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.