‘Beyond exhausting’: Tired San Jose teachers push for a different model
Teachers and parents at John Muir Middle School in San Jose want the campus to turn into a community school. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    Teachers and parents of John Muir Middle School want their school to provide wrap-around services for students in the hopes of addressing rising discipline issues, teacher burnout and lack of communication with parents.

    San Jose Unified School District educators and parents are pushing for the campus to convert to a community school model, which builds partnerships with organizations that provide health and social services while increasing greater parent participation and teacher input. They hope the model will help address post-pandemic issues, such as mental health and chronic absenteeism.

    Language arts teacher Melissa Urbain said John Muir has not been receiving nearly as much attention in the form of on-campus services as others in the district. She said other San Jose Unified campuses, including Muwekma Ohlone Middle School, have wellness centers and other mental health services. John Muir does not have a wellness center and is dealing with increased disciplinary problems on a daily basis, she said. That could be alleviated if more support was available, Urbain added.

    “John Muir has one current counseling program. All these other sites have two to five additional programs,” Urbain told San José Spotlight. “It has become more and more urgent that we have somebody dedicated to getting more resources for kids on campus, a center open for more resources on campus, and then to have more shared decision making.”

    She said conversations with the district to build a wellness center or shift to a community school model have dragged on for years with little movement. As mental health needs and chronic absenteeism have increased, test scores have plummeted, disproportionately affecting low-income students.

    San Jose Unified School District spokesperson Jennifer Maddox declined to comment. Jose Magana, district board president, could not be reached for comment.

    Visual arts teacher Christina Wilson said conversations with the district about making the transition to a community school have gone nowhere. She said teachers are burned out and regularly spend their lunch breaks supervising students to curb behavioral issues.

    “It’s beyond exhausting, we’re doing more than what our job entails,” Wilson told San José Spotlight. “They’re just not taking us seriously on how much we feel this could benefit our school.”

    State leaders have invested more than $4 billion since 2020 to create community schools statewide, arguing the model continues to support disadvantaged communities. San Jose Unified School District received a $200,000 planning grant in 2021 for community schools, according to state documents.

    Language arts teacher Dale Knight said the campus is facing its highest level of behavioral issues in his 13 years teaching at John Muir. A UCLA study last year found one-third of teachers statewide consider student discipline the worst part of the job, and 66% of teachers who plan to quit said retention would improve with better discipline policies in place.

    “This year, I’ve seen more fights at John Muir on campus than I’ve ever seen,” Knight told San José Spotlight. “Kids need a lot of support to make the right decisions, to find other ways to deal with the stresses that’s going on in their lives.”

    Todd Hernandez, parent of a sixth grader at John Muir, said shifting into a community school model would ensure better communication between students, parents and teachers, something the campus struggles to do.

    Hernandez said his family got a call from the school months ago explaining how his son needed to be picked up due to a situation in the pool during physical education class. When his wife got to campus, he said she saw an ambulance and was told that the pool had been over-chlorinated.

    “They said you should probably take your son to the emergency room to have him checked out,” Hernandez told San José Spotlight. “There was no administrator there to talk to us about what had happened.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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