Complaint alleges principal threatened, harassed teachers

Iraida Pisano

A two-inch thick complaint filed last week by El Roble teachers
alleges that Principal Iraida Pisano discriminated against them,
made threats and harassed teachers.
A two-inch thick complaint filed last week by El Roble teachers alleges that Principal Iraida Pisano discriminated against them, made threats and harassed teachers.

“Ms. Pisano’s conduct has had a chilling effect on employees’ right to question violations of the collective bargaining agreement, employees’ right to offer rebuttals to negative (and subjective and arbitrary) evaluations, and employees’ right to consult with the exclusive representative on matters within scope,” read the complaint, compiled and authored by Gilroy Teachers Association President Michelle Nelson.

The several-hundred page tome includes dozens of e-mail exchanges between teachers and administrators detailing Pisano’s alleged blunders over the last year, copies of teacher evaluations conducted by Pisano, and letters written by teachers describing a hostile atmosphere at El Roble Elementary School.

The complaint landed on Superintendent Deborah Flores’ desk last week. Pisano should have her own copy by Friday, Flores said.

Pisano did not return phone calls or an e-mail seeking comment.

Nelson filed the complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board late last week. The school district has until March 25 to submit a response to the complaint with the board, an agency that works with the two parties to facilitate a solution.

In the complaint, several teachers detailed health concerns related to the tense working environment at El Roble and one veteran teacher even took two days off work “due to work related stress,” her doctor wrote.

The tension that has recently reached a head at El Roble began back in September, soon after Pisano was hired, according to e-mails and letters included in the complaint. Pisano started at El Roble in August after serving a brief stint at Gilroy High School as an assistant principal.

“My overall sense at El Roble is that it’s just not working,” Nelson wrote in an e-mail to Flores dated Oct. 19. “People are feeling ‘scolded,’ treated as if they are children, micromanaged and not heard.”

That same month, Nelson told Flores that several teachers were hoping to schedule a meeting to discuss their principal.

Evaluations of teachers this year by Pisano contradict teachers’ past evaluations, Nelson wrote. In his first year at El Roble, fourth grade teacher Eric Finley received glowing reviews from former El Roble Principal Leigh Schwartz.

“I have been impressed with his friendly, easy going manner,” Schwartz wrote. “I feel Mr. Finley is a fine beginning teacher and with a little work will become a master teacher.”

But when observed by Pisano several months later, Finley’s evaluation showed several areas lacking. Along with two other El Roble teachers, Finley tendered his resignation effective June 11, according to the Feb. 25 school board meeting agenda.

At the following board meeting, 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. Trustees would not say whether Pisano was the principal they voted to release or why they voted to release the principal.

Other teacher evaluations showed similar discrepancies as Finley’s.

“I have never felt as insecure and unsure of my teaching abilities as I do this year,” wrote Ariella Sneh Rama, a second grade teacher. “I had more confidence in myself my very first year of teaching than I do now and it is because of what Mrs. Pisano has done to me throughout this year. She has managed to destroy my self confidence and my enjoyment for my profession.”

Pisano dropped into teacher’s classrooms unexpectedly, undermined them in front of their students and criticized them openly, teachers said.

Although the complaint claimed that at least a dozen more employees than the seven mentioned were upset, they felt they could not submit their names “for fear of retaliation.”

District administrators have maintained a presence on the El Roble campus since last week, Flores said. The district also can appoint an evaluator other than Pisano to conduct future evaluations.

“Teachers do not need to worry about any retaliation for speaking out,” Flores said. “Anyone who files a complaint must be protected.”

In addition to voluminous information detailing the relationship between Pisano and several employees involving weightier issues such as evaluations and violations of contract, the complaint also included everyday annoyances documented by teachers.

On one formal complaint form, an anonymous teacher sought “immediate dismissal.”

In another complaint, teacher Liz Gates-Rianda cited frequent loudspeaker messages delivered around 8:15 a.m. that included “loud and raucous singing” by Pisano and an e-mail sent to teachers informing them of a new addition to the Pisano family.

“I just became a grandma for the second time – my grandson was born!!!” Pisano wrote in large font in an e-mail to her staff. “7 lbs. 6 oz, 19 1/4 inches Healthy with big lungs! Daughter-in-law is doing fine I had to share :0)”

Although the relationship between Pisano and teachers is strained, scores of El Roble parents came out to support her at a recent board meeting.

At Thursday night’s board meeting, teachers planned to deliver a letter voicing their vote of no confidence in their principal, said longtime El Roble teacher Marcia Capp. The letter was signed by 23 of the school’s 27 certificated staff members. Still worried for their jobs, 12 teachers still wouldn’t sign their real names but instead signed as Teachers A through L. The letter is notarized, Capp said.

“This is eating the teachers alive,” Capp said. “Teachers are getting sick.”

Although teachers still have not been notified whether Pisano is the principal released by the school board, Capp heard from parents that Pisano is the principal in question.

“If it is her, we need to have her gone now,” she said. “I am scared but I have to speak out for these people who have their whole career ahead of them.”

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