Update September 30, 2010

Please scroll down to an e-mail from a teacher at Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles. I want to keep this in the order of the sequence of events and information received.

Update September 27, 2010

I was given permission to post this letter from Mat Taylor  an English teacher at the Elizebeth Learning Center in the UTLA South Area Chair. I had received this e-mail about an hour before we received the bad news about Mr. Ruelas.

Dora

Rigoberto Ruelas is missing.  He is one of our own, a long-time teacher and
TA at Miramonte Elementary in South Los Angeles.  With all of my heart, I
hope he is well and will make contact soon with his family.  I know all of
us feel the same way and will keep him in our hearts until he is safe
again. He called the sub desk on Sunday night to request a substitute for
Monday and Tuesday.  He talked to his brother on Sunday and his father on
Monday.  He didn’t return to school this week and no one has heard from him.
Reports are that he was stressed out from work.  In particular, Mr. Ruelas
had been called less than effective(or however they put it) by the L.A.
Times valueless “value-added” data base. This for a teacher who had always
enjoyed a great reputation at the school.

Of course there could be many, many reasons for his disappearance.  How much
of a role the Times played is pure conjecture at this point.  I do not fault
those that would say to bring it up for discussion without the facts is
perhaps irresponsible or self-serving.  I would ask us to consider the
deeper ramifications before leaving it at that.  The UTLA home page calls
the Times use of “value-added” data “reckless,destructive.”  I do not want
to imagine how destructive in the matter of Mr. Ruelas.  Do we really have
to wait any longer to point out how awful, not just this latest attack on
teachers is, but the entire immoral climate brought on by a well-financed
campaign to scapegoat and discredit teachers?

I sincerely pray that the unthinkable does not have to happen before those
behind the blame-the-teacher barrage stop and assess the damage.  The wounds
to teachers’ reputations pale in comparison to the harm already done to
thousands of our students. Their stress endured, the blame assigned imprints
not just them but their families. These are flesh and blood human beings.
Schools designated low-performing because of the tyranny of testing do, in
fact, feel shame. A culture of hate and fear serves no positive purpose. To
those who seek to privatize and charterize, however, the instability is key
to their tactics.  Simply put, Mr. Gates, Mr.Walmart, Mr. Broad, Mayor
Villaragosa, Mr. Cortines(and too many others to list), when is enough,
enough?

And then an hour later we received word of the following.

Posted on Failing Schools



September 26, 2010
by Sabrina

I could talk here about my frustration with being subjected to yet another hour of conversation dominated by the same people who hog the normal conversation about ed reform– Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada (in whom I’m sincerely disappointed as of late), and Randi Weingarten.

I could talk about my frustration over the irresponsible “journalism” NBC is practicing by creating a public forum just participatory enough to include rapid-fire snippets of a useful conversation, but not participatory enough to ensure proportionate representation of those whose futures depend on the outcome of this conversation.

I could talk about my frustration at watching a network of greedy, ratings-hungry idiots (yes, I SAID IT!) wonder aloud about “why shouldn’t we use money to inspire teachers?”. (ETA: Apologies for language, I’m just so angry about this…)

Rigoberto Ruelas, 39

But I’ll stop there for now, because a Los Angeles teacher was found dead this morning, of an apparent suicide.

SOUTH GATE, Calif. (KABC) – An elementary school teacher from South Gate who mysteriously disappeared last week was found dead about 9 a.m. Sunday in the Angeles National Forest, authorities have confirmed.

The Coroner confirmed the body found by a search and rescue team is that of Rigoberto Ruelas, 39, a fifth grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School.

Authorities said it is a suicide, but did not say how he killed himself. An autopsy is scheduled for Monday.

Ruelas’ family became concerned when he failed to show up to work last week.

A teacher ratings report by the Los Angeles Times did not score Ruelas well. Family members said the poor teacher evaluation scores may have caused him to go missing.

Ruelas, who has been teaching for 14 years, has had nearly perfect attendance.

According to his brother, Ruelas saw their sister Sunday and spoke with their father Monday night.

Family and friends said Ruelas was under a lot of pressure at work.

“He kept saying that there’s stress at work,” said Ruelas’ brother, Alejandro.

Alejandro Ruelas said his brother was a teacher who went above and beyond.

I just learned about this a little while ago, and obviously I don’t know all of the circumstances of this man’s life. But it bothers me profoundly that when this man went missing, the first thing his family thought of were his complaints about his stress at work.

To the spectators and grand-standers in this conversation, especially those who make six- and seven figures a year while teachers toil in some of the toughest places in our country for a mere fraction of that; who send their kids to tony private schools while poor, hungry children sit 35 to a room in public schools that are falling down; who have the leisure time and disposable income to show their children the world, or hire others to help them when they’re unavailable; who can’t imagine why more money couldn’t inspire someone to work harder; who can find a sympathetic ear when they complain of their troubles at work and  beyond, and don’t know what it’s like to be accused of not caring when you give your ALL at a job for which you receive little to no appreciation; who casually reduce children and teachers to test scores, and blame poor parents for not making more hours in the day to read to their children after coming home from scrubbing their floors; who can’t imagine the kind of desperation regular people feel when facing the prospect of losing their life’s work– in any field:

Is this just a game to you, or what? For those of us in the trenches, it most certainly isn’t. Enough is enough. Deal with the real issues, approach us from a place of humility and respect, and offer genuine support. Put up, or SHUT UP.

My heart goes out to Mr. Ruelas and his family. I hope he finds some peace, wherever he is, and that he’s no longer suffering the kind of pain and turmoil that would drive someone to such a desperate act. May you be the last to suffer so.

Update September 28, 2010

LA teacher suicide sparks test-score pushback

Published in the Fresno Bee

By CHRISTINA HOAG – Associated Press Writer

SOUTH GATE, Calif. — The Los Angeles Times should remove teacher performance ratings from its website after the apparent suicide of a teacher despondent over his score, the union representing Los Angeles school teachers said.

United Teachers Los Angeles also has asked school administrators to join with them in the request to the newspaper, which published the ratings last month, union president AJ Duffy said.

The body of 39-year-old Rigoberto Ruelas Jr., a fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School, was found Sunday at the foot of a remote forest bridge in what appears to be a suicide.

The motive for Ruelas taking his own life is far from clear. But union officials said he had been upset since the Times published his district ranking as a “less effective” teacher based on his students’ standardized English and math test scores.

Ruelas scored “average” in getting his students up to acceptable levels in English, but “less effective” in math, and “less effective” overall. The school itself ranked as “least effective” in raising test scores, and only five of Miramonte’s 35 teachers were ranked as high as average.

The rankings were contained in a database analyzing seven years of student test score data for students taught by 6,000 third- to fifth-grade teachers.

In a statement, the newspaper extended its condolences to the family and said it published the database “because it bears directly on the performance of public employees who provide an important service, and in the belief that parents and the public have a right to judge the data for themselves.”

The publication of individual rankings sparked widespread outrage among teachers. The rankings ranged from least and less effective to average, more effective and most effective.

The union protested in front of the newspaper’s downtown headquarters and called for a boycott of the Times, which published the rankings as part of a push for a better method to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

Although other factors may have been at play in Ruelas’ death, union official Mathew Taylor said Monday he believed the ranking was a contributing factor based on conversations with teachers at the school. Principals have been using the rankings to crack down on teachers, he said.

“He was a very well-respected teacher,” Taylor said. “He took the pressure being applied to him to heart.”

Ruelas was last seen Sept. 19 when he dropped off a birthday gift for his sister. He notified the school to get a substitute for his classes Monday and Tuesday, but he did not return to work Wednesday and his family reported him missing.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines has said the type of teacher rankings published by the Times, known as “value-added,” shouldn’t be used as the sole criteria to measure effectiveness.

The school board last month authorized the district to start developing a new method for evaluating teachers that incorporates value-added rankings, as well as in-classroom observation and other measures.

Detractors say value-added rankings place too much emphasis on test-score teaching, especially in schools like Miramonte, a large school in an impoverished, gang-plagued neighborhood about six miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. About 60 percent of Miramonte students are Spanish-speaking English-language learners.

“Test scores are directly related to the socio-economic status of the student population,” said Taylor. “The best teachers are given the toughest kids. This man had won many awards.”

By all accounts, Ruelas did not shy away from problem kids.

Parents and former students described him as a mentor to youth tempted to join gangs and a tireless booster that low-income children could make it to college. He often stayed after school to tutor struggling kids and offer counseling so they stayed on the straight and narrow.

“He took the worse students and tried to change their lives,” said Ismael Delgado, a 20-year-old former student. “I had friends who wanted to be gangsters, but he talked them out of it. He treated you like family.”

Update September 30, 2010

This is an e-mail from Chuck Olynyk, a teacher at Roosevelt High School in Los Angleles.

Today is Tuesday, September 28, 2010 and Day 92 PF. The stories just keep flooding in about Rigoberto Ruelas, the teacher who worked at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles. That is indeed a correction, an admission of error. I had initially thought that this was the same school which is a feeder to Edison Middle School, where I worked for seven years, which in turn feeds into Fremont. Then I read the school was in Southgate, so I wrote that, thinking it unlikely that Mr. Ruelas had worked at a school so close to mine.

Then I started hearing from his former students, who are also my former students. And I felt a chill. I am admitting a mistake. Will the Los Angeles Times?

When they first posted the story http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2010/09/teachers-body-found-in-angeles-national-forest.html at 7:23 p.m., very little information was contained, and the Times spent a great deal of time deleting posted comments. As of 6:40 a.m, no comments were posted. By 9:30, I was six comments, with one of them being a test.

It wasn’t until 12:05 p.m. that the Los Angeles Times posted its more “in-depth” article, “Mourning for teacher found dead in forest”. All 580 words of it, written by Robert Faturechi, Alexandra Zavis and Tony Barboza.
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2010/09/south-gate-elementary-teacher-death.html
What a sad epitaph, 580 words to sum up a man’s life.

Not in evidence were Jason Felch, Stephanie Ferrell, Megan Garvey, Thomas Suh Lauder, Julie Marquis, Sandra Poindexter, Ken Schwencke, Beth Shuster, Jason Song or Doug Smith. Why am I mentioning them? Why, they are credited on the infamous data base used for humiliating—rating—the teachers, which was published in mid August. Jason Felch, who has been with the Times since 2004, wasn’t going to be there; he was participating in an event called “Grading the Teachers” at the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Education, so perhaps he can be excused. Besides, how could he be involved in a mistake? He was, after all, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting. And he was a teacher, amazingly enough, so obviously he’s well-suited to lead this front of the witch-hunt against teachers.

But where were the others? Why didn’t any of those others credited with the data base put in an appearance at Miramonte Elementary School? One could speculate they were hiding under the wings of the flock of attorneys in the employ of the Times.

There were other words, however. I’ve been seeing them on Facebook. They are my former students, whose lives were touched by Mr. Ruelas.

“Very sad & infuriating at the same time!! It goes to show how good of a job these journalist are doing now a days, I thought journalism was about getting the facts!! The only ones that really know what’s going on in those classrooms & what problems our youth have are the teachers! I met Mr. Ruelas & he was a great Teacher & a wonderful human being, may god give his family the strength to get through this. And may God Bless all you Great Teachers, god knows teaching is not an easy job!!”

“I knew Mr. Ruelas since I was in the second grade.. I was truly in disbelief when heard the news. May he rest in peace.”

When I mentioned the events to a barista in Starbucks, where I write in the morning before school opens up, she said that, “He was too sensitive. Obviously something must have been wrong with him.” She then went on to explain, when I tried to counter, that “I just value life so much, so therefore he chose the wrong way.” When I wrote about the incident, I got responses like these:

“I truly believe that anyone that didn’t know Mr. Ruelas shouldn’t be judging him. This man was one of my TAs when I went to Miramonte he was a mentor to a few of my class mates from 5th and 6th grade whom I still keep in touch with he changed alot of our lives, guided alot of us and was a great teacher. He was a 5th grade teacher some students last hope for people to judge him over test scores I’d unbelievable. What about the teachers that taught these kids prior to them reaching his class? His death is a tragedy regardless of how he died if you didn’t want to give your condolence don’t, but don’t judge him pray that his family finds comfort that that you never encounter something like that in your own family instead of criticizing his death….”

“…I also went to Miramonte and got to interact with him as a child. A lot of friends have had their children at that school and have been touched by him in one way or another…no matter the reason of his death he was still a son, brother, cousin, husband, friend to many and their pain needs to be respected.”

“Of course that person would say that, all that person needs to worry about is serve coffee, he/she probably doesn’t know what the meaning of stress is. I had a friend tell me the exact same thing & she added “he must have gotten lazy over the years & that’s why he got the bad scores”!! This coming from a person whose both parents are School Principals. I told her “You didn’t know him, Mr. Ruelas was an amazing Teachers, he cared about his students. I should know I met him & experienced it first hand”! I mean, we are all entitled to our opinion but can they please open their eyes & see what happened here!! It’s not brain surgery people!!”

Later today, the Times massaged their story to 795 words and started posting comments. http://www.latimes.com/health/mentalhealth/la-me-south-gate-teacher-20100928,0,1608610.story
Along with the 75 comments and additional verbage, the Times placed beside the story two very significant ads:
Bipolar Suicide Rate
Get Expert Advice About Bipolar Disorder. Info On Signs & Treatment
www.EverydayHealth.com
Depression-Get Rid Of It
When things quit working we start working, 900+ clinics free referral
www.NeuroAssist.com

I guess this is the idea of sensitivity they have over at the Los Angeles Times. By the way, I have unsubscribed several times over the last twenty-four hours. Yet I am still receiving these emails. And in the area of sensitivity, many of the comments posted read like, “So how many teachers off themselves a year?” There is reference to “whiney teachers.” The Times also “reported” that while the cause of death was listed as suicide, the paper states that the cause of the suicide is unclear. They also reaffirmed the dedication to the truth: “The parents have the right to know.”

The data base still remains up. And I just another post from the Times. The fight continues—on many fronts: We wait for Superman, watch Arne Duncan be feted on Oprah, hear her call Michelle Rhee a “warrior woman.” While it goes on, we, as public school teachers, have to at last admit, as Diane Ravitch has stated, we are indeed under attack. There’s a war. To quote Robin Williams’ John Keating in “Dead Poets Society”:” “This is a battle, a war, and the casualties could be your hearts and souls” And the hearts and souls of our children. To further quote: “That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

The enemies at the gates. Time to fight back.