Principal under fire from staff

Iraida Pisano

The Gilroy Teachers Association plans to file an unfair labor
practice charge against El Roble Elementary School Principal Iraida
Pisano.
In the meantime, trustees voted 5-2, with trustees Rhoda Bress
and Tom Bundros dissenting, to release one of the district’s eight
elementary school principals during a closed session Thursday
night, board President Francisco Dominguez said.
The Gilroy Teachers Association plans to file an unfair labor practice charge against El Roble Elementary School Principal Iraida Pisano.

In the meantime, trustees voted 5-2, with trustees Rhoda Bress and Tom Bundros dissenting, to release one of the district’s eight elementary school principals during a closed session Thursday night, board President Francisco Dominguez said. Trustees would not say whether Pisano was the principal they voted to release but clarified that the decision did not have to do with budget cuts. They would not say why they voted to release the principal.

“It’s a confidential personnel matter,” Dominguez said.

The teachers union’s charge comes after months of tension between newcomer Pisano and “well over” half of the school’s 25 teachers, according to GTA President Michelle Nelson.

“The number of concerns and the frequency with which I get those concerns is unprecedented,” Nelson said. “I’m not talking about an isolated case. This is a pervasive problem at El Roble.”

Any teacher “who feels the slightest bit of discomfort” when meeting with Pisano has been advised to stop the meeting and call a union representative to sit in as a third party, Nelson said, adding that she lost track of how many times she’s been called to sit in on a meeting between a teacher and Pisano. Pisano also said she could not recall how many times a teacher has requested the presence of a union representative during a meeting.

“I don’t count because it’s a right that they have,” she said.

Although all teachers are guaranteed the right to call on a union representative for support when speaking with their principals, Nelson has not experienced that situation at other schools, she said. Nelson would not specify the offenses listed in the complaint but said it is 1.5 inches thick.

But El Roble office staff and the president of the school’s parent club said “half” is an exaggeration of how many teachers have voiced their concerns about their principal. Lori Parshall, who is new to El Roble this year as Pisano’s secretary, said it’s only five or six of the school’s 25 teachers who are “pretty set in their ways” and aren’t receptive to Pisano’s leadership.

“She’s one of the best bosses I’ve had,” Parshall said. “I just love the way she is with the kids.”

Parent Club President Charleen Lucio agreed.

“I think Ms. Pisano’s doing a fantastic job,” Lucio said. “And it’s not about us. It’s not about the adults. It’s about the kids and the kids love her.”

Pisano, who came to El Roble after a brief stint as an assistant principal at Gilroy High School, said she is focused on student achievement and developing the spirit of a school that’s seen five principals in six years. Pisano was not aware that the teachers union was filing an unfair labor practice charge against her, she said.

“That’s very unfortunate,” she said. “El Roble is doing a good job and I cannot make everyone happy.”

An El Roble parent and former chairperson of the school’s site council, Julie Miller, is one of the parents who was not happy with Pisano. She expressed this sentiment during a public comment session at Thursday’s board meeting. Pisano violated California educational code, school board policy and state law by calling a special meeting of El Roble’s school site council without enough notice and allowing students to embark on a field trip using expired permission slips, Miller said.

“With the cuts the school district is facing, it seems plain to me that a lawsuit is the last thing that we need,” Miller said. “This is however where we are headed.”

Although trustee Mark Good would not comment on whether Pisano was the principal trustees voted to release, he said he’s received a “deluge” of e-mails from Nelson concerning issues at El Roble.

“There seems to be an orchestrated campaign by the union to apparently oust the principal,” Good said. “It’s kind of like the boy that cried wolf. There’s not a lot of credibility from the union. However, that doesn’t mean that what they’re saying is not correct.”

Whether or not the union’s claims are hyperbole, “it’s a problem” when a teacher can’t approach his or her principal without a union representative present, he said.

In her 10 years as a superintendent, Deborah Flores said she’s only had to deal with one other charge of unfair labor practices. Although the district has not yet received a copy of the complaint against Pisano, Flores said she was aware that Nelson was filing one.

“I can’t respond to a complaint we haven’t received,” Flores said. “It would be premature.”

Except for Good and Dominguez, trustees did not return phone calls.

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