Teachers describe a tense year at El Roble

Students and parents stand outside El Roble Elementary School

Several El Roble Elementary School teachers teared up as their
colleagues described the tense working conditions that have been
brewing at the school since August.
Several El Roble Elementary School teachers teared up as their colleagues described the tense working conditions that have been brewing at the school since August.

Surrounded by 13 of her colleagues, Marcia Capp, a 30-year educator in her 17th year at El Roble, delivered a letter of no confidence in their principal, Iraida Pisano, to the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Trustees Thursday night. Board members listened attentively as Capp read the letter, which was signed by 23 of the 27 certificated staff members at the school.

“I really appreciated it,” trustee Denise Apuzzo said. “I thought they gave good information. Some people were emotional but it’s an emotional issue. Their jobs, their livelihood, their reputations are on the line. I think we have a more balanced picture now.”

Pisano, who joined a long line of parent supporters to address trustees and city council members a week earlier at a joint school board-city council meeting, did not attend Thursday evening’s meeting. Many of the parents whose children waved signs in support of their principal at the joint meeting also did not attend.

Teachers originally had requested that they address the school board behind closed doors.

“We have sought to resolve this matter in the most professional way we can,” first grade teacher Lori Rees told the board. “We do not desire to weaken or obviate these procedures by public, possibly counterproductive meetings, which may exacerbate or worsen the climate in which we work.”

But instead, the board directed them to make their comments in public because trustees didn’t have enough notice to incorporate the teachers’ concerns into the closed session agenda.

Seven teachers besides Capp addressed the board and several dozen teachers and community members who sat in the audience. A few of the teachers brought family members for support.

“I think it empowered the teachers that spoke,” said Capp, whose three daughters were in the audience. “It gave people a glimpse of what our lives have been like. No one wanted to put our dirty laundry out there, but we were forced to.”

Capp reminded trustees of the dedication of El Roble’s teachers and assured them that former principals left the school for personal or professional reasons, not because they were forced out by the teachers. El Roble has had four different principals in the last five years.

Speakers also questioned Pisano’s professionalism.

“We are proud of El Roble and it sickens me that this misfortunate turn of events has been fueled in a negative way by the administrator in charge,” said Jonathan Castro, whose children attend El Roble and whose wife, Norma Castro, has taught at the school for 14 years.

While teachers sought to keep their concerns out of the public eye, “Ms. Pisano has been observed providing paper and copying privileges for protest flyers, rallying up parents, and inciting distrust between parents and teachers, which has directly affected the education of the students,” Capp said.

Students carrying a banner reading “Education and politics don’t mix,” attended the joint city council-school board meeting in support of Pisano and could also be seen displaying the banner to arriving students and parents before school.

Last week, the Gilroy Teachers Association filed an unfair labor practice charge against Pisano with the school district and the state’s Public Employment Relations Board. The document reflected many of the issues outlined by teachers at the board meeting, including allegations that Pisano discriminated against, threatened and harassed teachers at El Roble.

Pisano has not returned phone calls.

At a recent 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. However, parents and teachers said Pisano told parents that she was the principal in question.

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