Pettit reassigned, District to begin independent investigation into ELL questions at StevensonBy Larry Blaskey
Superintendent Earl Pettit joins Stevenson School Principal Rafael Ortiz at home as the Douglas Unified School District voted to put him on administrative leave at a special meeting of the Douglas Unified School District on Tuesday, March 10.
The board voted 3-2 to reassign Pettit, pending completion of an investigation, concerning questions about the removal of 100 students from the English Language learners program in Stevenson.
Board President Charles Hoyack, Patricia Lopez and Ed Rivera voted for reassignment, while Susan Kramer and Mario Ramos voted against the change.
This came at the end off an hour-long executive session that was part of a three-and-a-half hour meeting. It included a status report on the ELL program and a question -and-answer period for parents, staff and others. There were more than 100 in attendance at the meeting.
The concern by some board members was the timing of the change, since budgeting had yet to really start. There were concerns about teacher contracts, the ongoing discussion about attendance zones and how much revenue would be coming from the district after the end of the Legislative session.
“I don’t think we should leave the district without leadership,” Kramer said
“We’re here today because of a lack of leadership,” Hoyack said. “I believe the superintendent was aware of the ELL problem as far back as July 2008. He should have taken action then. He also misrepresented the nature of the investigations. An internal investigation needs to be done. It is important to have Mr. Pettit and Mr. Ortiz off school grounds temporarily until the investigation is complete.
‘We need to wash the laundry and get everything cleaned up.”
Hoyack said he understood the concerns of the other board members and was hopeful that an investigation could be completed quickly.
In the meantime, the board will meet Monday with Dr. Earl Simmons, Kathleen Ballard and Leanne Marston, the latter two which have superintendent certification, to find someone to act as an interim assistant superintendent until the investigation is completed and incident resolved.
The board also voted 5-0 to secure an independent investigator to carry out an investigation regarding any potential violations of personnel policies, state or federal law by administrators and/or staff at the Douglas Unified School District regarding the English Language Learner waivers from Stevenson Elementary School.
The meeting was initially called last week to update the board on status of a district, Arizona Department of Education and Auditor’s General investigation of the ELL withdrawals.
It turned out the only investigation was the district’s.
Leann Gilbreath, Director of Monitoring for the Office of English Language Acquisition Services for the ADE, said they were in Douglas in February as part of their annual monitoring of schools in Arizona. There was no investigation, according to Gilbreath, and she did not recommend any investigation on Principal Ortiz.
Gilbreath said she became concerned about the school’s ELL for a few reasons, including:
• The fact there were three different list of students enrolled in the ELL at the school.
• Students were not removed or waived from the program on an individual basis, but actually during mass school meetings.
• About 100 students were waivered out of the program by parents when there had been no waivers the previous two years.
• Waiver forms had been signed by parents whose child had already tested out of the program.
She explained that the withdrawals should have been done on a student-by-student basis. Parents would be given information, including grades, for their child over the previous few years along with a detailed explanation of the program.
Instead there were two or three meetings in which the staff met Stevenson parents, explained the changes and had waivers for parents ready to sign.
She said that parents have the legal standing to remove their child from the program, but proper procedures were not maintained during the process to get parents the information they needed.
Hoyack also said that repeatedly Pettit had informed the board there was an Auditor General and ADE investigation into the district’s ELL program, when in fact there was no such investigation.
There were also questions about how a letter from the Superintendent and a preliminary report on ADE’s findings made it to Stevenson School, and the way Ortiz left the building.
Following an initial hour of information on the ELL status, the board opened it up for questions. The questions took about one-and-a-half hours to complete.
Many of the same audience members came up to ask questions, and many of the same comments were repeated.
Parents were still upset that they were not notified of the change at the school administration and very little information had followed since Ortiz was put on administrative leave.
Many parents were also upset about the new program.
The new ELL program requires a four-hour block of ELL education instead of the 45 minutes that was offered last year.
Parents understood it was their right to have their students removed from the program, and couldn’t understand why Ortiz was removed from the school.
It seemed evident from some of the questions that the explanation of the program during the meetings in the fall was lacking.
Some did not have a full understanding of what the program was, what it offered and how it differed from the previous year.
There also appeared to be problems with scoring tabulation, as some parents said their children are proficient in English and still were placed in the program.
The district provides services to their students that have difficulty with English through the English Language Learner program, which is mandated by the state.
According to Office of School Improvement Director for the Douglas Unified School District, Carrie Toland, when new students register for school, they fill out a home language survey. If on the survey, they indicate another language other than English is spoken in the home, the students will be given an English Language Learner Assessment. That testing will occur within the 30 academic days in the fall and 10 academic days in the spring.
There are five levels students can reach in the testing – Pre-Emergent, Emergent, Basic, Intermediate and Proficient. If they test out anywhere but Proficient, they will be placed in the ELL program.
At that point, the parents are notified and the program is explained.
All ELL students are in special ELL classes in their home area school. It is required that during a four-hour block students are provided one hour of reading, one hour of writing, one hour of grammar and one hour of oral language.
The curriculum goes along with the curriculum in the mainstream classroom, there is just more emphasis on English skills,” Toland said.
Each child is retested once a year to see if they have reached proficiency and can be placed in the mainstream classroom. Even if they proceed into that classroom, they will be retested each of the next to years to ensure their English skills have not eroded or diminished.
“There is a lot of correlation between the mainstream class instruction and the ELL instruction,” Toland said.
Approximately 850 students are classified as English Language Learners in the district.