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WCCUSD protest

‘Where’s my teacher?’ Students and parents want to know why WCCUSD hasn’t filled dozens of teacher vacancies

on September 22, 2022

Parents protested and teachers rallied against West Contra Costa Unified School District on Wednesday, expressing frustrations with how the teacher shortage is being handled and communicated to the community.

A few dozen parents, kids and teachers gathered at Memorial Park in Richmond, directly across the street from the WCCUSD headquarters, to demand answers after a lack of teachers has forced some schools to combine classes, hire temporary substitutes or move teachers around to compensate for staffing shortages. 

Protesters held signs reading: “Let’s fight for what’s right,” “Help us” and “Where’s my teacher?/Donde esta mi maestro?”

WCCUSD protest
Parents and teachers protesting WCCUSD’s handling of a teacher shortage that has left some classes without a permanent teacher, a month into the school year. (Cara Nixon)

“I’m just really disappointed in the lack of communication from the district,” said Annette Gregg, a parent of a third grader at Stewart Elementary in Pinole. “We didn’t even find out that our kids didn’t have teachers until we came to the first day of school.”

Gregg’s daughter said she was “nervous” for the school year because her parents are having her transfer to a new school because she didn’t have a consistent teacher at Stewart.

Some students held signs which read “Keep Ms. Baker,” referring to fourth grade teacher Cathy Baker, who has taught in WCCUSD for nine years and has been at Ellerhorst for the past four. She said she is being moved to Peres K-8 because of a lack of teachers there. 

“I moved to Ellerhorst because I know that there are students that don’t have Black teachers, specifically Black students, and I moved to a community that was similar to the one I grew up in and I wanted to be a positive impact on my students of color, as well as my students that come from different communities than me,” said Baker, who is Black.

William Beh, a parent of two Ohlone Elementary school students, said the situation is affecting many in the community. 

“Kids are crying, some kids are even saying, ‘We don’t want to go back to school,’” Beh said. “One of the parents, when she talked about it, I can see tears in her eyes.”

Shallon Santiago, a parent of two children at Stewart, helped organize the event to unify parents in the hope that it would motivate the district to be more responsive to the community’s concerns. 

“We are aware and have heard the concerns from our parents and staff and understand the frustration regarding our recruitment and retention efforts,” the district said in a written statement Wednesday. “There is a statewide teacher shortage and school districts, especially districts like ours, are managing the best way they can with a small pool of clear credentialed teachers statewide and WCCUSD is no exception. However, we remain committed to offering students high-quality learning experiences in each classroom throughout our District.”

WCCUSD protest
Zachary Wittman, a fourth grader at Ellerhorst Elementary in Pinole, holds a sign reading, “Let’s fight for what’s right” at a protest against WCCUSD on Wednesday. (Cara Nixon)

Wednesday evening, the protesters took their concerns directly to the school board, joining members of the staff in a rally outside the meeting hosted by United Teachers of Richmond. Many then spoke during the public comment period about the district’s poor response to the teacher shortage.

John Zabala, WCCUSD school psychologist and president of UTR, noted the district is still short many teachers and paraprofessionals, despite $128 billion in state funding to school districts in July, to counter inflation and the ongoing teacher shortage.

“I know board staff and Superintendent [Kenneth “Chris”] Hurst that you are also driven by the same spirit of public service,” Zabala said. “I believe your intentions are the best for our students. But without human resources, we will accomplish nothing.”

Later, Hurst acknowledged the personnel issues and the district’s obligation to do something about it.

“So, we do hear you and we do understand that we have that commitment to address all of these issues,” he said. 

WCCUSD protest
At Memorial Park in Richmond, parents and students organized a protest against WCCUSD’s handling of the ongoing teacher shortage. (Cara Nixon)

Director of Human Resources Sylvia Greenwood noted that 200 teachers resigned at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, including 55 retirements. The district now has 24 elementary teacher vacancies, 16 secondary school teacher vacancies, and three counselor vacancies. 

Associate Superintendent LaResha Martin said the district is supporting its students, staff and parents in a number of ways, including having counselor check-ins with students; providing meet-and-greet opportunities for parents and new teachers; and offering $3,000 to teachers who were asked to transfer schools.

Board President Otheree Christian, who works for the Oakland Unified School District, said there is a teacher shortage all over the Bay Area which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The needs weren’t taken care of before we ever went into the pandemic,” Christian said. “The pandemic just opened it up and made it even bigger.”

This story was updated to correct the number of elementary teacher vacancies.

People of Richmond: How would you improve WCCUSD schools?

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