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.
After I wrote a story about an Oak Grove Middle School student being choked by a classmate last month, English teacher Bethany Monk and substitute teacher Rebecca Richter contacted me to blow the whistle on what they considered an unsafe environment at the school, where learning is often disrupted and discipline is scarce.
"The main reason I came forward with this story was to shine light on the school's bullying and harassment issues, which are not taken very seriously at this school, in many cases," Monk wrote in an e-mail following publication of a Times story about her concerns. "A few weeks ago, a child was choked at our school. Next time, it could be a stabbing or a bullet. Someone had to say something. It's my hope that a new and better discipline policy is implemented, and that teachers and students can always feel safe, valued and empowered at school."
Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and School Support in the Mt. Diablo district, said sometimes teachers with poor classroom management skills have more difficulties with student behavior than others.
In fact, Monk said she was certified in crisis intervention in the San Ramon Valley school district, when she took a class aimed at helping teachers deal with troubled special education students. Monk also said she went through Navy boot camp, but even that didn't prepare her for what she encountered at Oak Grove.
She is concerned about students whose needs may not be met on the campus.
"Based on what I have seen at this school, there are some students whose behavior leads me to believe that they need immediate, and possibly intensive and ongoing counseling, beyond what the school is able to provide," she wrote in an e-mail. "I have seen instances where administrators do help parents find counseling resources, which is great. But is it working? I know students who are struggling so much that it affects their education, and sometimes the education of those around them. In addition, there are students who I firmly believe belong in an entirely different learning environment."
In a recent teacher survey, many people described the campus as "chaotic," she said. After reading an article about the difference between being burned out and demoralized, Monk said she realized she is demoralized.
"It's like you're so broken down and so exhausted," she said. "I have a lot of great students, but it only takes a handful. It just gets to the point where I just feel like I'm so broken down that I can't even teach."
Monk said she has taught classes at Ygnacio Valley High in Concord and as a substitute at Riverview Middle School in Bay Point with no problems.
"The kids are so different because they have consequences," she said of Riverview students. "It is like they're scared to get in trouble and that's what we need."
Monk asked to resign in April, after feeling overwhelmed by unruly students and unsupported by the administration. But she was told that if she left before a replacement could be found, the district would report her to California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which might revoke her credential for breaking her contract. Out of fear of losing her credential, she decided to stay.
Lock told me that she was informed by Oak Grove Principal Lisa Murphy Oates that the school launched an anti-bullying campaign in February through a "wildcat" school culture or school climate committee. But Monk said she had never heard of this.
Lock also said Murphy Oates has tried to instill pride on campus through clean up and beautification projects. In addition, she said the school is revising its "parent compact," to try to encourage more parent involvement. It plans to begin "parent patrols" at lunchtime next year.
The district, Lock said, is trying to answer the question: "How do we gain the confidence of staff, parents and the community so that students feel the support?"
How do you think the school and district can accomplish this goal?