Friday, January 30, 2015
This is Episode 28 in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.
Double or Nothing
Heck, there were only thirty-one of those seventh graders in that two-period block of student-teaching, and I didn’t even have to handle them for the first two weeks. All I had to do was sit in the back of the room, watch and listen. Ironically, there was a pleasant young man sitting at a table behind everyone else, a smaller version of the tables at which the other kids were sitting. There was a chair for a second student beside him, but the chair was empty, and I had made that my base of operations.
I was student-teaching for Marianne and she had told me that I could sit anywhere, and maneuver my way around the class, in any way that I felt comfortable doing. She said I should feel free to interact with students in any way I wished, and that there were two weeks to get acclimated, before I would begin delivering particular lessons, or directing the reading of the literature.
As I sat next to this nice kid, he filled me in on the basics, including the fact that he was the “new kid” Woodrow, and had only moved to Laytonville a couple of months earlier. There were the maximum thirty-one kids in this class, with the addition of this kid, which seemed like a lot. He told me that the kids were pretty cool, and that his grades were OK. His hair was fashionably long, and he had an earring. There was nothing in his demeanor to indicate, that he would take his place amongst the eighth grade, in a most unforeseeable manner.
Meanwhile, I got the opportunity to cruise around in the back of the classroom, and check out who the trouble-makers were, and what their technique was. I don’t know if I gained a lot during this time, but a couple of interesting things took place, that were to come back to visit me, especially when this same group, dropped by my classroom the following year for fourth period, just before lunch time.
I was pretty invisible, rarely making my presence known, and therefore, the kids tended to forget I was around. So when that nice “Hildegard” sent a note over to her friend, she forgot to send up her periscope first, to check that the coast was clear. I was standing behind and to one side, and she extended her arm off in my direction, without looking to see who would take the note, so I simply accepted it. Not until her friend looked over and gasped, did Hildegard realize her error.
I had slipped the note into my back trousers pocket, without looking at it, and was staring, transfixed at Marianne, as though her words meant everything in the world to me. When Hildegard attempted to get my attention, I casually sidled around to where there were a couple of kids with their heads bent over something that was not visible from my position in the room. They quickly stashed it, as I approached, and I walked past them and into Marianne’s office behind the classroom, and moved out of view of the glass window, so that I could examine what I had snagged from Hildegard.
The paper indicated that the girls had been making good-if not appropriate-use of their language class. It was covered with messages in two distinct sets of handwriting. The messages covered a wide range of middle school girl topics, but the series of comments that I zeroed in on, were the ones referring to cannabis. These girls were discussing some fairly sophisticated adult activities, with a casualness that belied their age.
I was well aware that the school district grappled with the complexities of an underground culture, that made its collective living by growing things above the ground, things that proved a safety net for many of the impoverished inhabitants of the region. Many’s the denizen of our hallowed hallways, who was accompanied each morning to classes by unwanted baggage. There was no way to determine for sure, who the players were, and to what extent they were impacted.
I thought fast as to what to do about the note and more importantly, its contents. If I turned it over to Marianne, thus garnering an “Attaboy,” the girls were simply dead meat. Sirens would go off; they would take their respective places on the hot seats of life. I could ignore the note, leaving them in limbo, or I could address the subject matter with them.
I took the time to reread the note, as the last few minutes dissolved and the bell rang for lunch. Clearly Hildegard was the frequent flyer, no pun intended, and the other girl, an interested party. The note was infused with questions from the one, and responses from Hildegard. She seemed pretty familiar with the topic.
As the bell rang and the kids were gyrating their way out of the classroom, I caught Hildegard’s eye, which was not hard to do, because she was obviously stressed, and simply motioned with my head for her to join me. The chaos within the classroom contrasted with her silence, as her caught-in-the-headlights countenance betrayed her thoughts.
“Am I in trouble?” was what she asked.
“Oh, I think only you can answer that,” I responded. “There’s a lot going on in this note.” The class was now empty, except for Marianne, sitting at her desk, copying the results form an assignment into her grade book. She looked inquiringly at me for a second, but I waved dismissively at her and she returned to her grades.
Obviously not what she expected to hear, Hildegard asked, “What is that supposed to mean? You’re the one who writes referrals.”
“I mean that there are different types of “trouble” that you might get into, and some are more important than others. If I write a referral and your parents are informed, then that’s one type of trouble. However, you are probably thirteen years old, and you are messing around with something that can cause problems in the big picture, and I see that as a different sort of trouble.”
“Yeah, but one will get me thrown off the basketball team and the other one won’t.”
“Are you sure about that second part? All I am saying, is that you need to make wise choices and by becoming too dependent on something like this, you do not give your own personality an opportunity to develop. As an adult, you are in a better position to decide whether or not to partake.”
“Does this mean you’re not going to write me up?” I had been twirling this question around in my head but had not formed a final decision.
“Technically, writing a note is not worth a referral and the content of the note, whereas it is serious, is not an infraction since you didn’t bring any with you.” That may or may not have been true.
“So, no referral?” I saw the advantages of having this knowledge without divulging it to the staff. I was well aware of Hildegard’s family situation, and Hildegard’s knowledge in this area would come as no surprise. If I were going to survive this student-teaching experience, I was going to need some allies.
“I think I am going to play double or nothing with you. That means if I never hear your name in connection with cannabis again, then end of discussion. However, if you bring it to school or are connected in any way with it, then I produce this note, and it gets tossed into the mix for you to explain. Does that sound reasonable?”
I did net that ally. In fact, the following year, when I was to teach this same class as eighth graders, the two kids I mentioned in this excerpt ended up as two of my five anarchists. We did well together during that eighth grade year, the seeds of communication and trust, having been sewn in this, my inaugural experience with them. I have always felt that Hildegard reaped more gain from this decision, than she ever would have, if I had written the referral.
It allowed me to know that open and honest communication could be a two-way street, and that as we approached intersections, there was a better possibility of avoiding collisions, if I could continue to foster this sense of trust.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
This is Episode 27 in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.
The Big Bucks
I served as the contract teacher the last year that Bell Springs Collective existed, meeting weekly with the three groups of students, first at the little school until it was red-tagged, late in the year, and then at the different residences in which the three sections of the school took place.
I was attending Dominican full time that year, taking classes that met on Tuesday and Friday nights and all day Saturday. By concentrating efforts for what amounted to twelve hours per weekend, I was able to complete the process in one calendar year. The student-teaching part of the school year took place beginning the last couple of days of January, and extended fifteen weeks into the second half of the school year, ending in the middle of May.
Like most applicants interested in obtaining a clear California Credential, I had to perform my student teaching at two different levels of education, in my case, the kindergarten and the middle school. I walked into the kindergarten, the day after the Niners had just won Super Bowl, on January 29, 1991. I was exuberant, though nervous as I made my way around the classroom, interacting with the little munchkins in a reasonably comfortable mode.
Little kids are easy to engage. I read stories to them, got them to read stories to me; I helped them get organized with this little game, or that set of crayons with paper to boot. I listened to their comments and guaranteed that I was well on the way to garnering my first kid-related cold, by keeping the box of Kleenix handy for wiping their noses. I learned how to monitor their progress out on the playground, recognizing how critically important it was to keep an eye on every one of the little dudes, so as not to misplace them.
I was standing on the playground one early March morning, as the wind swirled around me, bundled up in my olive-drab green overcoat retained from my military experience, and donned as a protection against that wind. Our principal Mr. Matlock came ambling toward me, stepping carefully along so as to not appear fazed by the wind. As he approached me, those expressive eyebrows, dancing merrily, his smile radiated across the blacktop, warming the cockles of my soul, if not necessarily the rest of me. As he stepped up beside me, he put his hand gently on my shoulder, those eyebrows tap-dancing wildly while he stated eloquently, “This is what we pay you the big bucks for around here.”
I swear the man was giggling like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning, as he went on his way, leaving me to wonder at the irony in his message. I don’t know whether he was laughing because even if I were a full-time teacher, I was still not getting enough to make it worth while, or the fact that, as a student teacher, I wasn’t paid at all. I just know that he was enjoying his little joke immensely. (My first year teaching had a base annual salary of $18,312.00)
I was more than happy to smile radiantly back at him, as if to say, “Who needs to get paid, when you are having so much fun?” As I used to say to my students every year I ever taught, “If you think I am in this racket for the money, I got news for you. There a bridge for sale in San Francisco, and it’s made of gold. I’ll sell it to you for a song. I know you’re interested, because anyone who believes teaching is a money-making proposition, is also likely to believe that the Golden Gate Bridge is for sale.”
The reality was, I was beginning to make the connection that if the Bell Springs Collective was going to dissolve, then I would be interested in applying to the District for an available position in the fall. It was to my advantage to cultivate a working relationship with a person who was undoubtedly going to be on the hiring committee for any position that was being filled at either the elementary or middle school level. I had been hearing reverberations of an unhappy situation at the middle school level, involving one of the five homeroom teachers who anchored the middle school staff.
It seems as though the class which she had as her core class, which meant she had them for at least two classes daily and probably three, had been seriously rocking her world. They were doing the kind of stunts that clearly announced to the world that the element of basic respect was missing from her homeroom class. This resulted in spillover to the other areas of the school, which tends to happen when they are allowed to run amuck for a couple periods a day. The teacher ended up quitting in early spring, and a long-term substitute teacher was hired to complete the year. This is one of the classes I would be student-teaching reading and language for two periods a day. Knowing in advance what was in store for me was good and bad.
It was good because I hate surprises; it was bad because, knowing what was in store for me, I stressed out over it. Fortunately, I spent seven weeks with Susan Bradley before I had to face the middle school. Though the little kiddies went home at 2:30, I was there every day until five-thirty or six, sweeping, talking, cutting, sorting, learning, listening, and gaining a foundation for what it was like to be a full-time teacher.
What I learned from Susan kept me afloat through more turbulent waters to come, and there were several times when I went back for an infusion of her enthusiasm. There was no shortage of support from Susan; there was just a shortage of time. Whereas I probably would have been content to stay in the kindergarten forever, that all changed when I did finally go to the middle school, where I found to my delight, that the little monsters intrigued me. Thus began a sixteen year sojourn in the grade levels that best describe me. How appropriate.
Before that could happen, however, I had to survive my student teaching, and that meant facing that class that had driven their regular teacher right off the premises. Oh boy for me.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
This is Episode 26 in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.
On November 14, 1989, the County of Mendocino issued the paperwork declaring the little Bell Springs school red-tagged, and the Laytonville Unified School District Board of Trustees voted to place the stipulation on the Bell Springs Collective that it could no longer meet at the school. That meant that we had to relocate the school elsewhere.
Such a simple thing to declare, and yet so convoluted to carry out. Where were we supposed to hold classes? For years we had been meeting in the same school rooms where all of our supplies were stored, and all of the sudden we had to move the whole kit and caboodle-where?As much as everyone wanted to make it happen, no one had a place in mind that could physically handle the demands of 12-15 kids, at multiple levels, requiring space enough to allow for forward educational progress to proceed.
The compromise between what we had been enjoying, and nothing at least for the conclusion of school year 1989-1990, was to split the school up into three sections: a kindergarten, a primary age section, and a pre-middle school group. I can’t say positively where the older two groups met, but I can tell you the kindergarten was taught right here at my house, by Annie. Benjamin was in kindergarten in 1989, being five years old, and there were five other kids in that group.
Casey was in a group which included four other boys, all in the second grade that year, and I must have been responsible for transporting him where he needed to be, since Annie had her hands filled with the kindergartners. My best guess would be Marguerite’s house, because I know she taught Casey and her son Matt was in the class, so it makes sense.
And so it went through the end of that year. I remember a meeting of the entire collective at our house where we tried to brainstorm options. We could rebuild the school on a different site; we could obtain the necessary permits to make the existing school legal, while continuing to defer to Imika’s demands; or we could continue with the school existing on more than one site.
The first was simply not economically feasible, especially since the children of the original school founders were now growing older, and would be going down to the middle school in town within the foreseeable future. Besides, this time around there would be no county paperwork bypass, so that would add to the cost.
The second was unpalatable, for the simple reason that we were tired of the ongoing vitriol streaming from Imika, any time there was an encounter between her and members of the collective. The thought of continuing to have to walk the path, whether for school, or for community activities, was unthinkable.
The third did not appeal to us either, even though it was a stopgap measure to keep the school afloat, until the end of the current school year. Besides the practical side of having to divide everything up, so as to keep three different classrooms going, there was the peer tutoring aspect of our school which was forever impacted, both in the classroom, and out on the playground.
The multi-aged levels worked to our advantage in a variety of ways. The bigger kids could work with the younger kids, both one on one, and as a group. It is very empowering to a second grader, to be able to read to a small group of kindergartners. It was equally effective to have the little kids be able to remind the bigger kids of just how far the bigger kids had progressed. As far as the old saying about never learning something thoroughly, until you have to teach someone else, we saw it in action every day as the older kids had the opportunity to work with the younger kids on concepts that they themselves still needed to hone. Long division comes to mind.
Many people disagree with the policy of not allowing kids to take the STAR test with the use of calculators. They feel it is an unrealistic scenario, because in real life, no one wants a person to do calculations involving money, with anything other than a cash register, or a calculator. The image of some poor kid, trying desperately to compute his figures on paper, is ludicrous. So why not allow the kids to do the think work with their brains, but the computations with their fingers?
I even think everyone agrees that this is OK, so long as students are able to perform the calculations on paper. I was not a math teacher by design, so much as by necessity, when Paul and I were team-teaching those ten years, so I hesitate to take a stand for fear of being sucked down into the shaky ground upon which I stand.
In a small school teachers must don many hats, which for me included math. Generally speaking though, I stick to language etiquette, such as the proper use of quotation marks (always outside the punctuation) or a rousing debate on whether one should or should not employ the Oxford comma.
I see it as being a little like the debate between writing in cursive or using the word processor; in either case, the student must place words in a proper order to make sense. In long division it is more important for a student to be able to determine that division is the key to solving a word problem, than it is for the student to be able to do the calculations on paper.
With mixed feelings we closed the book on Bell Springs Education Collective, and agreed to pursue individual courses of action, dependent on each family’s needs. Though a difficult decision to reach emotionally, the physical reality of having lost our school, made it inevitable.
My own story continues, however, as this closing year of the collective corresponded with my one-year push to complete 33 units of credential work in time to fulfill my commitment of getting my credential in one calendar year. It was just too bad that I no longer had any reason to possess it.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
This is Episode 25 in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.
As a collective, we were marking time, waiting for the next assault. Approaching the Fall of 1989, we had already seen Karen relinquish her position as Misha’s contract teacher, the Collective vote to remove Misha from the little school, and the assignment of Lynn as Misha’s new contract teacher. We were walking the path from Joe’s house to the school, with only one emergency vehicle being driven in to the school. That was Rosemary’s car because she was physically incapable of walking, either on the path or on the road.
We may have proceeded indefinitely along this course, except that Imika made one more phone call, this one to our good friends down at the county building department, informing them of our failure to have garnered the necessary documentation that affirmed our school was child-safe. The structure itself was built according to code, and the materials met the appropriate standards; the carpenters had simply neglected to let Mendocino County in on their plans.
The debate about how much regulation the municipality should have over rural parts of the state, has been droning on since the powers that be figured out that there was gold in them thar hills, in more ways than what could be grown in the ground. Fortunately for the brave souls, who were independent enough to be able to flourish in areas remote enough to daunt the hardiest of pioneers, the county was simply unable to defray the cost of the necessary agents, needed to scour the countryside for the miscreants who refused to kowtow to what they felt were unreasonable intrusions on the tranquility of their pastoral setting.
Indeed, just maneuvering one’s way back to the little school involved some sophisticated driving, and the faint of heart need not attempt to traverse this road, because it would take more than just heart to survive: it would take skill and daring. The road itself is not that bad-it just seems that way. Much of the opening half-mile or so is relegated to one-way status, which is not an issue most of the time, because the road is not that frequented.
However, if a person is already nervous about driving gnarly, backwoods, dirt roads, and a situation arises that requires backing up because you encounter an approaching vehicle, it is enough to make a person think more than twice before even attempting it in the first place.
Barf Hill is a single-lane, steep portion of the road that climbs precipitously as you drive toward the school.
Certainly one of my most terrifying moments cropped up when I attempted to drive my two-wheel-drive Chevy pickup up this road, during a storm. It had begun drizzling as I left my house, but turned to snow, as I climbed in elevation, while making my way around the back side of Cow Mountain to the two-room school.
On this particular occasion, I was talking animatedly to the boys as we drove conservatively up the hill toward the school. The higher we ascended, the more the road began to announce that traction was an immediate and dire concern for a pickup truck with no four-wheel-drive. What do you do when you are escalating rapidly, and you find that your rear wheels are spinning on the icy road and you have absolutely no control over your sliding vehicle?The only direction is down.
When we finally came to a halt, after what seemed the length of Christmas morning mass, maybe one hundred feet back down Barf Hill, we were in the ditch, which was exactly where I wanted to be. The alternative was to have exited that part of the road which did not feature the luxury of a ditch, to prevent the vehicle from tumbling to the base of the mountain.
I was no longer talking animatedly. I was clutching the steering wheel, white-knuckled, my knees fluttering like two moths, as stable for walking on as those of a newborn horse, trying to take its first halting steps. I don’t know what the boys were thinking. They are a funny breed, small boys. There are times when the phrase “No Fear” applies as never before. Specific incidents on the highway that frightened me speechless, did nothing more than exhilarate them.
As the boys and I exited the now-defunct truck, we had only one practical directional option, and that was up, to see if the nearest neighbor, Carl, was home. At that time, his site was back along this road that led to the school. The same amount of traffic that went by Imika’s house, went by his house. I asked him once if he felt his privacy had been violated the same as Imika’s. Unfortunately I asked him when he was taking a swig of beer, and he had hard times for a moment there as he tried to regain his breath, he was laughing that hard.
Had Carl not been home, back in these pre-cell phone days, we would have had a long walk in store for us, but we were saved from worrying about that as we approached the house. The kids Bobby and Jenny were out playing in the rapidly disappearing white stuff, perfectly happy that it should be snowing, and Carl was getting ready to do some chain-sawing. He had this green monster, four-wheel-drive pickup, that he could drive anywhere. He demonstrated it on the spot, by jumping in, with the kids clambering into the bed of the truck.
Any fear I had that the kids might be in danger from treacherous road conditions, was tempered by the fact that the rain shower had moved on, the snow on the dirt road was already dissipating, and Carl’s truck was a tank. We proceeded to the top of Barf Hill, where the kids spilled out of the back of the truck, to get a front row seat on the action, without compromising their safety.
Carl expertly maneuvered his truck so that he could attach a tow chain to the front of my truck chassis, so as to winch my pickup back onto the road. He was then able to tow me to the top of the hill, so that I could determine whether I wanted to go forward to the school, or turn around and head home, while the heading was good.
And you think a building department employee, with a county-issued vehicle, was going to try and navigate to the back side of Cow Mountain, on the off-chance that there might be a little school that they could go after? We didn’t think so, either, until the official form had been filled out, after the complaint by Imika had been lodged with the building department. At that point we arrived one Tuesday morning, following a Monday, during which nobody had been at the school, to find said document.
The first person to arrive, was greeted by the notice that our school had been red-tagged, and that we needed to contact Mendocino County, to apply for the necessary permits. Meanwhile, the building was declared officially off-limits, and the Laytonville Unified School District lawyers, declared that the District could no longer allow the Bell Springs Collective to be affiliated with the District, if it were going to continue to meet at this site.
It was the proverbial line in the sand. Put up or shut down. It was time to make a final decision.
Sunday, January 25, 2015
This is Episode 24 in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.
Direction and Affection
As Karen was making her difficult decision, I was trying to do everything I could to make it clear that I was a team player, when it came to supporting the Collective. I was just as enamored with the concept of Bell Springs as those who had been in on it from the beginning, and I felt a need to compensate for the fact that I was just coming on board.
It was not about disliking the commute to town, because it took a half-hour to drive in to Laytonville, whereas it took longer to get to Bell Springs. That was because by the time we got to the point where we were walking the path from Joe’s house to the school, it added enough time to make it a longer venture than if we drove to town.
My interest in Bell Springs came from knowing that if we sent the boys to Laytonville, there would be classrooms of 25 or more kids, there would be the five-day-a-week grind, and there would be the inevitable challenges that accompany kids when they emerge from the hills to mingle with the townspeople.
Having begun working for Imika in September of 1987, I was quite familiar with her distorted view of how the community was supposed to have been antagonizing her, by driving past her house and causing dust to appear. She never seemed to recognize that in terms of the big picture, no one who ever came to the school felt that there was an inordinate number of vehicles or people involved to make the complaints that Imika did.
There were never more than fifteen students on any given day, so maybe seven or eight cars might travel to the school. There was the occasional gathering at the school for the purpose of doing fund-raisers. Bell Springs members used to present “Casino Night,” which featured a series of different forms of card-play or similar game of chance.
I used to head for the poker table where you bought into the game, paying an entrance fee, and then donated ten percent of each winning pot to the school. It was just as enjoyable as any of the classic poker games we had up on the mountain, and there was a strong sense of community spirit. A large pot would inevitably induce the winner to be especially generous to the cause, which was easy to do if the pot was brimming over with dinero. The ten percent rule was more likely to become a ten dollar bill, which would be considerably more than ten percent, but was still only a small part of the winning pot.
Imika was just as likely to attend these fund raisers as any of the collective members, and yet, down the line, she used these community events as grist for the mill, regardless of the contradiction which involved her presence. However, it is important to note that vision in hindsight, is considerably more accurate that that of conventional wisdom.
We had no reason to think that Imika would turn out to be so demanding and unreasonable. I figured at the time, that I was late on the scene, and had not been around when the community had had to lend support when Misha was small. Therefore, I had plenty of reserve capacity for extending that communal support, all in the interests of maintaining the harmony of the existing environment.
The more I saw Casey, interacting in the comfortable setting of a class of five students, the more enamored I became. I had worried that the extroverted Casey would be too overwhelming for the small setting, but the fact that there were so few students, and the fact that the parent teachers were so comfortable with the setting, it turned out to be just as ideal as I had thought it would be.
Now it was time for me to put my money where my mouth was. Being on the Administrative Committee, I was aware of Karen’s dilemma with Misha, and I was aware that this was a big deal, because of the proximity of Imika’s house to the school, so I read that memo from Misha’s teachers carefully and tried to implement a plan. The thing I was focused on was the part of the memo that discussed the need for Imika to find a tutor for Misha, and a liaison to meet with school personnel to discuss Misha’s development.
“Misha is not ready for first grade now, but we feel that she could be with extra tutoring and emotional and physical consistency at home. Without this extra support and help, Msha will not be able to go the the second grade next year.”
In a letter written a year later, my mother, Pauline, explained how I had tried to address the situation. The letter went like this:
“One day in the Fall of 1988, I had a conversation with my son, Mark O’Neill. We were discussing the situation at Bell Springs Education Collective; he was describing some of the ongoing problems. He told me there was some discomfort between Corrine Chintz and the contract teacher for Misha, and that the arrangement was being terminated. He said that the staff at Bell Springs was considering the possibility of having another person tutor Misha, but that there was a problem finding someone willing to do that. He asked me if I would consider taking on that undertaking. I told him that I was not a teacher and therefore could not contract to teach anyone.
He told me they weren’t looking for a teacher, since this would not be a formal sort of arrangement fall under the direction of the school system, nor would there be financial remuneration. Rather, he wanted someone willing to spend some time in companionship with Misha, who showed many signs of needing direction and affection. He suggested that I might read to her, or simply talk with her, or play simple games.
He further said he would not expect me to contribute my time; that in order to repay me for the time I spent with Misha, he would come to my house himself and do whatever sort of work I needed to have done, in an even exchange, hour for hour, to repay me for my time. I agreed to this arrangement, and was prepared to spend time two days a week with Misha.
However, before this plan cold be carried out, something occurred which dissolved the whole arrangement. I make this statement at this time to show that Mark O’Neill was very much concerned for the welfare and well-being of Misha, to the extent that he was willing to donate his own time, to promote her emotional health. He would never have done her harm, either intentionally or unintentionally.
August 11, 1989
Pauline M. O’Neill
She had obviously written the letter on my behalf, when Imika filed to restraining order against me, but I present it as evidence, that even up to the point where Karen had to make her decision, Bell Springs Collective was still trying to examine strategies to make the situation work. Bell Springs was too centralized in our lives, to set it aside without a battle.
This is Episode 23 in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.
The Depot on South State Street
In deciding she had to relinquish her role as Misha’s contract teacher, in September of 1988, Karen was assessing not only her own observations of Misha’s academic growth, she was assimilating information that was available to her from earlier teachers. Among these notes was a memo from November of 1987, that figured prominently in Karen’s decision. Here is that memo, with my comments in brackets:
“The following is a synopsis of information developed during a conference between Misha’s contract teacher, Suzanne, and Misha’s tutors. It subsequently was given to Corrine Chintz, both verbally and in writing, during a second conference that included only Imika and the tutors, Marbry and Deb, in November, 1987:
Expectations for Imika for the rest of the school year 1987-88. If this is not agreeable, Misha will not be included in this educational situation.
- (Concerning on-time payment of monthly tutorial fees--not applicable) [With other parents, this might have been a key point; with Imika, it wasn’t even up for discussion, being far easier to just waive the fees. In either case, money was not something that was being considered as a reason for dismissing Misha.]
- Imika will be at home when school is out or make other arrangements for Misha’s care. Bell Springs Collective will not participate in impromptu babysitting, nor in leaving a young child home alone. [Already in November of 1987, the Collective recognized that Imika’s unstructured lifestyle was impacting Bell Springs. Teachers got tired of having to assume responsibility after school, when Imika did not arrive in a timely manner to pick up Misha. This was a major issue, for two reasons: Misha’s safety, knowing Imika’s track record, and the issue of liability.]
- Imika will take policy issues to the Administrative Committee. John or Marbry can be reached Monday mornings to make an appointment. Tutorial class issues will be taken up with class tutors outside of class time. (9-9:30AM or 3:15-3:45PM) Please ask: “Is this a good time to talk?” Do not phone the building during class time. [It was necessary for teachers to build instructions into the conferences, because Imika did not seem to understand that the school was not there for her convenience.]
- (Concerning Collective agreement to bring firewood for the year-not applicable) [Another concession to the delicacy of the personality involved]
- (Concerning use of monthly collective meetings to voice issues and putting items on the agenda well ahead of time-not applicable) [This was still an ongoing issue with the Collective, but not one that would have brought about Misha’s dismissal.]
- Imika will help Misha get to school on time with her homework. [This was not something that had to be stipulated to other parents in a conference memo, but simply repeated the collective mantra, that parental support was a mainstay of the whole collective.]
- (Concerning participation in fund-raising activities when possible-not applicable) [The idea that Imika would have participated in fund-raising activities is laughable.]
At this same conference a contract of expectations to ensure Misha’s success was shared with Imika both verbally and in writing. It read:
‘Misha is not ready for first grade now, but we feel that she could be with extra tutoring and emotional and physical consistency at home. Without this extra support and help, Misha will not be able to go the the second grade next year.’ “[It was nothing more than a “cinch” notice, that message home to parents, midway through any given quarter, that their son or daughter was in danger of failing a class. Without that parental communication, teachers at the middle school could not legally fail a student, no matter what the circumstances. It is/was an honest attempt to let the parent(s) know that an issue exists which impedes forward progress, and may result in retention. Bell Springs was no different in that the teachers wanted Imika to rectify the situation, so that Misha would NOT have to be dismissed.]
What did we do as a collective when Karen’s letter was delivered to Imika, indicating that she was no longer willing to serve as Misha’s contract teacher? The way the system worked was that Bell Springs members made decisions via consensus, with all members voting. However, there was a three-member panel of individuals who met and made logistical decisions that were more focused on the big picture, so that others in the Collective did not have to examine every facet of keeping things flowing smoothly.
I was a member of that Administrative Committee when things began to sizzle between Imika and the Collective. Interestingly enough, in reading over my 47 page deposition, made down in Ukiah, with Imika’s lawyer, Dan Siegal asking the questions, my answers provide a lot of interesting background information. Everything I write is a direct quote, but does not include every question and response, because many were repetitive, many were irrelevant and many were inane. Here is some of that deposition:
“Q: And in September, 1988, you were a part of the Administrative Committee?
Q: And so was Karen?
Q: The Administrative Committee of the Collective was its leadership group. Am I correct?
A: I did not think of myself as a leader of the Collective, no. I thought of myself as a person who was trying to make the Collective work, so that my children could be a part of it...It meant doing all the jobs that nobody else wanted to do, because it was rainy and wood needed to be brought in, etcetera.
Q: It was also taking responsibility to make sure it worked as well?
Q: What’s the distinction between the Administrative Committee and the group as a whole?
A: Very little. I did not consider myself any different from any other member of the Collective. I was desperate to have my sons in the best educational environment possible, and I felt Wellspring was it.
Q: And because of your eagerness, you were willing to take on greater responsibilities than most members of the Collective?
A: That’s correct. I was the new kid on the block, and very anxious to participate in it.
Q: In the Fall of 1988, am I right that Corrine Chintz was one of the biggest concerns that the Collective had to deal with?
A: I don’t know if she was the biggest concern the Collective had to deal with or not. The fact that her child was not fulfilling her responsibility, was my greatest concern. I felt that the child was not in the best situation for her. She belonged in a regular classroom where the teachers could take over her education, instead of her mother.
Q: What was your basis for that conclusion?
A: Because she didn’t do the schoolwork the teachers told her to...it was only a three-day-a-week thing. I felt she would be better in a five-day-a-week venue...
Q: How do you know she didn’t do the work teachers asked her to do?
A: Because that was something Karen made clear to a meeting of the Collective when she said she could no longer be the contract teacher.
Q: Did Karen make that clear in a meeting with the Collective, or just in a private conversation with you?
A: No, I am sure she made it in front of the Collective. She had to explain why she no longer chose to be Misha’s contract teacher. Karen never, to the best of my knowledge, never did the same thing to any other child. There was only one person who was not able to fulfill the obligations.”
Ultimately, the Administrative Committee had made a recommendation to the Collective that Imika not be allowed to continue disrupting the Collective, because the kids were getting scared. The members voted unanimously to bar Imika from coming to the school, and required that she find a liaison who was willing to meet with Misha’s teachers in her stead.
Unfortunately, Imika ignored the directive and the situation worsened. The school issue and the road issue travelled parallel tracks, on their way to the depot, located on South State Street at the Superior Court Building in Ukiah.
Friday, January 23, 2015
This is Episode 22 in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.
Plenty of Lemons
I began this narrative on the fall of the Bell Springs Education Collective with the intent of showing the path that led both to our school folding, and to my getting my teaching credential. The two are interwoven so that one-half of the story cannot be adequateIy told in exclusion from the other half. I chose to follow the chain of litigation through to its conclusion before continuing the tale from the perspective of the school itself.
We tried to keep focused on Bell Springs as we journeyed along this most treacherous path, filled with legal obstacles provided by Imika. The kids certainly knew what was up. They knew Imika was mad about Misha being asked to leave the Collective, but they did not know why she was mad at them. The last full regular year at the little school was ’88-’89, so the beginning of the end took place in September of 1988, when Karen made the decision to terminate her contract-teaching status with Misha.
As I stated earlier, this was the single most pivoting event and I feel it is critical to understand Karen’s perspective. As an educator, she had to weigh all factors involved in the situation. If a child were involved in the public school system in town, then the teacher in charge of the class would have expectations which focused on assessment and evaluation of student-expected skills.
In Karen’s case, and later on in my own situation, the contract teacher for Bell Springs had to be able to determine the rate of a student’s learning in a similar manner, only there were those two days per week that were taking place in the individual homes of students to account for. There had to be measurable progress from those additional days for Karen to see growth. Failure to do so, would cast a shadow over the integrity of the Collective, and subsequently over the integrity of the contract teacher.
Karen simply took her own personal knowledge of Imika, having been her closest neighbor since the time that Misha was born, and determined that there was too much at risk, based on her own observations, and on those of Misha’s tutors and the parent teachers with whom Misha worked, to ignore her lack of forward progress. It all added up to Karen taking the only stance she could, both in her own interests and those of the Collective.
Here are the more salient points from the letter that Karen wrote to Imika, upon reaching her decision, not to continue as Misha’s contract teacher:
This is an official letter to let you know that Misha’s educational situation is not working out in her best interests. As it is set up, I am the official contract teacher from the Laytonville Unified School District who sets up assignments for her and monitors her progress. She has a tutorial teacher, who works with her and other children her age, to help them learn three days a week. However, most of her learning must be carried out and supported at home. This is a home education situation and she is not making adequate academic progress due to a lack of help at home.
I was not her contract teacher last year, but I do have access to letters you were given from her tutors last year. In her February evaluation of 1988, Deb wrote that Misha was making some progress with blending sounds but still did not know the entire alphabet and had trouble concentrating on anything for more than ten minutes. According to her tutor this semester, September, 1988, this is still true. She still does not know the alphabet letters and sounds consistently. Misha is so distracted and upset she cannot remember what she has learned (e.g. letters r and w) for even a few minutes. Misha is extremely disruptive in her small tutoring group...
...This year Misha is consistently either late or extremely early coming for her tutoring, which has been a pattern in the past. Rhythm in her home schedule is lacking concerning her homework as well. It cannot all be crammed in at the last minute...
Both the tutors and I feel that Misha would benefit more from some other educational plan, which does not depend so heavily on homework and home learning... I would like to recommend that you seriously consider regular public school so that Misha has a solid daily routine in her life and plenty of chances to develop her social skills...I have informed Mr. Richard M that Misha will not be involved in this contract program.”
It was not an easy decision to make for Karen, because she knew it ultimately would mean that Misha would have to leave the collective. No other contract teacher would care to step into the situation, and go against Karen’s professional opinion. However, after examining the memo, dated November of 1987, Karen felt there was no alternative.
Of course, she had to be objective; that goes without saying. However, to make observations, and then to consult with the current teachers, and have your observations confirmed by earlier notes, lent credibility to the course of action that she took. I do not know of anyone in the collective who ever felt that Karen had any other choice in the matter. Our biggest decision, at this point in time, was to decide whether the Collective was in a position to continue its affiliation with the District, with its infusion of money and expertise, or to forge ahead on its own.
That is where my journey with the process of obtaining my California Teaching Credential began. Coincidentally, the act of my applying to Dominican College, prompted Imika to write the infamous letter to Susan Rounds, the Director of Dominican, which opened my door into those hallways down at the court house in Ukiah. By the time I finished my year at Dominican, I had become pretty familiar with Ukiah, when you consider that I was attending college full-time, consulting with Barry Vogel, and spending quality time with those nice judges.
Besides, having all of that reading from Dominican, gave me something to do while waiting around at the other two venues, so it all worked out just fine, if you were bound and determined to make lemonade out of lemons. Well, we had plenty of lemons with which to work, the only problem being a shortage of available sugar, to make the experience palatable.