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Sun Terrace Elementary School students Roman Singh, 10, second from right, Abby Singh, 8, third from right and Elizabeth Borgen, right, their mother, and Daniel Nevarez, boyfriend, are photographed at the Concord, Calif. school on Wednesday, May 16, 2012. Singh's mother Elizabeth Borgen says that her son was not allowed to call home after he fractured his wrist at school. Many parents and students, including, Borgen and her son, say the school has lost its fun atmosphere since new principal Gretchen Jacobs arrived last year and instead has become a place of iron-fisted leadership with a lack of communication with parents, where rules are ever-changing and people fear punishment. Borgen and many other parents have vowed to take their children out of the school next year. (Dan Honda/Staff)

CONCORD -- Tragic headlines have spurred a new awareness about the effects of schoolyard bullies. However, some parents at Sun Terrace Elementary say the principal has been doing the bullying, not the students.

Complaints about Principal Gretchen Jacobs are prompting dramatic changes on the campus, but there have been so many concerns, and such poor communication between the principal and parents, that some wonder whether all the issues will be resolved.

Earlier this month, Elizabeth Borgen told Mt. Diablo Unified School District trustees that her son had fallen and fractured his wrist in the morning, but he was not allowed to call her until after school.

"He spoke with Ms. Jacobs about it and she referred him to his (substitute) teacher, who said he couldn't call me because Ms. Jacobs said he couldn't," she said. "It's not the first time one of my children has been injured this year, and I'm very concerned about it."

Trustees heard similar complaints from Louis Acevedo last month, who said he was not notified on two separate occasions when his son was injured.

"My kids feel like they're bullied by her," Acevedo said of Jacobs. "My son looks like he's in fear when he's around her."

Parents also complained about inadequate first-grade instruction due to a string of substitutes called in to cover the class of a teacher on maternity leave.


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Parent Katherine Friedman said she worried that her child's first-grade class was not progressing at grade level. She also told the board that the school had lost its sense of community.

After these complaints, Friedman said Jacobs met with her to try to make amends. But by Thursday, she still had not received a written response from district officials regarding letters she sent describing her concerns.

"I'm definitely not satisfied at all," she said. "I do feel kind of powerless. I don't think the district is handling things the way that they should."

Borgen said Jacobs apologized about the school's failure to notify her when her son was injured. She said the principal told her the school had implemented a new policy that would require parents to be called if a child is hurt.

"We are responding to the concerns of the parents through improved communication," Jacobs said in an email. "The staff is focusing on meeting the academic needs of each and every one our students."

Jacobs added that the school is hosting a beautification day and pancake breakfast Saturday, and an open house Tuesday.

"We continue to focus on respect, responsibility and safety for all members of our Sun Terrace school community," she said. "We want to make the community proud of Sun Terrace."

Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for student achievement and school support, said in an email that the district has sent additional staff to assist first-graders and started a morning literacy program at the school. The district will also offer a four-week summer intervention program for those who have fallen behind.

Lock said district teacher coaches are working with the substitutes, and an administrative coach is working with Jacobs on individual issues that Lock did not specify. The district is asking for parent feedback by June 1 through an online survey.

Parent Irene Caban said she's noticed a huge difference in Jacobs and the atmosphere at the school since parents first spoke out.

"Today, she's more open," Caban said. "She's making an effort. But I think she owes her staff an apology. She's not very good at treating people."

Regina Mares, a former noontime supervisor who was fired by Jacobs after working at the school since 2005, said one episode involving a kindergartner sticks in her mind.

"The little girl had her arm around my legs and she was crying because Mrs. Jacobs told her she was going to be on timeout when she got to recess," Mares said. "(Jacobs) told me, 'Don't you console her.' She said, 'She's a bad, bad, mean little girl.' "

However, Jacobs does have supporters. Caban's 8-year-old son Kolby said the principal was "nice." Parent Jean-Pierre Muzac told the board he was impressed with her ability to bring grant money to the school.

School board candidate Ernie DeTrinidad said Jacobs has a lot of challenges at the school and praised her for using grant money to purchase high-tech equipment that enhances instruction.

But Borgen and several other parents say they still plan to put their children in different schools next year.

Board President Sherry Whitmarsh said she wants the district to be responsive.

"I think that if parents are still concerned, it makes me concerned," she said. "I want to make sure we are understanding what people's issues are and that we come up with processes to alleviate any of their concerns."

complaints
  • Campus climate where students, parents and employees fear retaliation if they speak out.
  • Failure to notify parents of student injuries and other issues.
  • Inadequate instruction in first-grade classes taught by string of 13 substitutes.

    PRAISE
  • Principal has brought grant money to school to purchase technology that enhances student learning.
  • Principal has begun meeting with parents to address their concerns.

    REMEDIES
  • Parent meeting with principal and district administrator to address deficiencies in first-grade instruction.
  • Assessed all first-graders in reading and math and began proving additional classroom support and morning literacy program.
  • District coaches working with substitutes on classroom management and instructional strategies.
  • Four-week summer intervention program for first-graders below grade level.
  • Regular phone messages and letters updating parents on plans and progress.
  • Regular coaching of principal by district school support administrator.
  • Parents of Sun Terrace can complete a survey by June 1 at www.surveymonkey.com/s/Title1_Survey_English.
    For more details about complaints and the district's response, read the On Assignment blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.