Students, Parents Back Fired Coach : Buena High: Supporters challenge evaluations critical of the teacher.


Hundreds of students and parents are rallying behind a popular Buena High School teacher and track coach who was formally notified on Friday that he will be dismissed at the end of the school year due to poor classroom evaluations.

Bolstered by his supporters and years of positive evaluations, Tom King has vowed to appeal his dismissal to the Ventura Unified School District board of trustees.

"I'm a good teacher," King said. "None of my prior evaluations indicate that I am anything but a good teacher, and the kids respond to what I do here in the classroom."

King was recruited by Buena High administrators in 1990 from Simi Valley High School to fill a vacancy to teach social studies and coach track. He teaches economics, history and 12th-grade American government.

King said the series of poor evaluations he received from first-year Buena Principal Jaime Castellanos do not accurately reflect his teaching abilities.

Students, parents and teachers' union officials agree, and all have offered their support in his fight to have the Ventura Unified School District overturn the dismissal.

More than 100 King supporters showed up at a school board meeting Tuesday, demanding that board members retain the popular teacher and coach.

Many of the appeals to the board came from members of King's track and cross-country team and their parents. The Buena cross-country team last year won its first league championship, its first Ventura County championship and finished fifth in the state.

"This seems a bit severe," said John Gennaro, president of the Ventura Unified Education Assn., a teachers union. "He has five years experience in teaching--four in another district with tenure and one at Buena," he said.

"It is just a little unfair to trash a guy's career at this point," Gennaro said.

Castellanos said he cannot specifically comment on the evaluations or King's dismissal because it is a personnel matter. But he said his decision to dump King was based solely on the quality of his teaching.

"It isn't an issue of whether Mr. King is a good person or not, and it isn't an issue of whether he is a good coach or not," Castellanos said. "This is about teaching."

Castellanos' efforts to determine King's competence began last November, with a routine classroom evaluation conducted during a ninth-grade economics class.

But the evaluation turned out to be anything but routine for the teacher halfway toward reaching tenure, King said.

First, Castellanos reprimanded King for his instructional methods, style and strategy, accusing him of inadequate class preparation and failing to set learning goals.

"Your lesson focus was weak and vague and, as a result, the majority of students in the class didn't have satisfactory understanding of what needed to be learned," Castellanos wrote in the evaluation.

The principal also noted that the students appeared bored and were unable to answer questions about the issues raised during King's lecture.

"Had the lesson been more organized and structured, the time off task for students would have been substantially decreased," Castellanos wrote.

A second evaluation was conducted last month, and Castellanos again reprimanded King for his lack of preparation and teaching techniques.

King says Castellanos' evaluations were not a valid assessment of his abilities, and provided The Times with copies of evaluations from his first year at Buena and others at Simi Valley High dating back to 1987.

In last year's evaluation, assistant principal Judy Bysshe gave him commendable marks on all criteria. "Students were very definitely physically, intellectually and emotionally involved," in the class, Bysshe wrote.

Former Buena Principal Mike Shanahan's evaluation last year said King taught effectively, was well-prepared and garnered excellent student participation.

Other evaluations issued during his four years in Simi Valley also indicate he was an effective teacher and one went so far as to say King had "done a superior job here at Simi Valley High School."

King's students disagreed vehemently with Castellanos' evaluations. "I think he's a great teacher," said senior Andy Saint. "He tries to make us work hard in the classroom," Saint said.

"He cares about the students," said senior Todd Badstubner, who took King's government class.

Lance Fay, another senior, said King "makes students research an issue and then discuss it in front of the class. He gets us to talk rather than talking all the time himself."

King said he is dumbfounded that he is being fired after dedicating himself as he has to the school. "I've done a good job in the classroom and a good job out here, too," King said, pointing to the school track.

Ventura Unified Supt. Cesare Caldarelli Jr. is also on record as one of King's fans.

Last year, Caldarelli wrote a complimentary letter about King to the parent of a sophomore and member of King's cross-country team.

The student, Greg Burton, was hospitalized for more than three weeks recovering from a near-fatal accident. King visited regularly to tutor him in English, said Jim Burton, the student's father.

"What impresses me so much is that Greg is nowhere near the star athlete on the team, but the coach showed as much interest in him as if he was," Burton said.

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