One mother’s testimony: Rocketship ignores bullying in their schools, instead focusing only on test scores
The public testimony of Liliana Casillas raises some serious questions about Rocketship’s role in preventing bullying. In both a letter and public testimony, Ms. Casillas documents that regular bullying and abuse of her 3rd grade son was tolerated by Rocketship officials. Sadly, I have spoken to many other families who have experienced similar difficulties at Rocketship. In most cases, inexperienced administrators and teachers are unable to handle problematic behaviors on campuses packed with student densities nearly ten times that of normal public schools. Last year, we documented that principals lack proper credentials, experience and training at Rocketship. Many principals have only 2 years of teaching experience before rising to school leadership. Experienced school leaders are critical to maintaining a safe, positive school climate. Could school bullying be a direct result of Rocketship’s policy of promoting two year Teach For America teachers directly to become principals?
Ms. Casillas’ public letter was written after the June 4th, 2014 public hearing at the Santa Clara County Office of Education, where the Rocketship Fuerza school was approved 7-0 on appeal after being denied by Alum Rock Union School District.
June 16, 2014
Dear Santa Clara County Board Members,
I recently dis-enrolled my 3rd grade son from Rocketship Si Se Puede. Many other parents have done the same and I want you to know more about what the school is like and how parents and students are treated. Here some examples. I have many more and know parents who would also come forward but are too afraid to speak out.
It’s been two years my son started getting bullied in the classroom and during their breaks. I met with the principal of Si Se Puede regarding the bullying that has occurred over the years. The most recent a bully pushed my son almost to the ground and held up another child by his t-shirt just to get the teacher’s attention. The principal said he doesn’t care what the bullies do inside or outside the classroom all he cares about is their test scores. He said, “Got it that’s my main focus. Move your child to another classroom for all I care but I will not make any changes. I will allow him to do as he pleases. If you don’t like it then go to my boss Preston Smith.” The following week the boy grabbed the phone cord and started to strangle a classmate inside the classroom. It was a scary moment because the teacher was not aware of what was going on busy in a group setting. Had it not been classmates telling the bully to let him go he could’ve died. I warned the principal you let bullies do as they please with no discipline or consequences taking place, it will only get worse and it did. To this day, the boy continues bullying other children in the school. Teachers are not allowed to say anything to him but ignore the child acting up in class. He continues disrupting by shouting out bad words to students and teachers throwing items at them.
No Bathroom Breaks during class – Children Urinating – Children are not allowed to use the bathroom during long class periods. My child developed a urinary tract infection (I can provide doctor’s verification) and it could’ve been avoided. MANY CHILDREN are urinating on their pants because they’re taught not to go during the duration of that class time. I went to the school several times and many times saw children in the office waiting for their parent to show up due to the child urinating unable to hold it in any longer and other times parents were not notified until their child spoke up. This does not just happen in Kindergarten. It happens in the other grades too.
Learning Lab — for 100 minutes at a time. My child would say to me “Mom I felt dizzy” he would get headaches and get tired focusing too long looking at the screen. My child would say, “I wish there was a teacher instead of looking directly at the computer.”
Rocketship emphasizes community but towards last ones I attended very few parents showed up. Couple of parents brought to my attention they were discouraged at how the school is being run and that’s why they’re no longer attending. Last mandatory meeting parents were told voicemail left on their phones if you don’t come to our June 9 th Exhibition night your child will not get to go Wednesday’s Field trip. Parents coming to the school Si Se Puede during class time are left not wanting to come back again. The staff looks at you but does not acknowledge or greet. Yard Duty staff use excessive authority and are constantly yelling, scolding, and taking lunch recess away for no reason. The PE Coach is unprofessional, rude, does not greet parents and talks back to children when they have not done anything. He sends some to the principals’ office for no reason. At the last minute the coach would think of an activity to do but the children were getting hurt and when children complained to the instructor he lashed out at them. The principal says he didn’t know. I addressed the matter to them. Unfortunately, he didn’t do anything about it because the abuse from the yard duties still continues to this day.
Because I dis-enrolled my son from Rocketship, I received direct retaliation saying they’re unable to provide my child’s academic records and lost a recent 504 plan with everyone’s signatures on it asking me to come back and re-sign due to the staff no longer being there. The Assistant Principal mentioned if need be they will create a report card based on the teacher’s input. It is unacceptable that they would lose my son’s records.
UNFORTUNATELY MANY PARENTS ARE NOT SPEAKING UP IN FEAR OF RETALIATION AND NOT KNOWING THEIR RIGHTS, UNABLE TO SPEAK ENGLISH, BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE PAPERS TO LIVE IN THIS COUNTRY. THEY LIVE IN FEAR AND SADNESS UNABLE TO HELP, SUPPORT, ADVOCATE FOR THEIR CHILDREN. AND ROCKETSHIP TAKES ADVANTAGE BECAUSE THEY KNOW THE MAJORITY OF PARENTS WILL NOT SPEAK UP.
My child had endured bullying and I emailed the staff, had meetings with the principal, and other upper Rocketship employees including Preston and was not able to get support from them until I told the Principal if my child gets hurt again by the same bullies, I will contact the police. My son is smart, friendly, honest, and unfortunately kept quiet of everything that happened to him at school until he felt safe at home to talk about it. There would be days he would come crying, scared, stressed, frustrated not wanting to go back to that school because the same bullies wouldn’t leave him alone mentally, physically bullying him. Principal and staff would tell him you are not to defend yourself, talk to a staff member. There should be alternative ways to help a child face bullies. Instead they don’t provide any support. I feel staff at this school is not doing their job as they are supposed to and amongst them they cover up all the corruptions and violations that are constantly going on at that school. Children are truly suffering with so much pressure. Especially during test times, my child would be stressed to the point he wanted to throw up. He said he was afraid he wouldn’t finish the test in time and would have nightmares before.
When I spoke at the board meeting against Rocketship, for the first time I felt relief to finally let out what has happened as I remained silent for too long. Please do not let this school expand.
Public testimony of Liliana Casillas on June 4th, 2014 to the Santa Clara County Board of Education
Rocketship’s student handbook states that bullying is not tolerated (page 22). However, it appears that a robust investigation and reporting process is only available for Rocketship schools in Wisconsin.