HERCULES -- Ninety-four percent of tenured teachers at Hercules High School have voted no confidence in Principal Jennifer Bender, citing a "bad" school climate, lack of respect for teachers and ineffective leadership, according to a teacher at the school.
"Her expectations for students and teachers are not in line with reality," the no-confidence resolution states. "She has not engendered any trust in her staff, nor has she created a safer school, but has instead created a toxic environment for students and staff."
Taking the no-confidence vote was "an extraordinary step and hard decision," but after observing Bender for a year and a half, teachers saw no way forward with her as principal, according to the resolution.
The teacher, who did not want to be identified due to fear of retaliation, said the vote took place Feb. 12-25.
"This vote was only on the high school side," the teacher said, noting that most middle school educators did not participate.
The combined middle and high school campus serves about 1,800 students in grades 6-12. Bender, reached by cellphone while on lunch duty Thursday, said she couldn't talk at the time. She later responded to a request for comment in an email.
"Running a school requires that I am often out of my office, so I am not able to always be timely," she wrote. "At this time, the district will be contacting you with a statement."
District spokesman Marin Trujillo said he would not address specific complaints in the resolution and could not predict Bender's fate. However, he said Superintendent Bruce Harter was taking the vote seriously and was working with teachers and administrators to move forward.
"Teaching and learning continues at the school, so that hasn't been impacted," Trujillo said. "What the outcome will be is not de facto. There is no protocol. This is an ongoing conversation. Our intent is to come to a resolution that works for everyone."
The two-page, single-spaced typed resolution paints a picture of a school that has gone so far downhill since Bender's arrival one-and-a-half years ago that learning and safety have been adversely affected. It alleges the principal has alienated teachers and community members while failing to provide students with clear expectations. "Students know that this unacceptable behavior is tolerated so they continue to act accordingly," the resolution states. "This lack of reasonable expectations and clear guidelines is counterproductive for students and creates a toxic school climate. It has led to altercations, fights and arrests of both students and parents."
In November, transgender student Jewlyes Gutierrez was arrested and charged with battery after a fight that she said occurred because administrators did nothing when she complained earlier that she was being harassed and bullied by other students.
In December, the West Contra Costa school board held a special meeting to address districtwide bullying and sexual harassment, in response to a federal Office of Civil Rights report that found the district failed to adequately address these issues. At that meeting, some district teachers and parents spoke about bullying at Hercules High and alleged that Bender retaliated against popular English teacher Janet Headington after she raised concerns at the school. Headington was involuntarily transferred from Hercules High while on medical leave.
The no confidence resolution alleges that Bender blames others for her own errors and vindictively docks the pay of teachers with whom she disagrees, reprimands them or places letters in their personnel files.
"Without the recognition of mistakes or the willingness to listen to key stakeholders there is no hope for learning or improvement and thus no way forward," the resolution states. "We, as professionals and union members, feel that this cannot continue."
Ballot: "I, as a staff member at Hercules Middle High School, have lost confidence in our Principal Ms. Bender. I feel that the climate at our school has become bad for students and staff and that there is no way forward with our current principal."
Yes: 94 percent of tenured Hercules High School teachers
To see the Hercules Middle High School resolution for a vote of no confidence and balloting guidelines, go to www.contracostatimes.com/education.