Most Viewed Stories
Students, parents want teacher back
Students and parents spoke through tears as they gave personal testimony in defense of a popular teacher and coach at Princeton High School who has not been retained for next school year.
Protests of the decision were felt on campus throughout the week and three students were suspended due to activities related to the protests.
“He’s inspired me as a coach in sports and in my life. You’ve just found a diamond in the rough and now you’re just letting him go,” said student Gavin Laughlin.
A crowd of 70 people attended the board meeting of the Princeton Joint Unified School District board of trustees on Thursday and those who spoke clearly supported keeping Travis Bennett.
Bennett is in his second year teaching seventh- and eighth-grade math. Students said they had improved their math scores and parents pointed to higher test scores due to Bennett’s instruction. He is also a basketball coach and teaches leadership.
During the meeting, parents joined the students in providing impassioned pleas, and wanted to know why Mr. Bennett is not being retained.
“You probably know why everybody’s here. Is this financial? Is this personal? Can you tell us? Why would you let go such an amazing teacher?” asked Ron Johns, a parent who lives outside Princeton.
The school board responded that personnel decisions cannot be discussed.
Bennett is a probationary teacher, and while Superintendent-Principal John Greene would not discuss the specific reasons for the decision not to retain him, he said in an interview Thursday morning that Bennett was “non-re-elected for no cause.”
It was not, as some students suggested, a budgetary issue, Greene said in the interview.
English teacher Chris Stillwell said that the participation of the parents at the board meeting was meaningful.
“It’s hard to get parents to come to any kind of meeting and having this many people show up, it means something,” said Stillwell.
Students, parents and alumni spoke about the extra efforts put in by Bennett to help students when they were struggling in math class, with social dynamics at school or with their home lives.
One parent, Maria Romo, began reading a letter she had written as testimony, but began crying and said she couldn’t read well. Her daughter read the letter for her.
“He has taught her how to be a leader and a role model for all the younger students. She has gotten so much advice from him and she’s gained a lot of knowledge that she’s used in school as well as outside of school,” said Julia Romo, reading the words of her mother.
During the organization of the protest during the week, three students were suspended for two days.
Student organizers behind the protest effort said the students were suspended for using school resources to make and copy posters and fliers objecting to the decision.
Eduardo Valencia, a senior, Marisela Valencia, a junior, and sophomore Oscar Espinosa will start their suspensions on Monday.
Greene confirmed three students were suspended, but said the reasons go beyond the use of school resources.
“It’s more involved than that, but I am not going to comment on the reasons why students were suspended,” Greene said in an interview Thursday morning.
Students who helped form “Team Bennett” said Eduardo Valencia used paper and the copy machine at the school to produce the protest material.
The other students, the organizers said, simply went to the school to pick up Valencia, but were suspended as well.
Greene again said the reasons are more far-reaching.
Arianna Ilharreguy, a sophomore, said the reason given to them was because “they (fliers) were obstructing the views” from the doors, and officials also suggested hanging the material was paramount to vandalizing the campus.
Greene described it differently, including noting that some students climbed to the top of the gym to hang a poster, what he described as a dangerous situation.
“I have nothing against the signs,” said Greene, adding the volume of the material amounted to littering the campus, and suggested the effort was disturbing classtime.