Middle School: From ‘No Confidence’ To Full Confidence

by MissionViejoDispatch.com on February 3, 2011

  On  Thursday  morning   La Paz   Middle School is celebrating its prestigious selection as a ‘School To Watch’. La Paz is the only recipient in Orange County and among only five statewide.

   Schools to Watch (STW) is a program developed by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. It aims to establish a national network of high-performing intermediate schools as models for schools struggling to improve student achievement.

   On Thursday morning Dr. Irv Howard, Director of the CA STW program, will present a banner during a school assembly to celebrate and commemorate the award.  SVUSD Superintendent Clint Harwick, local politicians and media representatives are expected to attend. State School Superintendent Tom Torlakson recently applauded the La Paz achievement.

   Only eighteen months ago the teachers at LaPaz circulated a Petition of No Confidence against policies being implemented by Principal Jean Carroll.  The petition was signed by 48 teachers, virtually the entire faculty. One question indicated 76% felt the faculty was not pleased “with the current culture of the school and the direction in which it is going.” Only 4% “strongly agreed” with the School’s direction and 17% ”agreed.”

   After all, La Paz was already the only four-time California Distinguished Middle School in Orange County and was also a two-time National Blue Ribbon School.

   Principal Carroll didn’t comment on the teachers’ rebellious actions at that time, and today she tells the Dispatch the STW award is the result of her outstanding teaching staff. Ms. Carrol’s achievements are notable since she has been a principal for less than four years.

   One of the Principal’s initiatives, opposed by teachers, was the implementation of Professional Learning Communities, emphasizing partnerships and small groups. PLC’s are formed to create a collegial environment for continuing teacher education. Teachers collectively analyze student performance and create learning solutions. Today a LaPaz student with trouble on a current assignment may find a teacher intervening with him during the next lunch hour to resolve his difficulty and keep it from snowballing.

  A notable improvement has been the closing of the gap in API scores for Hispanic students.  Hispanics are about 20% of the 1,000 students.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol Mitchell February 5, 2011 at 5:54 pm

As a former teacher at La Paz, I was excited to read that La Paz Intermediate School had received the “School’s to Watch” award. I was, however, concerned to see that the facts of the article were incorrect. Please note that the Professional Learning Communities were put in place by the former Principal, Allan Mucerino. The E.L.T. (Extended Learning Time) programs were also put in place by the former Principal. The teachers’ and staff at La Paz are outstanding as Ms. Carroll stated. I was proud to be one of them. It was insulting to read the comment that the teachers were involved in “rebellious actions”; a reference to the survey that was taken 2 years ago. The survey was meant to inform the administration of the concerns of the teachers in order to improve shattered relationships between staff and administration. It was never a rebellious action but a gathering of data to report to Ms. Carroll (Principal) and Mr. Elkins (Vice Principal) of their concerns.

I have a question to put before you–What factual information do you have to make the headline “From ‘No Confidence’ to ‘Full Confidence”? You might want to formulate a survey of your own. The results might surprise you. Your article was a back handed compliment at best. The “Schools to Watch” award was initiated by Ms. Carroll last year and I would agree with her it is the result of an outstanding teaching staff and I would add an incredible classified staff as well.

[Editor's Note: In June 2009 the teachers' survey was characterized to the Dispatch as a "no confidence" vote (article here)." A SVUSD spokesperson referred to the survey as "inappropriate," but rebellious actions may be appropriate and constructive. Merriam Webster defines rebellious as "resisting treatment or management." (2)]

RJ Brooks February 7, 2011 at 10:57 pm

I have several friends who have kids that have gone through La Paz the last couple of years, including when Mr. Mucerino was the principal. I will tell you that, as Carol Mitchell mentioned above, Mr. Mucerino was the principal who implemented the PLC’s and the other programs that made La Paz the school that it is today. I can’t believe that Ms. Carroll is taking credit for those programs. This article, Middle School: From ‘No Confidence’ To Full Confidence, is a knife in the back of the teachers who work so hard to make La Paz an amazing school. I think the next time Mission Viejo Dispatch wants to do an article on La Paz, talk to someone other than Ms. Carroll because you need to listen to the teachers, the heart of the school!! No wonder the staff at La Paz has been dissatisfied with the administration! I wonder how many teachers are going to quit or put in for transfers this year???

Joanna Russell February 12, 2011 at 10:07 pm

As a teacher who took early retirement over continuing under the current administration at La Paz, I (and my husband, Gary Russell, who retired also at the end of last year after 40 years at La Paz) am very gratified that someone is finally speaking up for the faculty. I truly appreciate the sentiments expressed by RJ Brooks because many of the “teachers, the heart of the school” are afraid to speak up for fear of reprisal.

La Paz has been a school of renown for many years and I concur with my former colleague, Carol Mitchell, that it is due in no small part to the teachers who continue to do their professional best no matter what. I also agree with Mrs. Mitchell in that the teachers of La Paz are not and have never been rebellious, but they have tried to alert the community to the problems that have been growing at the school. I personally remain in contact with many of the teachers who are still at the school and I can tell you that in addition to those who “moved on” at the end of the past school year, there will be more again at the end of this year who, though they love La Paz, will attempt to transfer if the school climate does not improve.

As the previous two respondents have mentioned, I too, am quite disappointed that the Dispatch did not attempt to present both sides of this issue. The Dispatch, in my opinion, was exploited and allowed itself to be the tool of a self-serving agenda.

[Editor's Note: The Dispatch was the only media to cover and publicize the La Paz teachers' grievances expressed in their 2009 survey. The continuing teacher dissatisfaction today would be hidden if not for the above comment and others spurred and printed by the Dispatch. Still, the complaints lack specificity and the teachers are [understandably] mum, making coverage difficult. In addition, parents are not speaking out.]

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