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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Commentary: An Inappropriate and Insulting Choice For "Teacher of the Year"

Talk about burying your lead, buried toward the end of the Davis Enterprise article highlighting the Senior Awards Night at Davis High School on Tuesday night, in the last four paragraphs is a seemingly innocuous reporting of the recipient of the Rotary Teacher Service Award, otherwise known as, Teacher of the Year.

This year it was awarded to Math teacher Jana Henry. The Davis Enterprise Reporter Maddy Ryen, likely had no idea what kind of story she was actually reporting. This is because Jana Henry was involved in a story that the Davis Enterprise has not once reported on. In fact, even Davis Vanguard readers likely would not have recognized the name, because the Vanguard has done Ms. Henry the courtesy of not reporting her name.

The passage reads:
Math teacher Jana Henry received the Rotary Teacher Service Award, more commonly known as the Teacher of the Year award. Henry, who came to DHS in 2002, received “glowing nominations” from her students, including one who said, “I go to (her) class in a bad mood and leave in merry spirits.”

Cawley noted Henry's “countless hours offering extra tutoring” and her use of technology in the classroom to assist students. He also praised her personal connection with students.

“I'm just really honored,” Henry said of receiving the award. “I just love my job and teaching the kids.”
However, Davis High School Principal Michael Cawley certainly knew the story, and that makes his words and the award all the more appalling. You see Jana Henry is the teacher who pulled the Malcolm X poster off the wall of her classroom that led to the suspension of the Davis High School student for three days for giving a speech in front of the student body that described what happened and how he felt about the teacher singling him out in front of the class and calling the poster "a terrorist message."

We have always done Ms. Henry the courtesy of not reporting her name. But this is too much. In fact, this lies in the realm of the absurd. Just as last year it was absurd that Officer Pheng Ly, accused of serious violations of the rights of a minor and facing a pending federal law suit, would be awarded with Officer of the Year.

In fact, this is worse than that because unlike the case of Officer Ly where you could make the argument at least that he may have had other achievements that could warrant an award, this incident severely impacted Ms. Henry's service record as a teacher.

The audacity of it all is that Mr. Cawley, who knew full well of Ms. Henry's situation and the way that she handled it, had the temerity to praise "her personal connection with students."

Shall we recount her connection with students. There is the incident itself which was handled quite badly. The student brought in the poster and put it up on the wall. Ms. Henry became uncomfortable with it, and frankly that is her right, however, instead of privately discussing with the student why she deemed it inappropriate, she berated him before the class, humiliating and embarrassing him.

We could chalk up that incident as poor judgment and move on, but it becomes a pattern, when she leaves the auditorium in tears.

She compounds it, when the school district makes the determination that the suspension was inappropriate and reinstates the student. She refuses to teach the student again. When the district deems that she is required to teach the student again, she refuses to teach. And for two months she is out of teaching and it is announced to the student body that she has left the teaching position.

After nearly two months of not teaching, suddenly she is back teaching on June 4 and less than a week later is awarded with the Teacher of the Year award.

The Vanguard has nothing against this teacher and wishes her well and hopes she can resume teaching. It is clear that things were not handled appropriately and that she was harmed by the lack of appropriate guidance by the administration on her own campus. However, to award her with teacher of the year is frankly an insult to the other teachers who did not shirk their responsibilities and leave their students high and dry as they prepared for crucial AP examinations. It is an insult to the parents and students who had to take additional tutoring to take the AP exams. For those who had to spend extra time because Ms. Henry did not follow on her commitments. And those students who suffered academically due to the disruption that this caused.

Frankly this is close to the most appalling thing that I have seen in this community, and that is saying something. The school board needs to investigate how this was allowed to happen. And frankly I have real questions about the Principal of the High School anyway, but this just adds fuel to the fire.

The school district and Principal Michael Cawley owe this community an explanation.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting