Mountain View Voice

Opinion - June 19, 2009

A lightning rod teacher returns

Last March the Voice ran a story based on charges from a small group of parents saying that a Huff Elementary School teacher was "abusive" toward some of her fourth grade students. The resulting turmoil ended only after the teacher left her classroom for the remainder of the year.

Calling it a "personnel matter," administrators at the Mountain View Whisman School District said that legally they could not share any details about Patty Polifrone's departure. But given the wide-ranging comments from parents — some loved the teacher's brusque style, while others thought she was a verbal abuser — there seemed to be enough controversy to expect that Polifrone would not be teaching again in the district any time soon.

Wrong. Last week, word got out that Polifrone would indeed be teaching in the district, this time to sixth graders at Graham Middle School. The announcement came with little fanfare, and can't be welcome news for parents who followed the clamor in March about Polifrone's teaching style.

As before, the district says it is not able to disclose any specific details about how Polifrone was assigned to Graham, leaving it open to speculation. And naturally, this speculation will include a new round of negative comments about this teacher, echoing the parents at Huff who felt their children were abused in her classroom.

It is important to note that Polifrone's tough-love style had its fans, some of whom said their children learned to handle adversity under her tutelage. These parents seemed to be saying that even though her style was hard on students, their children could overlook the emotional wringer if it taught them about discipline and life in the real world.

Lacking details on the Polifrone dispute, it is impossible to know exactly why and how her reassignment occurred. For example, if the district intended to dismiss her, as a tenured teacher she would be entitled to a formal hearing and could appeal the decision to a Superior Court judge.

Whatever the case, as personnel matters go, she seems to be coming out on top. This may be fair and for the best — district officials continually say they always have the students' needs foremost in mind, and we have no choice but to take them at their word.

But even if district officials cannot comment on specific personnel matters, it would ease the anxiety of concerned parents if they explained to the public in more detail how such issues generally are addressed. What parameters are set by a teacher's tenure? Does the union get a say, and if so what weight is it given? What role, if any, does the district board (in closed session) play in deciding a teacher's fate?

Perhaps district officials feel Polifrone will do better with sixth graders, which may be possible. But we doubt that, if given a choice, many parents of incoming sixth graders would elect to have their child spend the school year with Polifrone.

The best teachers inspire their students by being role models and sharing examples of how good behavior and a positive work ethic can lead to success. The worst harangue and tear down their students. And any teacher whose lessons come with abuse, either physical or emotional, has no place in the classroom.

Some parents put Polifrone squarely in the latter camp. Given that she's returning to the classroom this fall, we hope they're wrong — and we wish the district could do a little more to ease parents' worries about it.


Posted by Ned, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 19, 2009 at 7:56 pm

I would think the issues and questions the editor raises here could be best addressed through old-style investigative journalism. This paper broke rumors. Why not now, Mr. Editor, attempt yourself to get answers to the very questions you pose above?

[How could the district] ease the anxiety of concerned parents if they explained to the public in more detail how such issues generally are addressed?

What parameters are set by a teacher's tenure?

Does the union get a say, and if so what weight is it given?

What role, if any, does the district board (in closed session) play in deciding a teacher's fate?

An old-school journalist would press an organization until it hurts not to answer any of the above. Then he or she would dig deep into the backgrounds of the adminstrators who did nothing about all this. This journalist spits outs a story without all the facts in order, steps back and acts like a dispassionate observer studying us all in a controlled environment and then baiting us to do this, or think that in the aftermath as with the above questions.

Surely the union has a contract, why not quote passages from it? Surely California has clear laws on the books regarding all this, why not research the subject and cite from it? Surely there are subject matter authorities, outside of the district that could better comment on the legalities of all this. But do we get any of that? No. The Voice is by and large just a product of hack job journalism at best, and a scandal sheet at worst.

And let's not forget the fact that neither The Voice nor the School District has got anything of substance on this teacher. She'll return to work. She'll teach. And if she's smart she will sue the school and this paper for everything they're worth.

This city deserves better from its paper and the schools.

Posted by OwayOwa, a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jun 19, 2009 at 8:35 pm

the paper needs more comics if anything since it already gets the laughs ;-)...

Posted by any "member" name you wish, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 19, 2009 at 8:48 pm

This editorial only serves to perpetuate a very grim chapter in our schools' history. A question its purpose. Or is this just a way to increase readership through sensathionalism? Makes me wonder.

Posted by School Parent, a resident of Jackson Park
on Jun 20, 2009 at 12:10 pm

The best place for this teacher is with the PACT program, within eye and ear shot of the very same administrators who bunged this whole thing up to begin with. Instead, she is placed at the school the second most distance away from the district office. The first being Huff. Out of sight, out of mind as they say.

Posted by Omar, a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 20, 2009 at 1:55 pm

I think she would make a great choice for the prinipal of PACT. Discipline problems could be dealt with swiftly.

Posted by Aja, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 20, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I too find it inappropriate that this editorial raises questions that the paper might have made better use of its resources with by addressing them first.

Posted by Teacher, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 20, 2009 at 8:43 pm

Let's take this one step further and have Ms. P assigned to the District Office as a resource teacher. From there she can report on the way the district office administrators treat parents, teachers and students.

Posted by Don Frances, Mountain View Voice Editor
on Jun 20, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Don Frances is a registered user.

It's true that this editorial openly asks questions that our news staff should try to answer. In fact we're working on it as a news story for next week. Meanwhile, it seems perfectly valid to me to ask the questions in an editorial.

Posted by Concerned adult, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 21, 2009 at 9:43 pm

I will repeat my comment to the story written re: Ms. P's re-assignment to Graham; should your child be in her classroom, and an adverse event occur which you feel is unacceptable treatment, then simply file a police report with MVPD. This might include harassment, intimidation, verbal abuse, etc. Let them deal with it. Obviously the district has taken a pass on this teacher and the children are left alone to handle the fallout of her behavior; I'm sure many parents and children are shaking in their shoes to see who gets her this fall!

Posted by Parent Too, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 21, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Oh, great, so this public lashing is going to continue on forever. When will this end? As far as I see there's nothing that can be done to put this situation right. Get over it.

Posted by db, a resident of Jackson Park
on Jun 21, 2009 at 10:56 pm

All things aside, I'm curious to see how this teacher will be able to perform her job. Chances are that many parents will not want their children in her classroom so the slack will have to be taken up by other teachers. There is a good chance she will have little, or less to do if the disrict tries to accomodate all parents wishes. The question the paper needs to ask is how will these type of situations be handled. How will the union play a role? How will liabilities or discrimination be avoided? I would imagine that the teacher may even have grounds to turn the table and come back against the school district with charges similar to what parents levelled against her. It just may be more practical to pay her to stay home and take the loss up front.

Posted by renee, a resident of Waverly Park
on Jun 21, 2009 at 11:49 pm

get over it people

this is no longer entertaining

Posted by educator, a resident of another community
on Jun 22, 2009 at 7:14 am

The new policy for this teacher at Graham Middle from what I konw is that only parents with students from her previous classes with previously documented complaints will be able to opt out of her 6th grade classes. Apparently the only documentation the district has is of parents complaining. Mislaid and onfusing doesn't begin to descrive this policy. Can the paper seek clarification BEFORE the start of the new school year next Fall.

Posted by resident, a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Jun 22, 2009 at 11:06 am

There are few teachers in the school district who are in the league as this one.

Posted by mvierer, a resident of Jackson Park
on Jun 22, 2009 at 5:28 pm

I too would like to know more about the new policy concerning this teacher and how to request not placing my child in her class.

Posted by Claire, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 22, 2009 at 7:25 pm

As the editor writes, "Any teacher whose lessons come with abuse, either physical or emotional, has no place in the classroom." Even the suppports of this teacher admit to her abusive style. We either accept the it, or agree with the editor. There is no inbetween.

Posted by Arghhhh!, a resident of Jackson Park
on Jun 23, 2009 at 12:45 am


Posted by My son had Mrs. P for 4th Grade, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 23, 2009 at 3:07 pm

The last time I checked, we live in the United States of America, where everyone is entitled to due process.

These parents' claims against Mrs. P have been investigated and the District has clearly determined that she does not need to lose her teaching position.

If you don't like the way Mountain View-Whisman conducts investigations, run for the School Board.

Posted by Ned, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 23, 2009 at 5:46 pm

I agree, due process is everyone's right and this whole episode has been handled poorly. I would like to see The Voice, which broke this story, request the school district to answer the following questions:

Who were this teacher's principals at the time of all the alleged complaints?

What actions did they take to document and correct the alleged complaints?

How many complaints have been officially logged by the district against this teacher?

Has this teacher been merely reassigned, or reprimanded?

If there were legitimate complaints made against the teacher, and nothing was done about it, what disciplinary measures were taken, or are being taken, against the Huff school principals of this teacher for not properly documenting them?

What is the policy for filing complaints against a teacher?

What will the policy be this fall for opting a child out of this teacher's classes?

Why, if there is a policy, is it being enacted?

Will the distict pay for counseling services for children affected by this situation?

The truth can set us all free.

Posted by CL, a resident of Jackson Park
on Jun 25, 2009 at 6:41 am

I just took the time to read all the stories and posts on local schools. Why is it that the one article on Bullis gets so many comments from concerned community members, while MV school issues are largely ignored, when you brush aside the inflammatory comments. I see this apathy also in our voter turn-out and the fact, as one poster commented, few run for school board in this town opposed and many are just appointed. Like it or not MV, it all combines to paint a picture of apathy and a lack of community involvement on average for our city when it comes to the schools. Just take a look a PA, LA, and LAH. Their school board races are serious matters.

Posted by No More Tenure, a resident of Waverly Park
on Jun 27, 2009 at 9:26 am

This is what happens when there is tenure. Everyone pays for a poor performing teacher.

Posted by Lee, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 28, 2009 at 12:38 pm

And in the end, no one is held accountable for anything. Incredible. This system has failed everyone.

Posted by parent, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 28, 2009 at 5:35 pm

I read all this and wonder what the hec is going on in our schools.

Some one didn't do their job and it's all being swept under the rug.

The only people that count to me when it comes to my children in the schools is the teacher. If one of their teachers becomes a "lightning rod," than I'd expect the management to deal with it swiftly. If they can't, get rid of the management and find some one who can handle the job.

Posted by Fed Up, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jul 9, 2009 at 8:35 pm

I'm not sure who is more incompetent and unfit for their postion. This teacher or the administration who can't manage her.

Posted by mom, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 21, 2009 at 11:25 pm

The tenure teacher, Mrs. P, is suspected of a crime - "verbally abusing" students and unprofessional conduct, who will return to school and perform teaching young children in "language art."

Verbally abusing is one kind of language art. We need the best of verbally abusing teacher to teach language art.

What a joke!

Posted by concerned parents, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jul 22, 2009 at 12:20 am

About the new policy for this teacher at Graham Middle School.
Instead of NO-Mrs. P sign-up sheet, Mrs. Jacobs can send out a YES-Mrs. P sign-up sheet before school starts.

Mrs. P will teach 2 classrooms at Graham? Normally, students will have same teachers for both language and social study. so total about 60 students names on YES-Mrs. P sheet. Instead of 200 students to sign up NO-Mrs. P sheet. If there's more than 60 students on YES-Mrs. P sheet, it can be first come first. Clearly, this will be easier, and efficient to avoide changing or switching class schedules due to Mrs. P.

Also, most Graham teachers have other events or elective classes, we need to know if Mrs. P's other jobs to avoid her.

Finally, if Mrs. P somehow gets the NO-Mrs. P sheet from her fan, she may do something BAD to those students.

Posted by parent, a resident of Waverly Park
on Jul 22, 2009 at 12:44 am

I wonder how Mrs. Jacobs introduce Mrs. P as a new teacher at Graham.
There will be anti-Mrs. P parents/children on one side of wall, and

When Mrs. P either transfered or foced from Slater to Huff, Mr. Goldman introduced her as "transfered" from Slater, since not too many people know the stories at Slater. Now, ....
Students have to be thick skin in Mrs. P's class, Mrs. P needs even
thicker skin to be at Graham.

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