School board to decide fate of English-speaking teachers

Two longtime Williams Unified School District kindergarten teachers are fighting their involuntarily reassignments next year to a grade level they don’t want to teach.

Dale Martini, who has been with the district 40 years, and Craig Roper, almost 20 years, were both reassigned to teach third grade next year after the school board eliminated the Transitional Kindergarten (TK) positions in order to implement a 50/50 Spanish/English Dual Immersion program at Williams Elementary School, which requires teachers to hold a special credential. The district intends to start the dual-language program in the fall in which half the instructional day will be presented in Spanish to both English and non-English speaking students (both groups now referred to as dual language learners) and half will be presented in English.

The program aims to create bilingualism (the ability to speak fluently in two languages), biliteracy (the ability to read and write in two languages), and cross-cultural competence, district official said.

While personnel issues at the school district are usually handled behind well-shut doors, teachers and union officials have been openly oppositional to the Dual Immersion program, claiming the district intentionally pushed out its English-speaking teachers in favor of hiring bilingual teachers. They’ve also accused the district of creating a hostile work environment and retaliating against them for participating in protected union activities.

At the board’s June 21 meeting, the Williams Teachers Association submitted a level four grievance to the school board against the district over the reassignments of Martini and Roper, claiming that the new assignments violate the terms of their contract.

Martini taught first grade 22 years before moving to Kindergarten and TK.

“Now in my final year, the district has decided they want to move my colleague and I to grade levels we have no experience in, and have no desire to teach,” Martini said.

Martini claims there is no factual reason for the move, largely because few Williams parents have opted to enroll their students in the Dual Immersion program.

If parents don’t enroll, Martini said the district would be required to offer non-dual (English-only) TK and Kindergarten.

“There are, right now, three kindergarten openings,” she said.

Superintendent Edgar Lampkin, in his response to the grievance, denies any violation of the teachers’ bargaining agreement, because the district, after eliminating the TK program, is still uncertain if there will be any non-Dual Immersion classes offered next year, and will not commit to English-only TK until enrollment is completed.

The district’s counsel, Mary Hernandez, said the district was in full compliance when making that decision.

Roper, who has taught kindergarten and TK most of his 20-year tenure, said he and Martini were trained on the district’s new Sobrato Seal program, which was designed to develop the language and literacy skills of young dual language learners.

“Now we will have to be trained for the second and third grade, because it is an entirely different type of program,” Roper said. “I know it costs the district a lot to get that training done, so I have personal concern with that because we are going to have to fork out more money for us to be trained. The Seal presenters have also stated many times that a person should be left in their grade levels so they can get a foothold on what they are supposed to be teaching correctly. So now this is our second year, and now we are going to be moved, and all the new TK teachers will have to be trained on Sabrato Seal, so that’s another cost to the district.”

The school board is expected to make a final decision at their regular meeting in July whether to uphold the reassignments of Martini and Roper, or allow them to return to their TK classrooms next fall.

Both said they would respect the board’s decision. Martini plans for the 2018-19 school year to be her last before retirement.