Tuesday, September 29, 2015

An Open Letter to the School Board of Upland USD

I have been employed by Upland USD as a teacher of English for the past thirteen years. In this letter, I do not presume to speak for the other teachers in the district; my opinions are solely my own, though they may be shared.

Formerly I worked for the Jurupa Unified School District. I began my teaching career there, and I loved my job. I taught English, Journalism and Yearbook, and by the time I left I was making close to $90,000 a year. I took a $12,000 a year pay cut to come to teach in Upland. You may wonder why. (Certainly my friends and family members did.)

It would take far too much column space here to attempt to unravel all the turbulent events of the mid to late 1990's in that district. Suffice it to say, it all began over money. Teachers faced a situation similar to the impasse we have now in Upland. Attendance at school board meetings rose dramatically and tempers rose accordingly. Teachers rallied and carried signs, bought slogan-printed t-shirts, got the community involved. People took sides. Administrators who were sympathetic were transferred punitively, and that's when things really became an ugly mess of name-calling and shaming. (For all the gory details, look for stories archived in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and the Riverside Press Enterprise.)

Through all that mess, I continued to teach. I loved my students, and I loved my colleagues. I showed up for work every day ready to teach, to encourage, to support, and I waited for resolution, for the dust to settle. Sadly, it never did. Oh, eventually the district offered a salary increase that was acceptable and teachers ratified a contract. But the damage was done. Bitterness and resentment remained, permeating every classroom. It felt like a marriage that is irreparably damaged by anger and infidelity. And then the turnover of administrators began as the district hired principal after principal in a desperate attempt to find someone who could shore up sagging test scores (which had plunged right along with teacher morale). Nothing worked. The pervasive negative attitude coupled with a principal who felt no qualms in making profoundly hurtful and sexist statements caused me to look elsewhere for work.

I will never forget my first year working for Upland USD. I was welcomed repeatedly by everyone from administrators to the maintenance crew. New teachers were given constant support, and as I met my colleagues, I found people who still had that zeal to make a difference in the lives of the kids they taught. Everyone smiled. Not so now.

Do the teachers currently employed by Upland USD deserve a raise? Absolutely. I could go on and on about how hard we work and what we sacrifice; please don't think any of us have forgotten about buying our own copy paper and yes, buying our own toilet paper when we were asked to conserve a few brief years ago.

But there is now something at stake here that is greater than money, and that is virtue, specifically, the virtues of dignity and mutual respect. These were the virtues that were beaten down and destroyed by angry activists on both sides in Jurupa Valley. It took that district a decade to recover.

I did not come to Upland because of the salary schedule. I chose Upland because of the school district's reputation. Friends told me Upland was a district steeped in teacher support, professional regard and civility, and these are exactly the traits I found here. I would implore you not to allow these traits to be further eroded by the salary dispute. What we stand to lose in teacher morale and support for our students will be a very great sum to forfeit, I assure you, and, once lost, could take years to recover.


  1. I stayed at UHS when we unified for exactly the reasons you mention. Sad to see that sense of community and working together to help students eroding. :(

    1. Mooney, my last year is not like your last year--and I'm so disappointed. It's not the money; it's seeing all the hurt and angry faces every day. We're wearing black on Tuesdays now. Sheesh! I don't want to wear black (though I am), I want to wear festive t-shirts and Hawaiian shirts every day. I want to stand in the hallway outside the copy room and chat with Joe Darrow about music and our kids and our mutual friends,not the strike. I want to see Stacy Bangle laugh at something one of her freshmen said, not frown because the math teachers were criticized AGAIN. I want to walk across campus singing with Shane and greeting my students after school, not be hurried off campus because we're told not to stay so we can "send a message." Arrrrrgggh!

  2. Kay,
    How about some specific details? What is being offered and what is expected? Are the problems strictly monetary, or mostly so?

    1. Bob, thanks for being such a faithful reader. This is not the forum for discussion of particulars. Yes, the problem is mostly monetary. This post was the entirety of a letter that I had to hone down to 150 words so that the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (our local rag) would print it. I wanted our Upland folks to read my words in context, so I posted the letter here, then went to social media (mostly Twitter) and asked my students to pass the word along. They did, breaking my previous record for most blog views in a day--which was 150. Yesterday 439 people viewed this site. I'm hoping one or two of them were board members. Honestly, just between the two of us (since no one's reading this), the board members are pretty nice people. I've had some of their children as my students. The insidious attitude that teachers are weak-kneed nerds prevails, sad to say.

  3. Replies
    1. You're welcome, Jimi. Thanks for listening.