Two Hayward Schools Show Record Drop in Academic Scores, Reports Show

Some students state they feel both teachers and students don’t care enough about their education.

Two Hayward schools – Tyrrell Elementary School and Tennyson High School – demonstrate the steepest decline in grades out of all comparable schools in the Hayward Unified School District, the Academic Performance Index scores indicate.

While HUSD routinely ranks amongst the lowest out of all the school districts in Alameda County, according to the California Department of Education, Tyrrell Elementary School and Tennyson High School have hit a new low.

This year, Tyrrell Elementary School’s API score decreased 25 points, in contrast to other elementary schools, which saw modest increases by two or three points.

Tennyson High School’s API score decreased 30 points, ranking it as the worst performing high school in the district. Both schools show a dramatic decrease compared to their report last year.

The API score is compiled based on student performance on state standardized tests, such as the STAR tests and the California High School Exit Exam.

The statewide target for all schools is 800, which only three out of 33 schools in the Hayward Unified School District met this year. Hayward’s poor performance comes at a time when the state is looking to implement a new curriculum in classrooms, called Common CORE, which lawmakers hope will help students perform on a higher level.

Abdul Nasiri, a math teacher at Tennyson High School, said that parent involvement is the “most important” part of a child’s performance. He said in an interview with The Pioneer that the administration has mandated teachers to inflate students grades. He says he strongly disagrees with.

“We the teachers inflate the students’ grade because the administration encourages the teachers not to fail the students,” Nasiri says.

Janet Solbakken, who has taught at Tennyson High School for 16 years, says she is tired of students who wander in the hallway during class and feel “entitled” to a high grade.

She has not been told to inflate student grades, but says the administration does ask her how many ‘F’ letter grades she gives out.

“I’ve been pretty straightforward saying that if a kid gets a ‘F’ from me, they deserve that ‘F’, and I’m not even going to talk about changing my grading policy,” Solbakken says.

The administration is not able to discipline the students effectively, which creates an atmosphere of disinterest in academics, she added. She has to create her own punishments, such as calling parents and chasing down students who are disruptive in class, she says.

Solbakken noted that last year, a new principal, Lori Villanueva, was hired at Tennyson High School, which she says might correlate with the drop in performance.

But she argued that not enough was being done to hire and keep excellent faculty members, and lamented the loss of several “talented” teachers who were laid off last year. She hopes the school can eliminate some of the teachers who are not fully invested in teaching students what they need to succeed.

“I don’t really know what’s really in place [at the district level],” Solbakken says. “Like I said, I go after my own, and call the parents and set something up. ‘Cause I refuse to – I can’t have you thinking that you can do whatever you want in my class because that’s a death sentence to me. It’s over, it’s over.”

Esmeralda Bruno, a student in Solbakken’s pre-calculus class, says she is disappointed by the lack of involvement of teachers and the lack of interest in academics from other students who are “incredibly rude and rebellious.” Several of her other classmates confirmed this disappointment with The Pioneer.

“Everyone should have placed more effort in [the STAR tests] – the teachers in teaching the subject, and [the students], in trying harder to learn the harder subjects, and asking the teacher for help,” Bruno says.

At Tyrrell Elementary School, complaints of tardiness and absences continue.

Yvetta Franklin, a second grade teacher, says that part of the problem is large class sizes and combination classes, which require a teacher to instruct low-level and higher-level students in one class period. Another part is the high number of students who are learning English as a second language.

“We have a rather high rate of student absenteeism, tardies and transitional families,” Franklin says. “In addition, we may have had more school suspensions as well.”

Franklin’s thoughts echo a sense of exasperation heard by her counterparts at Tennyson High School. Many teachers could not put their finger on what the issue is and what needs to be solved.

But, they did admit that they need help.

Stanley Dobbs, superintendent of the Hayward Unified School District, started the “Made in Hayward” initiative last August, which encourages students to have pride in their schools and create a pathway for students to graduate and go to college.

He could not be reached for comment, but has previously expressed to The Pioneer an interest in providing emotional support and free school lunches for students who come from depressed families.

School performance has been an issue for the city government as well. Mayor Michael Sweeney spoke passionately on the issue of school performance in his State of the City address last June, and called Hayward’s low scores “unacceptable.”

Increases in performance would bring up property values, he said, and would overall be beneficial to the city.

The principals of Tyrrell Elementary and Tennyson High School did not respond to interview request in time for publication.

“I think people are trying to do something about it, but I think all of us need to do it together, and get on the same page and having somebody here consistently as a leader,” Solbakken says.