Thursday, June 7, 2007

Computers Pulled from Hayward Classroom

The dumpster was one of the last places that Luis Reynoso thought he would find his computers, which were taken by the Hayward Unified School District from his classroom last summer.

Thirty-six computers were taken from his classroom, many of which were purchased and maintained by Reynoso. He filed a claim against the district in February 2007 to get his money back for the computers, as well as other items such as a digital camera, camcorder tripod and PC video camera that were also missing. By April, Reynoso said the principal told him that he would not be returning to Harder Elementary School the following year. He said his union advised him to resign, so he did.

“I’m very surprised it’s gone this far,” said Reynoso, a fifth and sixth grade elementary school teacher at Harder Elementary School. “All I want to do is teach (and) we have to go through these shenanigans.”

His saga began last August, a few days after summer school had ended. Reynoso went into his classroom to find desks overturned and his computers, many of which were bought with his own money, gone.

“It’s almost like somebody just vandalized the place,” said Reynoso. “At first I didn’t know who it was. After a custodian told me who it was, (I) spent a couple of days trying to find out who in the district did it. There was no note, no manifest.”

A custodian had seen members of the district in the classroom, a day before the computers were taken.

“They came in and said they couldn’t have this and that (the computers). It was a fire hazard,” said the custodian, who asked not to be named.

“It looked like a ghost town,” said the custodian. There were 12 computers stored in the closet that were also taken, he said.

“I felt violated and betrayed,” said Reynoso. “At first I could not believe it. Even now I still can’t believe it. The people that were supposed to work together as a team…I was hurt, after pouring so much of my own resources and my own time.”

Reasons ranging from computer viruses to fire hazard were given when Reynoso met with the district’s technology department, but he didn’t feel that they were justified since he had this classroom set up all year without any problems.

“His issue was a public safety issue,” said Patrick Simon, the director and chief technology officer for the district. “I was the person that executed the order to have his computers removed. He had a lot of electrical wires and a lot of cable wires, strung out throughout his classroom where he made an attempt to turn his classroom into a computer lab.

“We’re still waiting to this day to see what receipts did he have, to say that this is his property.”

Reynoso bought parts from Fry’s and Craigslist and spent his lunch hours maintaining the computers, some of which were donated. He admits that the computers were archaic, but as long as they were able to run a browser, he felt it didn’t matter, he said.

District representatives declined to further comment on the situation due to the impending lawsuit.

The associate superintendent of educational services, Christine Quinn, stated that the fire marshal was going to shut down Reynoso’s classroom, in an article that was printed in the Oakland Tribune on August 31, 2006,

John Berg, the fire marshal at the Hayward Fire Department, said that they do annual inspections for the school. According to its records there were no violations at Harder Elementary. The last inspection was done January 31, 2006. The state fire marshal’s office also did not have any records of violations.

“We don’t have any violations to that nature that were documented by our office and whenever we do an inspection, we document it,” said Berg. “There would have been an additional document in there, or some correspondence (with the school) and nothing shows that.”

As a teacher, Reynoso would receive at least one evaluation for performance each year. The evaluations would rank a teacher as effective, requires improvement or unsatisfactory. In February and May of 2006, Reynoso was effective in all categories. In evaluations as far back as December 2004 and in November 2005, he was ranked effective in all categories. He received comments stating that “Mr. Reynoso has implemented consistent discipline procedures in his classroom. He has built a positive rapport with his students. Students from his class have been cooperative and follow directions.” But it changed dramatically after his computers were taken.

In November 2006, shortly after he had met informally with the district regarding his computers, he received an unsatisfactory evaluation for the first time with negative comments.

The comments included, “Mr. Reynoso utilized limited strategies to gain, regain and maintain student attention and behavioral expectations.”

District representatives and the school principal have declined to comment on personnel issues.

Other comments on the evaluation stated that there was not enough student work posted on the walls and that there were no instructional aides.

On a recent visit, Reynoso’s classroom walls had a significant amount of student work posted compared to other sixth grade classroom walls which were relatively bare, with little student work.

“It (the student work) surpasses what the other classes have at his level,” said Gabriel Morales, a third and fourth grade teacher that has been at Harder for six years. “For sixth grade I would say he’s got more than what you would find in a sixth grade classroom. In fact, I think he had more stuff at the beginning of the year…so definitely around that time (of the evaluation) he would have had a lot more stuff.”

Morales said that if a teacher is having difficulties, evaluations usually drop gradually, not drastically.

“It’s not something that goes from a 5 star rating to a 1 star,” said Morales. “It doesn’t happen. There is something wrong with that picture when someone drops that much that fast.

“He brings a lot of things to the classroom that these kids need. We can’t afford to lose teachers like Mr. Reynoso. He’s very hard to replace and you’ll never find a way to replace him quickly.”
Reynoso says that there are times that he can’t believe that the lawsuit is even going on.

“I don’t want this to be so much of me. This was something that the kids were using. Parents are fuming, because they also participated with their money,” said Reynoso.

At the beginning of the year, parents contributed $40 each for web site subscriptions.

“When they took the computers away, not only did they take the program away, but the remaining part of the contract, they exhausted it, they never bothered to give the parents the money back either.”

The online programs that Reynoso had subscribed to were spread throughout the year, so the subscriptions would have lasted into the following school year.

Reyna Villalpando, whose son Luis is in Reynoso’s class, was confused and disappointed that the district took the computers. She said that her son learned so much the first year with Reynoso’s computer programs, that she went and bought her son a computer as well.

“They did a really bad thing for the kids. You can’t believe how much he improved,” said Villalpando. “He used to want to go home and do his homework on the computer and he’d be there for at least two hours.”

Without the computers this past school year, Villalpando saw the difference.

“I’m not saying he’s a bad boy, he’s my son, but he went down a lot,” said Villalpando. “He hasn’t been up like he was before.”

Reynoso used the Montessori approach where each student is looked at individually and the lesson plan would be catered toward their level.

“I have 29 kids. There are 29 different levels,” said Reynoso. “When we do our math lessons each child will go ahead and work on different strands of math at the sixth grade level.”

Reynoso needed computers for his lesson and spent three years trying to gather enough computers for his students. He had tried to invite members of the district to observe his lessons with the computers, but he never received a response.

“Kids will get their lesson and go out to the computer and as they do their independent practice, their results keep coming in. They see their product on the screen as the data starts to come in, the kids will start to group each other by the data. We’ll grab the kids that aren’t doing too well or the kids who are doing really well. It allowed the kids the jump. If there was anything that was beautiful about it, it’s that if someone wanted to move ahead, they could and that’s gone,” said Reynoso.

Students who had Reynoso as a teacher the year before felt the difference as well.

“Last year was better than this year because we had more computers,” said Jose Castellanos, 12, a student in Reynoso’s class. “He showed us different parts of the computer. We learned more with the computers.”

Reynoso, 47, began his second career as a teacher after spending 16 years in the high tech industry. He began teaching in 2002 at Eden Gardens Elementary School and was switched to Harder Elementary after two years.

Despite all the trouble that he’s going through, Reynoso says that he will continue to teach.

“It’s actually kind of sick. I could be bitter about it,” said Reynoso. “I could just quit this year but I thought, ‘You know what, this is not for me. But then I thought you know what, this is just a bump in the road, there’s no way that all schools are like this, there’s no way. If I have to start one myself I’ll change it.’”

Published on June 7, 2007. This story can be found here.

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