Parents push to allow transfers if teachers don’t meet student needs

Several San Dieguito Union School District parents are requesting a new district policy that would allow students to transfer out of a class because of teacher preference, recognizing that one size doesn’t fit all and that sometimes a change is in order to ensure a student’s needs are met.

As parent Korri Ball stated at the Feb. 5 board meeting, the changes aren’t meant for students to switch on a whim, but only if there’s a clear personality conflict or if a teacher is not teaching up to the district’s standards.

According to Michael Grove, associate superintendent of educational services, the district does not allow students to move to a different teacher in the same class subject.

Parent Anne-Katherine Pugmire said that there needs to be a fair process in place that allows students to move laterally and that shows that the district’s top priority is providing the best educational experience possible.

“We need to offer another alternative to get out of a class that is not providing an excellent education,” Pugmire said. “We recognize that it can become problematic, so there need to be restrictions, such as only allowing the change if there is space, and only within the first three weeks of the class.”

Ball shared the experience of one of her four sons while he was in seventh grade at Diegueno Middle School. He had a math teacher “he did not see eye to eye with,” and upon meeting with a counselor, it was found there was a mutual dislike between teacher and student — but there was no option to change out of that class.

“A teacher has the ability to motivate a student to excel, and on the flip side, it can severely diminish a student’s confidence and cause them to shut down,” Ball said.

Even though her son, now older, was an AP student in several subjects, he had to drop to a lower level in math and continued to struggle.

“I think the teacher had a serious impact on his confidence in this subject,” Ball said.

Now she has a student who is bored in his eighth-grade honors English class and she doesn’t want to see the same thing happen with him that happened with her other child. With a new teacher instructing the class, for the first six weeks of class they have written paragraphs in journals, they’ve read one book and written one essay. While reading “The Diary of Anne Frank,” students were told they didn’t have to read the middle of the book because it was boring and repetitive.

Ball was told her child’s only option is to move down to a regular English class.

Vita Lee Slaidins said that as a district parent at Oak Crest and Diegueno, her children have had many exceptional teachers, but she feels it’s obvious her seventh-grader is not getting the rigor he deserves from his honors English class.

Lee Slaidins said that he has only done short written assignments with no feedback, which doesn’t help in the learning process.

“His class had only read half of one book while others had completed four,” Lee Slaidins said.

She said after one parent approached the teacher about the rigor of the class, the student was singled out in class as the teacher polled the students on whether they thought the class was hard enough. The experience has made more parents reluctant to come forward.

Again, her only option is to move her student down a level.

“That option doesn’t serve the needs of the student, and it just isn’t right,” Lee Slaidins said.

She made it clear her intention is not to vilify one teacher, but to make sure the issue is brought to light.

Ali Berger, the board’s student representative from Sunset High School, shared insight from her experience as a transfer student from Cathedral Catholic High School. The school had an add/drop policy and she said it was beneficial for her to be able to switch laterally —she felt she worked much better with the new teacher.

Melanie Farfel, the student representative from Canyon Crest Academy, also endorsed the parents’ suggestion.

“I am completely in favor of this,” Farfel said. “I haven’t had an experience like that, but I know students who have and have suffered from it.”

She said they only have to be careful that students aren’t transferring to get an easier class.

“You don’t want students just dropping because nobody wants the hard teacher,” she said.

In her 11 years in the district, Pugmire said that her children have been motivated and inspired by several high-quality educators. She said much can be learned from different teachers and their styles, but in the case where her child is “suffering beyond repair” in a critical honors English class, remaining with the teacher will only decrease educational results.

“It’s unacceptable to me that to get out of a class, you have to go down a level,” Pugmire said. “It sends the wrong message.”

Districts such as Poway Unified and Vista Unified have a process that allows changes. Pugmire said Vista’s is a three-step process, and she was told very few parents and students opt to go through it, but those who do feel that their students’ needs are addressed.

Trustee John Salazar said he sympathized with the parents, as he has experienced it personally.

“Ninety percent of the teachers are really excellent,” said Salazar, noting he has come across some “horrible” teachers. “To tell a parent that they don’t have this option is horrendous. This is a very, very big problem and I would hate to see it get shoved off. I would like to see it fixed.”

Superintendent Rick Schmitt said the district takes all parent concerns about teachers seriously.

“I don’t think we shove anything off,” he said. “We do welcome feedback and we do listen to the community. I appreciate the parents noticing all the good, but like any organization, there are areas we can improve, and this may be one of them.”

Schmitt said the district would bring back recommendations at a future meeting.


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