Students, parents, and alumni voiced their concerns over various issues at the Sept. 15 Alhambra Unified School District (AUSD) school board meeting, including San Gabriel High School’s media adviser Jennifer Kim’s administrative leave; the lack of disciplinary action for former SGHS principal and current English Language Development Director Jim Schofield for workplace bullying and his censorship of the school newspaper; and federal funding issues in the district. In response, Board Member Joanne Russell-Chavez spoke about personally being offended by the barrage of speakers that evening and throughout the summer’s board meetings.
Speakers repeatedly asked about the three English teachers who were removed from San Gabriel High School (SGHS): Andrew Nguyen, Jennifer Kim, and Ted Brock. Speakers also praised Kim’s teaching and advising.
Maria Soria, ’12 SGHS alumnus, Cal State University, Northridge student of sociology, and a record label owner, criticized the school board’s actions and questioned their expenditures in the 2014-15 school year.
“Thanks to the Pasadena Star-News, I found an article dated April 28 of last year, and would you believe that [Supt.] Tellez actually spoke?” Soria said. “She stated that the 2014-15 school year money formula was going to look very different. They had $29 million in the reserves. AVID, a program that I was a part of, that helped me and many other low-income native language students get into a four-year college, had been cut a year or two before that… But with that 29 million… we still haven’t seen AVID return.”
She also brought up concerns of discrimination and retaliation.
“Mr. Nguyen was a first year teacher. He wasn’t expensive. Do you feel that as an Asian gay man he didn’t deserve the income he was earning?… It’s easy to see why Ms. Kim and Mr. Brock got spanked. As former journalists, they would have given those blind a light to see. Why did they have to be kept in the dark and quiet?”
Thomas Kung, ’08 SGHS alumnus and an accountant, asked the school board for a resolution that is “worthy of the title and salaries you all hold.”
“In the past three months of observing the school board meetings, it appears the nature, timing and extent of board’s actions aim solely of meeting the minimum and dodging legality issues,” Kung said. “I am asking for a board to take initiative on these issues, I want to see a demonstration of effective leadership, and I want to feel that there is sense of urgency to the students without an adviser; not a board hiding behind governance or waiting for issues to be forgotten. The debate team, Matador journalists and yearbook staff are abandoned or rather, it seems punished because they choose to demonstrate their first amendment rights and voice their sense of justice.”
Michael Garcia, ‘09 SGHS alum and an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, spoke on behalf of Edgar Perez-Lopez, ’09 SGHS alum, former University of California, Berkeley student, and a community organizer. Perez-Lopez wrote on Facebook about his experiences as an undocumented student at SGHS. “I was personally part of the bad page of the administration (counselors),” Perez-Lopez wrote and Garcia read aloud. “I was enrolled in classes which only met the requirements to graduate, but never thought I would graduate. Thanks to my AVID teachers and several other teachers such as Ms. Kim, I was a little more motivated to do something in my life besides just graduate.”
Perez-Lopez, like other speakers, addressed district money issues, which he further elaborated on with his Facebook comments, alleging SGHS “uses low income students to get its funding.”
Garcia then praised Ms. Kim as one of the greatest teachers at SGHS who “challenged my class” and “kept me in line.”
A speaker spoke on behalf of Lauren Fukumoto,’13 SGHS alumnus, former editor-in-chief of The Matador, and a third-year student at Columbia, who criticized the way SGHS creates obstacles for its impoverished students to succeed.
“What sickened me most about calling SGHS one of the best schools at ‘Beating the Odds’ is that it creates a misunderstanding of what students at San Gabriel have to go through,” Fukumoto said. “Not only do we deal with low funding and extreme levels of poverty, but we deal with an administration that is always too busy for us until they can use us for a tactical advantage.”
She pointed at former Principal Schofield, who took credit for all of her accomplishments, despite having never met her before.
“[Schofield] took credit for my successes by trying to paint a picture that he and the administration had been part of shaping my accomplishments. But the only person I had seen on a regular basis, pushing me to be better and to try new experiences to prepare me for college had been the teachers who I spent hours with both inside and outside of the classroom. The only one who could really speak to the ‘countless hours’ I had spent in journalism was Ms. Kim, because she was right alongside of me.”
Justine Murietta, ’15 SGHS alumnus and a University of California, Riverside student, explained how former principal Jim Schofield repeatedly bullied teacher Andrew Nguyen in his classroom with excessive classroom visits that made students uncomfortable.
“One time, we had finished presenting our projects with 10 minutes left, so Mr. Nguyen decided to give us free time because we’d work hard for the past two weeks,” Murietta said. “While we were being carefree, we didn’t notice the door opening, but when we did, the class fell silent. Mr. Nguyen nervously jumped up to his feet without Mr. Schofield even having to say a word and… within seconds he was showing Mr. Schofield what we had been working on while we all watched in uneasy silence. That was one of the last visits I remember, and it’s so prominent in my mind because Principal Schofield had managed to make an entire class and their teacher nervous without having spoken one word.”
Simon Yung, ’15 SGHS alumnus, former copy editor of SGHS’s newspaper The Matador, and California State University, Los Angeles student, gave the definition of insanity while wearing his “armor of truth.”
“Insanity is doing the exact same thing over and over and over again, and expecting something to change… To see the District remove teacher, after teacher, after teacher, and expecting people not to question you is insanity,” Yung said.
Yung further demanded that the school board take action.
“Stop trying to make yourselves look good. Stop dancing around the issues and hoping that your constituents will stop paying attention… You are failing as an educational institution and you need to correct your mistakes.”
Apart from the SGHS speakers, Alhambra High School parent Alan Joyce spoke about how his son had been retaliated against.
“My son was abused… He’s a baseball player, an athlete… Probably one of the best the school has ever seen, and yet he was singled out,” Joyce said.
Board President Adele Andrade-Stadler immediately promised to look into the matter, stating that “we’ll follow up on that, as all the students have had follow up as well.” Audience members disagreed on these “follow-ups” ever happening, demanding answers for the censorship, retaliation, and bullying issues of the summer and now fall.
Eric Thai, a senior at SGHS, criticized the school board for its lack of communication.
“Why was it so hard for you to speak up and make us understand?” Thai said. “You can’t just drop hints…You’ve got to be explicit… Or else, who will understand except you? Yourself? Now, the basis of understanding each other is communication and transparency, so I’m here to ask you all to start engaging in conversation.”
A speaker spoke on behalf of Kelsey Ko, ’15 SGHS alumnus, former copy editor for yearbook, and a University of California, Irvine student, who brought concerns for the future of SGHS’s yearbook quality.
A caring adviser is needed to make a yearbook, and Jennifer Kim was the heart and soul of the best yearbook SGHS has ever made, Ko said.
Current staff members of The Matador also addressed the school board.
Staff editors Kelly Ho and Sydney Trieu reported on the state of The Matador. Ho spoke on behalf of Editor-in-Chief Cassandra Chen, reporting a meeting in which Principal Debbie Stone assured journalists that items would be returned before graduation. Trieu reported National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) newspaper and yearbook awards won respectively by The Matador and El Camino Real staff members.
Newspaper editor and artist Emmanuel Maresca is nominated for Design of the Year and Comic Panel/Strip, and former yearbook coverage editor Trisha Vasquez is nominated for Story of the Year in Feature writing. This is the third straight year that the media staffs at San Gabriel High School have placed in the NSPA national awards, which are likened to high school Pulitzer Prizes.
After the public comments session was closed, Board Member Joanne Russell-Chavez expressed her offense at the speeches and was heckled.
“What’s happening now… is a small part of your life. It’s a part of what we deal with. So when you tell me that I’m not listening to you… so be it. But you know what, we’re listening, we have acted, and… you don’t like the way we done something, because you don’t appreciate where we come from,” Russell-Chavez said. She compared the situation of the speakers to her experiences at San Gabriel HIgh School in the 80s.
The next school board meeting is on Oct. 6 at 6 p.m. at the Board Room at 1515 W. Mission Road, Alhambra, CA 91803.