By James Ott
An outpouring of support from passionate parents and students may have prevented the firing of an alternative education teacher in Antioch.
At the February 27 Antioch School Board meeting district staff recommended laying off at least 14 teachers as part of the school district’s annual review of projected student enrollment and corresponding staffing levels.
The list of potential firings included one teacher from Antioch’s E.N.C.O.R.E., (Educating and Nurturing with Options, Resources and Education) alternative teaching program.
But thanks to a fervent outcry from concerned parents and students, not only will that teacher likely keep her job, but the school board decided to look into expanding the successful program.
E.N.C.O.R.E. is a kindergarten through eighth-grade program that allows home schooled children to still have the benefits of learning part time in a classroom.
It is taught by teachers Leslie McKinnon, Irene McLaughlin, Ericka Spires and Cynthia Schroeder who was the teacher expected to lose her job if the district went through with the process.
Person after person spoke up at the meeting to say that all of E.N.C.O.R.E.’s teachers including “Miss Cynthia” as many of her students and their parents refer to her, are invaluable to E.N.C.O.R.E.
Parents and teachers argued that E.N.C.O.R.E.’s unique structure in which the same 100-125 students a year stay with the same teacher and fellow students as they move from kindergarten through eighth-grade cannot handle such a layoff.
Besides they said, E.N.C.O.R.E. is very successful program that consistently produces high grades and test scores and consistently has had to put interested families on a waiting list for most of it’s 20-year existence. This year there are already 12 families waiting for room to put their children into E.N.C.O.R.E.
“You have the best alternative education program in the Bay Area,” claimed one parent. “I know because I did the research and I chose to come here.”
Every parent who spoke agreed with that sentiment, many of them moving from other parts of the Bay Area just to enroll their kids. One father commutes from the Dublin/Livermore area just to get his kids into E.N.C.O.R.E.
Parents and students raved about the teachers and special classes that allow their home-schooled students socialization with other kids as well as a sound education.
“I went to E.N.C.O.R.E. as a very shy student that didn’t know how to go through public school and I came out a performer,” said former student Rayanne Baird.
Baird is now pursuing acting at Diablo Valley College.
There were similar stories of students that not only went to E.N.C.O.R.E. and got a good education, but several said the lives of these students were positively changed.
One mother recounted how her son was an angry trouble maker who had below average or failing grades and couldn’t handle public school. After 9-years at E.N.C.O.R.E. he consistently makes honor roll at his high school and is a well adjusted, happy young man.
Over and over parents and students credited E.N.C.O.R.E.’s success directly to it’s four teachers, describing them as “fabulous,” “wonderful,” and amazing.
Former students recounted how they dissected cow eyes and sequenced DNA in science labs, took field trips to galleries to appreciate art, made Chinese bamboo painting and learned to write critical thinking essays.
Several years ago a group of students at E.N.C.O.R.E. even wrote, directed, edited and starred in a feature film called “Around the World in 180 days.” The film was shone at the former Brenden Theaters in Pittsburg.
After all of the praise, many were left wondering why the district was even considering laying off any teacher from such a successful program that even has a positive cash flow for the district due to a lack of student abences.
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for the district Keith Rogenski said that all of the potential layoffs were being looked at because of lower enrollment projections for the coming school year.
Those projections for each school he said, determined that certain teachers may not have enough students to teach and therefore may not be needed.
At the meeting however, Rogenski did stress that all of the projections and thus the potential layoffs were just preliminary estimates that the district is required to make each year by March 15.
He said the General Fund savings for those 14 potential layoffs could be as high as $700,000 for the 2013-2014 school year.
“This action is preliminary not an end all be all, permanent action,” he said.
The board, Rogenski said, is free to make changes to any of the teacher positions on the list in the coming months.
The decision to potentially fire an E.N.C.O.R.E. teacher seemed to come from the fact that the program only had about 75 students at the time the district was making their list.
Schroeder said that those figures are inaccurate and misleading because, like many schools their enrollment goes up after several weeks into the school year.
“The district stated that our attendance goal is 100 students – we have always met that,” she said. “Our new principal said that it was actually 106 so we met that – we are currently at 109 students.”
In the end the school board members seemed to unanimously agree that E.N.C.O.R.E. is meeting it’s attendance goals and it’s academic goals and should not be losing a teacher. In fact, they voted 4 to 1, (with Gary Hack against), to put off the preliminary vote on any of the layoffs in question until the next board meeting so that they can get staff to research how to grow the E.N.C.O.R.E. program.
“My vision 20 years ago was for E.N.C.O.R.E. to be much bigger,” said Board member Claire Smith, who helped found E.N.C.O.R.E. “I know you fit the needs of a lot of students.”
Board members seemed so impressed by the praise of students, teachers and parents that they said E.N.C.O.R.E. in many ways should be a model for the whole school district.
“You’re the dream for all of us,” said Board President Joy Motts. “[E.N.C.O.R.E.] is how we envision public education.”
The next school board meeting is on March 13 at 7:00 p.m. in the School Services Building at 510 G. Street.