Former HISD Teacher Says Principal Caused Her to Question her Own Culture

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Vivian Rodriguez


By Erik Granados

An HISD principal forced a former teacher of Mexican-American heritage to resign and question her culture amid backlash, program cuts, and student protest.

Vivian Rodriguez, 23, who began working at Barbara Jordan High School (BJHS) in August 2011, said Andria Schur, BJHS’s principal, said she wasn’t relating to students well.

Rodriguez, who taught math, said she added a lot of rigor to her classes and challenged students to be excellent.

A high school graduate of Chavez High School in HISD, Rodriguez, who later attended the University of Texas in Austin, said her lesson plans reflected the skills students needed to succeed academically.

“I wasn’t going to lower the bar and have what happened to me happen to them,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said while her high school experience was memorable; it did not prepare her for the academic challenges she faced in college.

She wanted her students to be academically competitive and college ready.

Rodriguez said when she tried to explain and show Schur, who is white, her teaching strategies, she was berated and forced to listen to stories about poverty and sexual abuse of public school children.

Schur said she would never intentionally insult a teacher or anyone. She said her goal was to ensure that teachers could meet the academic demands of students at BJHS.

“As teachers and educators we have to approach every situation with an open mind,” Schur said, “and we have to let student learning be the filter.”

Rodriguez said she felt like she had to justify knowing her own culture.

“She told me that I couldn’t relate to Hispanics when I am Hispanic,” Rodriguez said, still shaken from the meeting she had with the principal.

Schur said she couldn’t give specific information about Rodgriuez’s case; however, she said her goal was to build confidence and empower the school community.

“I would never focus on someone’s ethnicity specifically. I simply want teachers to do what is best for the students,” Schur said.

Rodriguez said the hardest part of the meeting is when Schur started talking about the sexual abuse of children.

“I was already crying and really upset with myself,” Rodriguez said, “then she said, ‘It’s not a child’s fault that a grown man decided to stick his penis in them.’”

Schur said that at BJHS there have been some very personal situations with students but she couldn’t elaborate due to the sensitive nature of the topic.

“Unfortunately, students do have things that happen in their lives that do affect their learning,” Schur said, “those conversations are very confidential and parents have to allow us to review that with the teacher or counselor.”

Rodriguez said the meeting with Schur was overwhelming and demoralizing.

“I told her she didn’t know me or know my background,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said Schur later apologized.

Rodriguez resigned from (BJHS) on April 4 and is in group therapy five days a week from 9a.m. – 3p.m. as a result of her experience.

Rodriguez said she realized she wasn’t perfect; however, she said she did her best.

She said she is more determined then ever to pursue a graduate degree and enlist in a local and or global mission program that empowers and helps communities that are less fortunate.

Schur said she is disappointed with any teacher’s departure; however, her objective is to ensure BJHS is preparing students for the future as they face major budget woes.

Schur said BJHS’s budget was slashed by $1 million and she had to make some hard decisions.

 “Bottom line we had to do some cuts,” Schur said.

Rodriguez wasn’t the only teacher forced to resign.

Robert Gonzales, a veteran teacher of 30 years and Teacher of the Year, was forced to resign after Schur cut the auto mechanic program he directed.

Robert Gonzales

“Her initial justification was that I did not have one hundred percent of my students college or career ready,” said Gonzalez.

“I know of no such career program where all the students graduate and immediately start working in their field,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said he is willing to bet that not all of the mechanics from last year are mechanics now out in the field.

Schur said the automotive program had low numbers.

“Over the past three years the enrollment in the automotive program has declined,” said Schur. “I had to look at those numbers and make that decision.”

Gonzalez said his issue is the absolute power the school district has given the principal to determine terminations.

Gonzales and many students said it was one of the more popular programs at BJHS.

Many BJHS students are confused and disappointed that so many of their teachers are departing.

Elvia Galindo is an 11th grader at BJHS. She said there is chaos and she feels like she is not being taught the skills needed to graduate from high school and matriculate to college.

Galindo and several of her student colleagues organized walkouts on April 5 and 11 because she said they are falling behind academically. She said the Hispanics students are being marginalized and penalized because of their heritage.

A sophomore student, who wanted to remain anonymous, agreed with Galindo.

“They are taking away our good teachers,” the student said.

She said Rodriguez was tough but fair.  She said Rodriguez made math fun and easy to learn.

“She was more than a teacher; she was a friend,” the student said.

Galindo said she asked Schur to explain what was going on at the school and why Rodriguez and so many of their teachers were leaving.

“She said, ‘It is an adult matter; it is not in your hands,’” Galindo said Schur told her.

Schur said they are doing everything they can to calm the students’ fears.

“Having open forum conversations to clear up some of the miscommunication certainly helps,” said Schur. “Meeting students’ needs are always going to be a number one priority.”

 Daisy Andrade, senior at BJHS and teacher assistant to Rodriguez, said the students are struggling and no one seems to care.

Andrade said they simply want good teachers.

“Ms. Rodriguez was a very, very, good math teacher. I don’t understand the way the other teachers teach,” Andrade said.

Schur said they have small enough classes to place displaced students into other classes with core content teachers.

She said she has an open door policy and wants students involved in what happens at BJHS.

“We had some conversations with them [students]”, Schur said.  “We did address those, [their concerns] according to policy.”

Schur said despite the financial hardships felt across the entire district and a reduction in staff, the current teachers have been phenomenal in rising to the challenge of keeping students first.

BJHS opened in 1980. Its original name was Houston Technical High School; it was later named to the Barbara Jordan High School for Careers.  It’s now Barbara Jordan High School.

Schur said she would want the late Barbara Jordan, a pioneering Congressional representative, to be proud of the kind of student they are producing at BJHS.

“We are still striving to live up to the honor and reputation of her name,” Schur said.

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