Huff teacher is out for the year | March 27, 2009 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - March 27, 2009

Huff teacher is out for the year

District mum on reason — departure follows controversy over her methods

by Casey Weiss

A fourth grade teacher at Huff Elementary School teacher who some accused of having an "abusive" teaching style will not return to her classroom this year, according to a letter from the principal sent out to parents late last week.

"Although it was a difficult decision for all involved, I wanted to let you know that Mrs. Polifrone will not be returning to Room 12 for the rest of the year," Principal Sharon Burns wrote.

The three-paragraph letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Voice, does not specify any reason for Polifrone's departure or whether she will be coming back next year. The remainder of the letter focuses on future plans for Room 12, stating that the current substitute will stay in place until a new teacher is found.

Some parents say Polifrone's blunt teaching style has drawn criticism for years, and that complaints filed with the Mountain View Whisman Elementary School District have not led to disciplinary action. They claim that Polifrone, also known as "Mrs. P," regularly ridicules, yells at and criticizes students, parents, other teachers and administrators during class.

Following a story on the teacher in last week's Voice, other parents have come forward to applaud Polifrone's "commitment to the kids." On the Voice's Web site, sentiments on the teacher seemed to be almost evenly split.

"I have known Mrs. P for over nine years," one parent wrote. "My daughter is a student in her class this year, and wants to know when Mrs. P will be back. I have no issues or complaints with her. I volunteer in the class weekly and have not witnessed any of the accusations made. She is a strict teacher but fair."

"Mrs. P habitually ridiculed my son, told me I was not allowed to help him, mocked and scorned him front of me and his classmates," another parent wrote. "I had numerous meetings with her and the principal; many parents were fearful of Mrs. P on behalf of their children."

According to Huff parent Christine Fortes, who had a child in Polifrone's class two years ago, the district office recently received an influx of complaints from parents, and two weeks ago Stephanie Totter, the district's director of administrative services, "escorted Polifrone off campus."

Parents said Totter returned to the school once to interview students about the allegations, but Polifrone has stayed away, and parents did not know if or when she was coming back.

Worried that the teacher would soon return, parents took the matter to the board last Thursday, March 19, asking trustees to deal with what they called "verbally abusive behavior" toward their children.

Both Totter and district Superintendent Maurice Ghysels, citing state laws forbidding public disclosure of personnel matters, refused to comment on Polifrone's case.

"The district is working diligently, taking seriously the needs of students as well as the rights of employees. We must act ethically within the law and with respect for all of those involved," Totter wrote in an e-mail.

Polifrone has not returned requests for comment.

Some parents told trustees at last Thursday's meeting that children were terrified of Polifrone due to her authoritative style. Two of the parents accused the district of not handling the matter well, and several said they were angry the students had had a substitute during Polifrone's absence and were mostly watching movies.

They said they understood it was hard to fire Polifrone due to her tenured status, but hoped the teacher would not be returning to Huff.

"My son was doing well until he came to the class," one parent told the board. "He even tried to punch my other son in the head because he was so angry."

Two parents at the meeting defended Polifrone, however, saying she was organized and had helped their children learn English quickly.

"We are very happy with Mrs. Polifrone. My daughter is doing well academically. Before she didn't read and now she does," said Lana Lopatinsky. "She has a very difficult class and is doing the best she can."

The day after the board meeting, parents in the class received the letter from Burns.

"The care and concern of students, parents and community members is critical, and we are committed to a safe and secure learning environment for our students," Burns wrote. "To this end and on behalf of the district, I would like to thank you for your support and assistance in making this transition as successful as possible."

E-mail Casey Weiss at


Posted by William Symons, a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 1, 2009 at 8:50 pm

I applaud and respect Principal Sharon Burns for her hard and successful work her first year at Huff, and her delicate handling of this regrettable and difficult situation. I really hope she stays. Her sincere smile is contagious, and she's always visible around school.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Jackson Park
on Jun 7, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Word from the board meeting is that Ms. Polifrone will be returning in the fall to teach 6th grade at Graham Middle School. I guess those same traumatized students from Huff will face up to her again as if once wasn't enough.

Posted by Nell, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 8, 2009 at 6:15 pm

This is appalling. How can this be?

Posted by Mari, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 9, 2009 at 2:10 pm

I'm curious and not familiar with the story. Why was her teaching style considered "abusive"?

Posted by Mari, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 9, 2009 at 2:12 pm

Nevermind, I just missed the link to the full story.

Posted by Tina, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 9, 2009 at 5:44 pm

The district is so concerned with Mrs. P's "abusive" teaching style they figured Middle school is her calling........
Attention all you anti-Mrs. P's she still has a job! Why, because she didn't do anything wrong. There was NO reason to let her go!!
If anyone is guilty of anything it is the school district and the administration.
She had no support from her fellow colleagues and the whole situation was handled poorly.
My daughter was sad when Mrs. P left adruptly and has not enjoyed the remainder of the school year. I am happy to see the school year end, but am concerned for Mrs. P and her future with this school district.
For those of you who do not know Mrs. P......don't believe everything you hear.
She is a great teacher and the district is lucky to have her.

Posted by Lee, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 9, 2009 at 6:44 pm

Sounds like it's time for a witch trial. Teacher Union 1, District 0