Nearly 20 parents turned out to the San Ramon Valley school board meeting Tuesday night to support a probationary teacher from Danville's John Baldwin Elementary School who was not awarded permanent status in the district.
School board members and district officials would not confirm whether fifth-grade teacher Susan Strickler was among the employees voted on during a motion on various personnel changes, citing confidentiality and privacy rules. However, Strickler verified that she was on the personnel list and not given tenured status.
Strickler, whose second stint as a district teacher is now set to end this June, declined to offer further comments when contacted after the board meeting.
The public debate Tuesday night in the district's Danville boardrooms was impassioned -- and at times contentious -- as parents took to the podium and made comments from their seats to offer fervent support for Strickler.
"Susan Strickler is an experienced teacher who knows what she's doing and has the confidence to teach our kids," Karyn Wolff, whose daughter is in Strickler's class, told the school board. "If the situation is not reversed, it is your loss and the loss of the children in our district who will miss out on a great and valued teacher."
The board members spoke cautiously in support of the recommended personnel changes while declining to share specifics about Strickler, citing confidentiality requirements.
"We have things that we wish that we could say. We can't," board president Denise Jennison said toward the end of the 40-minute discussion. She later added, "You need to know, that with fidelity your concerns were heard and they were addressed … We sense your passion and we sense your frustration. And that is genuine and I have to say, we share it."
Strickler, who taught in the district for four years in the 1990s before leaving her position, returned as a temporary teacher at Green Valley Elementary in Danville last school year. She's been a probationary teacher this year for fifth-graders at John Baldwin.
Second-year probationary certificated teachers whom districts select for a third straight year of employment receive permanent status, under the California Education Code.
Some parents of Strickler's students, upon reportedly learning of the board considering not to employ her for another year, wrote emails to board members and followed up by lobbying on her behalf at Tuesday night's meeting.
The nine citizen speakers lauded Strickler's interactions with and positive impacts on her students and their education, with some describing her as "open and receptive," "creative," and able to "connect with students."
"Mrs. Strickler is special. And I know this how? It's because my daughter told me so," parent Cheryl Havens told the board.
"There are basically two things that I want for my son, as a parent. No. 1 is happiness. No. 2, an excellent education. And Mrs. Strickler has very richly delivered on both of those counts," Laura Wahl said.
After citizen comment ended, board vice president Greg Marvel opened the board's discussion by prefacing that he would only speak broadly about personnel issues because he and his colleagues needed to adhere to confidentiality rules.
"We're at a disadvantage because we are prohibited from talking specifics (publicly), absent a clear and express waiver of that confidentiality privilege from employees that are on the personnel report. We do not have that," he said.
Marvel added that he thought the board should generally "rely on our principals' recommendations as the instructional leader," but he also told the audience, "I don't want people to believe that any of the personnel actions on here are rubber-stamped by whatever the director, the coordinator, the principal is recommending. They're not. They're thoroughly reviewed by the various levels of administration."
One mother began speaking from her seat after Marvel's comments, prompting the board president to interject.
"Respectfully, it's not going to be a back-and-forth dialogue. We've had the public comment. This is the board's opportunity for comment now," Jennison said.
A father, trying for a chance to address the board a second time, then spoke from his seat during a 30-second exchange with Jennison, who pounded the gavel once and called for order in the meeting. "I apologize. You had your three minutes, and now the board members have their chance to speak," she said.
When the father continued to push, Jennison followed with, "I'm not going to compete with you in my meeting" -- at which point the back-and-forth ended.
Board clerk Mark Jewett, the next board member to speak, told the parents, "From the bottom of my heart, (your voices) have been heard. I've spent the last five days doing very little else in my life other than reading, re-reading and thinking and talking to my district managers."
Jewett's colleagues echoed his sentiments.
"We are not rubber-stamp board members. Anyone who knows me knows I don't rubber-stamp anything, ever," Jennison said, later adding, "We pushed back, and we researched, and we gathered our information. We didn't just accept the chain of command."
The board's vote on the recommended personnel actions was unanimous. "With regret, the motion passes," Jennison said.
Strickler worked as a certificated teacher at Danville's Charlotte Wood Middle School from 1991-95 before taking an unpaid leave of absence from 1995-97 at her request, according to district spokeswoman Elizabeth Graswich. She returned as a certificated substitute teacher district-wide from 2010-13.
For the 2013-14 school year, Strickler worked at Green Valley Elementary on a temporary teaching contract. This year, she's classified as a "probationary II teacher" assigned to John Baldwin.
Strickler's name was not listed on the public document outlining recommended personnel changes for certificated employees Tuesday. However, there were two John Baldwin teachers -- listed only by partial identification numbers -- up for "non-re-election."
The school board opted to not re-elect 11 probationary teachers overall this year, a decision that must be finalized by March 15 of a teacher's second year of employment, according to Graswich.
"The decision to non-re-elect is taken very seriously," Graswich said in an email after the board meeting. "Permanent status is not granted lightly. Many of our permanent staff remain with us for their entire careers."
Strickler was present at the board meeting when parents lobbied on her behalf, but she did not speak at that time. She did address board members before they entered closed session, which occurred about 45 minutes before the regular open-session meeting. A transcript of Strickler's comments was not immediately available.