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.