dismissal letter within days of the meeting, the Montera faculty said in an open letter in support of Ganley.
Before the meeting, Ganley had received strong scores on her teacher evaluation and had been assured by Montera Principal Tina Tranzor that she would be retained the following school year, according to the Montera faculty open letter.
"Ms. Ganley raised a question about computers. She was fired because she's probationary and because the principal could," said Craig Gordon, who teaches U.S. history at Montera.
Teachers can be fired without reason within their two-year probationary period before obtaining tenure. A spokesman for the Oakland Unified School District could not be reached for comment.
"It shouldn't take courage to express an opinion at an adult meeting," said Trish Gorman, the president of the Oakland Education Association. "How do we protect against willful, capricious decisions by the administration?"
Other probationary teachers feared retaliation if they signed the open letter from Montera's teachers to the school district, opting instead to sign with an "X," said Craig Gordon, an eighth-grade history teacher at Montera.
Efforts by faculty, parents and students to get the school district to reverse the decision have been unsuccessful, including a petition signed by more than 200 members of the Montera community.
"I am here to support Ms. Ganley's excellent teaching of sixth-grade world history and in disgust with OUSD's so far upholding her dismissal without apparently listening to parents' and students' concerns," said parent Kristie Boering, who removed her child from the school last year over concerns about the curriculum.
"She has been a superstar for my son who had a tough transition to middle school. She was a standout teacher and I'm stumped why good teaching is not enough. What happens in the classroom is all that matters," said Sarah Blain, parent of a seventh-grader.
"This has nothing to do with her teaching ability," said Cathy Sharp, the parent of an eighth-grader. "She is one of the most fabulous teachers we've had the pleasure of meeting in OUSD. She is creative, enthusiastic and smart."
"The right to teach, includes free speech," chanted the crowd. Passing cars honked their horns in support of the crowd.
Ann Campbell Washington, District 4 school board member, has been trying to convey the Montera community's sentiments to the school board and district.
"I am grateful for all of the parents who reached out to share their experiences with Ms. Ganley and to support her through this process," Washington said. "It is a testament to the strength of the Montera community, It is clear that Ms. Ganley is valued by many students and has touched their lives in positive and meaningful ways."
"This has been an overwhelming and uplifting three months," Ganley said. "I love Montera. I love the diversity and the challenge. I cannot speak highly enough of the caliber of the teachers here. I've learned so much. I feel an obligation to other probationary teachers."
"I've never taught with a more intelligent teacher. She has a homework club. She phones parents. She does things that mortals don't. Part of her enthusiasm is because she is a new teacher," said Janet Volkmann, who has been teaching English at Montera of 17 years.
Ganley was Volkmann's student teacher before she obtained her teaching credential and has been closely collaborating with Ganely for the past two years on English-social studies curriculum.
"I think this needs to be examined," Volkmann said. "This has become a personal vendetta. She was criticized for not cooperating and collaborating, but she and I have been collaborating for two years. She works really well with people."
"Ms. Ganley is one of my favorite teachers. She's awesome," said Antonio Todd, an eighth-grader. "That's why I'm here supporting her. This is hurtful to teachers and students."