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When Students Have Had Enough

Photograph by Getty Images

Nine students are trying to make a difference by suing the state of California in the hope of raising the bar for public education by demanding that teachers be held accountable for being ineffective. The trial, which began on January 27, will address the process behind teacher tenure, dismissal and layoffs.

Raylene Monterrozza, a 16-year-old junior at the School of Extended Educational Options (SEEO) in Pomona, Calif., is one of the nine students who stand firm in believing that if this lawsuit is ruled in the favor of the plaintiffs, the entire country will experience major reforms in education with respect to the way teachers are hired and fired.

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“I am dissatisfied with the high amount of ineffective teachers in school,” Raylene reported. “I am left with outdated, non-working teaching techniques in which I cannot—nor any other students for that matter—understand. I cannot soak in the curriculum that is being taught. Then I am not prepared when moving on to the next grade.”

Unhappy with the quality of her education, Raylene says she went through several channels to seek a solution. “I informed my counselors. I tried the principal. I even took it as far as contacting the district,” she said. “It was always the same story. I received no reply, and nothing changed.”

The last in, first out, mandate for layoffs is particularly frustrating to Raylene, who believes this is a confusing way to determine which teachers will remain with students long-term.

“These layoffs do not even correspond with a teacher’s effectiveness,” she said. “I want to keep the good teachers and easily eliminate the ineffective teachers. I believe this can be brought about by removing these laws and actually gauging a teacher’s effectiveness.”

"I was hoping to change schools."

As Raylene begins her journey toward attaining the required education to become a family therapist, she has had to stand up for herself more than once when it comes to securing a quality education. While attending her neighborhood high school with all of her childhood friends, she noticed a dismal change in the grades she received.

“I had gone from getting straight A's since elementary to failing many of my classes at this school,” she recalled. "I felt I was giving all I could. I talked over and over to my counselors and teachers. I made my counselor aware that I was dissatisfied with my experience. I was hoping to change schools.”

This request was not met with the approval of her counselor, who told Raylene that she could not change schools. Undeterred by the lack of concern for her request, Raylene found a charter school on her own, applied and was accepted. She has now regained her confidence as her grades have returned to straight A's, and she is preparing for advanced studies again.

Raylene’s involvement in this lawsuit is fully supported by her mother, Martha Monterroza, a catering manager who claims she also tried to resolve issues she had with her daughter’s school, but no action was taken.

“The biggest thing that upsets me about the system is how we are basically protecting some ineffective teachers at the expense of our own kids,” Martha said.

The Southern California mom remembers a teacher that had been absent during most of the school year. “When she was there she was being very unprofessional,” Martha explained. “She let the kids do whatever they wanted and even threw a projector at the students. I am still upset about that teacher until this day. My daughter is struggling in math because she was not taught the necessary skills for that grade.”

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Hiring tutors, meeting with school officials and sitting down with her daughter were all ways that Martha tried to offer her own assistance, but she wants the school system to serve in conjunction with parents instead of against them.

This mother and daughter firmly believe a faulty system of gauging teacher effectiveness is to blame for the chasm between the expressed goals set for students and the actual results. Raylene, along with eight other brave students are willing to fight for the education reforms they hope will offer them the foundation they deserve. Let's see what happens.

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