The controversial reassignment of a popular fourth-grade teacher at South Elementary School in Hillsborough to transitional kindergarten is sticking per a final decision announced Friday much to the dismay of parents who want her to stay in the fourth-grade.
“After a great deal of thought and consideration, I have made the following tentative grade level assignments for the 2014-15 school year,” wrote South Principal Elizabeth Veal in a memo to parents Friday. “These are considered tentative placements for two important reasons: 1). Enrollment numbers can always change over the summer, creating the need to make different class configurations and 2). We still need to hire a PE teacher, so that too could change the placements listed below.”
Feinn is still listed as a transitional kindergarten teacher in the memo. Previously, given feedback from parents, former students and others at a community meeting, Veal, who said the decision was final in early May, said with further consideration, she was going to come to a final decision later in the month.
When parents found out Veal had made the change, a Change.org petition received 450 signatures called “Use Our School District Assets Wisely — Take a stand against moving Sandy Feinn to Transitional Kindergarten” began to circulate with many parents feeling like the decision was either not wise or was in retaliation for voicing opposition to the district administration. Feinn, who has taught fourth-grade for more than 30 years in Hillsborough, has filed a formal grievance with the teachers union about the decision to move her.
In a video released this past week, Trustee Kaarin Hardy explained that teachers are not just hired to teach one grade or hired to a specific school, but are hired by the district.
“The reason we and other school districts do this is to provide flexibility to both our teachers and principals and meeting the needs of our students our schools and the overall development of our teachers,” she said in the three-and-a-half minute video.
Some members of the community were displeased with the video, including Ellen Feeney Hiemstra, whose fourth child is currently in Feinn’s class.
“Is this the legacy that you want to leave?” Feeney Hiemstra wrote in an email to Hardy, who is leaving the board this summer to move out of the country. “Going along with a decision that smacks of age discrimination? Forcing the involuntary reassignment of a 31-year veteran who has had a long history of stellar results with fourth-graders? This reassignment is clearly not in the best interest of either entering transitional kindergartners or fourth-graders.”
Feeney Hiemstra said the district’s mission is to work in partnership with the community and it is ignoring the voice of 400 parents who have had personal experience with Feinn. Feeney Hiemstra also specifically questions Veal’s decision to bring in a teacher from White Oaks Elementary School in San Carlos to teach kindergarten at South when she could have easily taught transitional kindergarten, she said.
“We are going to trust that a new principal knows best?” Feeney Hiemstra wrote. “That she relates to her staff who are now terrified? I understand that reversing a ‘final’ decision is hard. But I am more worried about the fallout if Sandy wins her CTA (California Teachers Association) and DFEH (Department of Fair Employment and Housing) filings.”
Still, Superintendent Anthony Ranii previously said the decision to move Feinn from teaching 10-year-olds to 4-year-olds was thought out and the principal ultimately made the best choice based on her sound judgment. Feeney Hiemstra believes Ranii dislikes Feinn for speaking out against the administration at times and said the move is part of punishing her.
“We have heard from parents and community members during three different meetings, numerous phone calls, emails and letters and have had many face-to-face conversations,” Ranii said in a statement. “Some have asked that Ms. Feinn’s placement be changed, others have supported Ms. Veal’s placements, and still others acknowledge that the professional educator should be the one to make these types of important decisions. We deeply appreciate the passion our community has for our schools, for our teachers, and most of all for the students at South and across the district. While the opinions on this matter differ, all of us fervently want what is best for South.”
Veal did explain the decision was made to change team dynamics on campus and the quality she appreciates about Feinn is her ability to connect with kids, which can span ages.
“I don’t disagree the best thing would be having someone who is wanting to be in this position,” she previously said. “I completely respect and understand change is hard and scary. ... What didn’t surprise me was the passion people have about our teachers. What does surprise me has been some of the communication — some of it has not been as respectful as what I’ve experienced up until this point.”
Parents remain skeptical this was the right choice, including Todd Emanuel, whose daughter was in Feinn’s class.
“My feeling on it is that this terrible decision is going to damage the partnership between the school district and the parents,” he said. “While the principal should maintain broad discretion on placing teachers, in this instance no factual basis has been made on why this incredible fourth-grade teacher is being moved down four grade levels.”
The petition in support of Feinn can be found at change.org/petitions/anthony-ranii-use-our-school-district-assets-wisely-take-a-stand-against-moving-sandy-feinn-to-transitional-kindergarten.
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