Christina Gutierrez, center, with the students who helped bring her back to Hamilton High School. They made a polished presentation to the school board. (Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times / November 24, 2009)
By Amina Khan | LA Times
December 1, 2009 -- Miss G is back at Hamilton High!
The beloved office worker for the school's two magnets was laid off by the Los Angeles Unified School District in mid-September.
"I felt railroaded," Christina Gutierrez, two gold hoops and a stud sparkling from each ear. "I saw something in the mail, and my heart dropped."
Gutierrez, who lost her job because of low seniority, cut her losses and found a job at an elementary school.
Students, however, were not so willing to let her go. They staged a 500-strong sit-in protest on her last day and eventually petitioned the Board of Education to let her return.
Many students, like senior Jimmy Biblarz, had a personal reason to protest Gutierrez's departure. His younger sister, Veronica, had been out sick nearly two months last year and Gutierrez made sure the freshman's homework made it home, and helped her through her first day back.
"She just actually cares," Veronica said. "Not like the fake pretending to care. . . . She takes it seriously."
Four friends -- Jimmy, Noemi "Mimi" Rodriguez, David Kamins and Maya Festinger -- came up with the idea for a sit-in, teleconferencing two nights a week. Jimmy went from class to class to publicize the plan. David looked up rules and regulations. Maya suggested they print informational handouts to give to each protester.
On Miss G's last day, students filed into the humanities building, lining every available space. Students kept doors clear and a few inches of hallway open, but "the walkway was scattered with limbs," Maya said.
Local district administrator Angela Hewlett-Bloch spoke to the students in the quad. When Principal Gary Garcia asked them to quiet down, he said, "they switched, on their own, to snapping [their fingers] . . . like an old beatnik thing."
Someone in the crowd came up with the idea to write letters. The students collected 300 letters in support of Gutierrez.
The four organizers glowed after the protest, Jimmy said, but "Monday we realized Miss G wasn't at school, and nobody was going to take any of us seriously."
They also had heard that the worker who had replaced Gutierrez preferred to work at an elementary school -- and Gutierrez had found substitute work at an elementary school. Why not switch the two?
The students decided to bring their solution to the Nov. 17 school district board meeting. They watched videos of past board meetings to learn what not to do. They didn't want to sound repetitive -- a common mistake -- or unduly negative.
"We want to create a legitimate student representation," Maya said. "We don't want to be belligerent or bludgeoning. A lot of what we're about is proposing solutions, rather than listing grievances."
The students' presentation inspired board member Steven Zimmer to break protocol.
"I know we don't respond to speakers," he said, "but I do want to say that I am extraordinarily impressed with your presentations."
A few days later, the students got word: Miss G. was coming back to Hamilton as a substitute. She's not totally out of the woods but at least she's back, for now.
Gutierrez returned to her old desk last week, where students greeted her with cupcakes and balloons.
But the mother of four said the students were the real stars.
"This isn't about me," she said. "They should feel so empowered. I am so proud of them."