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Pierce issues pink slips to two popular teachers

Pierce Joint Unified School District students last week rallied behind two teachers not given tenure by the Board of Trustees.

More than 160 students signed a petition to keep band teacher, Juan Castenada, and math teacher, Katherine Grote. Many others called into the board’s Zoom meeting on March 11 to plead with the board to rescind the pink slips issued before the March 15 deadline to either dismiss the new teachers or grant them permanent status.

Unlike most states that award tenure to teachers after three to five years, the California system requires administrators to decide permanent status for new teachers in their second year of teaching.

Students who believed it was an unfair decision pleaded with the school board to reconsider, largely because the coronavirus pandemic disrupted their education and the teachers’ ability to prove their proficiency.

“With these hard times, Covid has ruined everything,” wrote Kami Fullerton, in a letter, who added that the decision to release Grote was disrespectful under such circumstances.
David Fong argued that a “huge chunk” of learning was taken away in the past 12 months, and students feared they would never catch up.

“Whether it be from Zoom or in person, Ms. Grote always strives to help students grow and learn in her class,” Fong wrote. “She just doesn’t want them to pass, she wants them to gain the skills needed to succeed in life. She knows exactly how to help students catch up after months of isolated learning. It doesn’t matter how confusing the question is; she always explains it in a way that we can understand and memorize.”

Students were equally supportive of the district keeping Castenada, stating he helped students grow and become stronger than they ever would have without his support.

“Castenada has brought life and hope back to the Pierce High School students and community,” wrote Lillian Arens. “He has allowed students to flourish and explore new pathways that weren’t open before.”

Arens said band students can now play during football games and that in just two years, Castenada has built a foundation for students to have more music opportunities.

Most of the students and teachers, who spoke against the dismissals, said that Pierce’s “revolving door” of teachers is disruptive to students’ education – and goes against Pierce’s motto of “Students First.”

“I, as a student, don’t want to watch this school constantly lose and gain teachers every other year,” said Emma Schlosser, who spoke highly of both Castenada and Grote.

Schlosser said the district’s decision to dismiss the two new teachers was a mistake.
“It may not seem like it, but the constant changing of teachers really does affect me and my peers’ education and our overall high school experience,” she said.

Multiple legislative bills have been written over the years to change California’s teacher tenure laws, but they ultimately failed when the powerful teacher’s unions refused to support them. In California, teachers have the greatest employment protections of any group outside federal judges, education officials said.

The Pierce Unified School District board, at their March 11 meeting, did grant tenure to nine second-year teachers: Brittanee Garcia, Manvendra Gill, Calley Paul, Danielle Pfyl, Trevor Platt, Katherine Randall, Heather Riley, Jacqueline Schlosser, and Raquel Ulloa-Mendoza.

The board, which voted 3-2 for Grote and Castenada’s dismissal, did not reverse their decision despite pleas from the students.

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