Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Hotline for stress readied by LAUSD

By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News |

Did news reports drive LAUSD teacher to suicide?

DAILY NEWS PODCAST with Ken Jeffries

  • Listen to Ken Jeffries interview teachers' union President A.J. Duffy on the apparent suicide of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Rigoberto Ruelas Jr. by clicking the play button above or downloading this MP3.
  • September 28, 2010  --  Following the apparent suicide of a veteran South Gate teacher, Los Angeles Unified officials said Monday that they plan to expedite a crisis hotline for employees who might be facing stress at work.

    The hotline would specifically handle calls from employees distraught over looming layoffs, drastic budget cuts and a controversial Los Angeles Times database, which was released last month and ranked teachers as "effective" and "ineffective" based largely on student test scores.

    <<The body of Los Angeles Unified School District teacher Rigoberto Ruelas Jr. was found Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010, at the foot of a remote forest bridge in what appears to be a suicide. (Photo from South Gate Police Department)

    LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he hopes to set up the crisis hotline, which he said was in the works prior to the teacher's death, within a few weeks.

    "I personally met about a month ago with various staff to set up a hotline to help


    employees cope with stress...," Cortines said. "The system would be set up so employees could call both anonymously and directly to ask for assistance."

    The schools chief said the hotline would also provide suicide counseling.

    Authorities said Monday that they believe Miramonte Elementary school teacher Rigoberto Ruelas, 39, jumped to his death from a bridge in the Big Tujunga Canyon area of the Angeles National Forest sometime over the past week. Friends of the 14-year teacher said he had grown increasingly depressed over his "ineffective" rating on a controversial L.A. Times database.

    They told several local media outlets over the weekend that Ruelas was despondent and had lost weight.

    District officials said they could not comment on what caused Ruelas' death, but some expressed serious concerns about rising anxiety levels in recent weeks.

    "I have never seen more stressed or more distraught employees in 18 years at LAUSD ... teachers and employees feel that their whole life work and passion is being called into question," said LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer.

    "There is a dominant narrative that holds teachers and school employees solely responsible for the problems in the public education system."

    As teachers across the Southland mourned Ruelas, many said the teacher's untimely death "could have been predicted."

    Linda Gordon, a San Fernando Valley area chair for the teachers union, United Teacher's Los Angeles, said pressure among teachers has been mounting as momentum for school reform has gained steam locally and nationally.

    Gordon said many teachers feel that much of the conversation has become about individual teachers, rather than reforming a broken system.

    For many teachers those feelings grew after the Times released its controversial database, which used a "value-added" method of analyzing test scores to rate the effectiveness of some 6,000 elementary teachers. The value-added process compares a student's test score with his or her performance on previous tests.

    Teachers who were ranked as "ineffective" saw the label as a "scarlet letter," Gordon said.

    "As a teacher, your job becomes your life ... to tell someone whose taught for 15 years that they are a failure is a very serious thing," she said.

    "Teachers have tried to put up a good face on this issue ... but internally a lot of us are torn up about it," said Erica Jones, a fourth-grade teacher at Arminta Elementary in North Hollywood.

    "People are questioning if they are in the right field, they are questioning what they have done to help a child or hurt a child ... when you are having that internal conversation all the time and then you turn on the news or go to a movie and it's also thrown in your face your morale gets really down."

    Teachers union leaders, who have staged protests and called for a boycott of the L.A. Times, on Monday urged the newspaper to take down their database, which they've called "reckless and destructive".

    "At this point it seems clear that the posting of these test scores played a part in this," said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

    "To what extent we just don't know ... but we knew when these scores got posted that harm could come from it."

    The Times extended its condolences to Ruelas' family in a brief written statement Monday and noted that the death was under investigation.

    "The Times published the database, which is based on seven years of state test scores in the LAUSD schools, because it bears directly on the performance of public employees who provide an important service, and in the belief that parents and the public have a right to judge the data for themselves," wrote Nancy Sullivan, acting as a spokeswoman for the newspaper.

    Cortines did not say he would be taking any action to have the newspaper remove the database.

    "My priority is not to take this database off a web site, my priority is that students, teachers and staff are well taken care of during this time of grief," Cortines said.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.


    LA School District Has Hotline For Stressed-Out Employees? Teacher Suicide Prompts Crisis Counseling

    by Deborah Dennert | |

    September 29, 2010 04:14 AM EDT -- Did the ineffective rating articles published by the Los Angeles Times prompt Los Angeles Unified School District teacher Rigoberto Ruelas Jr. to commit suicide? This year is an all-time high for levels of stress for teachers working in LAUSD.  Today a crisis hotline was announced that will be available for all LAUSD employees.

    According to LAUSD superintendent Ramon Cortines the hotline has been in the works for over a month now.  He is hoping that it will begin in a few weeks.

    LAUSD HQ/”The Puzzle Palace” – Good thinking ….delivered late? >>

    What are these added stresses that the teachers have?  According to the Daily News employees are "distraught over looming layoffs, drastic budget cuts and a controversial Los Angeles Times database, which was released last month and ranked teachers as 'effective' and 'ineffective' based largely on student test scores."

    Teachers might be asking themselves: Am I going to be laid-off? Will they cut my pay? Am I going to be accountable for the performance of my students? Added to the stress is also, 'Will the Los Angeles Times publish more rating articles?'
    All of these things might make some employees face the stresses in a negative way. Rigoberto Ruelas Jr's suicide might be because of these stresses.

    Teachers union leaders have called for a boycott of the L.A. times, urging the newspaper to take down their database.

    So, what is the answer?  If this hotline had been discussed prior to Rigoberto Ruelas Jr. committing suicide, then they obviously saw the need to for it and recognized that the teachers are showing higher-than-usual amounts of stress.

    If we think of schools as a business and their goal is to educate the children. Are they doing their job of teaching adequately if the children are failing and falling behind?

    What do you think? Should the teachers be accountable for their students' test scores?

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