OAKLAND -- Montera Middle School parents held a news conference outside of the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education meeting June 25 in a show of support for Judith Ganley, a sixth-grade history teacher who was terminated shortly before completing her two-year probationary period.
Ganley has been described by parents, teachers and students as an exceptional teacher. She earned high scores on her previous performance reviews until she asked a question about computers for standardized testing at a Feb. 24 faculty council meeting.
Ganley was given a letter of termination after the meeting, which Ganley said came as a surprise to her. Ganley said she had been assured by Principal Tina Tranzor that she would have a job at Montera for the upcoming school year.
Under the California Education Code, a school district may terminate a teacher during the two-year probationary period without giving a reason. As a result, Ganley will be unable to return to Montera or any school in the Oakland district.
Tranzor announced her resignation in May and will become the principal at Natomas Middle School in the Sacramento area. Tranzor completed her second year as Montera principal and it was her first job as a principal.
"An inexperienced administrator is capable of making a mistake. You have to acknowledge it. Own it. Don't get backed into a corner. I feel like the system is just shoving this along," said Craig Gordon, an eighth-grade history teacher at Montera.
Gary Yee, who up until Tuesday was the district's interim superintendent, said: "We cannot comment on an individual case which is a personnel matter subject to the education code."
Ganley said that the district has pointed out concerns in her teaching that were never raised with her during any of her previous evaluations, including allegations that she was not reaching all children.
"Now I'm in the position of defending myself against a litany of evaluations," she said.
The Montera community presented a petition to the district with 260 signatures. They have also spoken at school board meetings and held a June 10 rally at the school in support of Ganley.
"The desire to hold up a process over an equitable outcome is a disservice to the citizens (of this community)," Ganley said. "If they (citizens) can't trust the system, they will take their children to charter and those that can, private schools."
"It's difficult for me to judge," said Troy Flint, director of public relations for the school district. "The district is using a different lens to evaluate teachers than parents. It's not a universal judgment of a teacher's ability."
Anne Campbell Washington, District 4 school board member, said: "I requested that this issue be reviewed by additional staff members, up to and including (interim) Superintendent Yee. Still dissatisfied, I requested that the matter be reviewed twice by the OUSD counsel. Confidentiality concerns leave me in the difficult situation of not being able to share the details of the conversations I have been having about this situation over the past month. I do believe the superintendent, counsel and staff have all taken this issue very seriously and have completed extra levels of due diligence because we (parents and teachers and Campbell) have all pushed so hard.
"I have definitely pressed this issue to the limits appropriate for a school board member."
Ganley left a career as an attorney to become a teacher. In spring 2012, she took over the class of beloved history teacher Robert Goddard, who died of cancer. Goddard's widow, Randi Byrone, addressed the school board on June 25, clutching a framed photo of her late husband. She urged the board to put the students first.
"Ms. Ganley not only made history come alive for the kids, but helped them through the grieving process (regarding Goddard's death)," said Laura Post, a school psychologist and former Montera parent.