Over 100 Madison Elementary teachers and parents inundated the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education meeting on Thursday to voice concerns about the changes implemented at that school since the start of the school year two weeks ago.
Several spoke about what they believe are unfair policies set in place by new Principal Juan Ruelas, who was appointed to the role last May by the school district office, and called for his outright dismissal. Their allegations included the harassment of teachers and forced administrative leave of 27-year teacher of first grade Patricia Guzman.
According to Assistant Superintendent Mercy Santoro, Principal Ruelas was assigned to the underperforming Madison by Superintendent McDonald based on Ruelas’ “proven successful record” after he improved Roosevelt Elementary School. Ruelas has worked for the district for 20 years.
“Madison has amazing after-school and during-school enrichment programs,” Santoro said. “What we’re interested in addressing is, even with all of those support services in place for the children and families and teachers, young people are still not able to perform to their full potential.”
The test scores for Madison have been uneven for the last several years, according to Santoro.
Under Ruelas’ leadership Roosevelt Elementary became a California Distinguished school and won the California Business for Academic Excellence two years in a row, becoming one of the highest performing schools in the district. According to Superintendent Brian McDonald, Ruelas also rallied community support including people willing to “open their checkbooks” to the school.
“A lot of low socioecomic kids, yet they found a way to get those kids to be high achieving. What it tells me is we should accept no excuses whatsoever. All schools can perform at a high level. Prior to his arrival at that school, the school was just an average school,” McDonald said at a site visit on the first day back to school.
Parents and teachers questioned Ruelas’ new strict rules on when students can go to the bathroom, how students must be picked up and the limited time available for eating.
Teacher Union representative Alvin Nash said the Principal asked teacher Guzman, who is the United Teachers of Pasadena site representative, to report to Human Services. When she questioned why she needed to go and called for union representation, Nash said that Principal Ruelas called the police to have Guzman removed.
“Return our teacher back to us,” Juliette Aragon, parent of two, said whose entire family has attended Madison, including her parents. “We the parents are not happy on how things have been handled.”
Since Rueles came to Madison, four employees from Roosevelt have also been hired at Madison that previously worked at Roosevelt. Two instructional staff and two behavioral aides were added to the school to address goals of more in classroom assistance.
Several teachers read off an official statement where they said these new employees from Roosevelt are “exhibiting invasive, hostile, and spy-like behavior” and had different standards expected of them. The Madison teachers say they suspect the transferees are spying on teachers in the classroom.
“We are in a toxic, violent environment. We call for removal of him in this district. We used to be afraid, now we are here to fight for our rights,” one teacher read in an official statement. “We’re living a nightmare at our school.”
Thirty-four speakers requested to speak during public comment, but some were deferred to submitting written comments by board President Elizabeth Pomeroy.
One person shouted back, “We all have different stories, we want to make sure he gets fired.”
Esmeralda Cerezo, PTA President who volunteers daily at Madison Elementary, said she was there on behalf of the students and would not take either side. She clarified that she did think Guzman is a good teacher.
“Everyone is forgetting the kids. I have nothing negative to say about this principal at all. I think that the structure is good. A handful with me feel that the changes are good,” Cerezo said, receiving boos from the crowd. “Those who are not doing what they are supposed to be doing are the ones who are worried. Everyone has their own story.”
The issues raised by Madison will return to the regularly scheduled board meeting on September 24th at 5:30 p.m. as an agenda item.