Posted by Mary Carlstead, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jun 1, 2012 at 4:29 pm
If Palo Alto could give a "Medal of Honor", it should go to teacher Ginny Russell. What a gift she had for teaching!! Her children and their parents received that marvelous gift. And thank you to Chris Kenrick for telling us about it.
Posted by Alison Hyde, a resident of the Greendell/Walnut Grove neighborhood, on Jun 1, 2012 at 7:37 pm
Ginny taught all four of my children. She is the best teacher one could ever possibly hope to find, the gentlest, the most empathetic, the best at seeing the world through the eyes of a child. It is a huge loss to the community for her to be leaving. Best wishes, Ginny, and thank you for all you have done for so many--and especially for our family.
After all the creatures celebrated in her classroom, two of our kids later majored in biology in college. You know where their interest got started.
Posted by Will, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Jun 1, 2012 at 9:55 pm
Thank you for speaking your mind Ginny, I would expect nothing less from you. It is a sad state of affairs when teaching to the test starts to trickle into kinder classrooms. Kindergarten is all about making friends, developing the social skills that will serve the kids through out their lives, and the wonder of learning and discovery. They will have many years ahead of them to learn the curriculum, let kinders be kinders.
Posted by emmie poling, a resident of another community, on Jun 2, 2012 at 7:47 am
I had the pleasure and honor of being Ginny's colleague at Fairmeadow for 16 years. For many years, my third grade class was her "buddy" class. As a former preschool teacher, it was a pleasure to find someone with a similar understanding of what the young child really needs in schooling. She put what she believed into action, and was a superb kindergarten teacher and colleague. Thank you, Mrs. Russell, for all you did for children!
Posted by InAgreement, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Jun 2, 2012 at 8:26 am
I couldn't imagine Ginny retiring. This explains it. I hope she discovers the small private schools that teach the same way she does. There are so many homeschool parents that would enjoy another voice speaking into their child's life on a routine basis. I hope this is a move to a better climate rather than a silencing of a voice.
Posted by kinder_parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 2, 2012 at 9:34 am
As a parent of a kinder who just graduated, I have to say, my child learnt a lot through Ginny's type of teaching (although in another school). My child's teacher was sensible enough to plug in the smartboard but make sure she kept it at bay most times. I am a techie myself but I think at K level, kids need to learn the way our ancestors have always learnt by using senses.
Posted by 1st Grade Parent, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Jun 2, 2012 at 1:24 pm
I applaud Ginny for the dedication she has shown for the children she has taught all these years. Her comments in the article show how much she cares about education and for the young children now in the district.
However, I do think that many of the comments here are alarmist. My daughter has gone through kindergarten and first grade at Fairmeadow, and my spouse and I have spent a lot of time in her classes volunteering and also getting to know her classmates both in and out of school. Without exception, she and her friends love being at Fairmeadow. They show obvious excitement when talking about activities going on in their classes, the things they have learned, their interactions with their teachers, and the friendships they have made.
The teachers do incorporate the electronic whiteboard as well as computer-based games in their curriculum, and from what I can tell, the students find this interesting and stimulating. This shouldn't be surprising to the great majority of us who regularly use the internet, PCs, or smartphones and who realize that these are useful things. Sure, an excessive use of technological devices wouldn't be good for anyone, but nothing close to this is happening in the classrooms.
The school shows a sensitivity to bullying and promotes a curriculum that directly addresses the subject in a sensitive, constructive way. Obviously, children can't always be monitored and bad behavior still occurs at times, but this explicit confronting of this important issue by the administration is a huge improvement over the way things were when I was growing up.
As for the "teaching to the test" mentality, I just don't see it. STAR testing doesn't even begin until 2nd grade, so there isn't even any test for kindergartners and 1st graders to be coached for. If anything, I think the teachers discourage too much grouping of students based on abilities.
For example, there are plenty of kids in my child's 1st grade class who are reading at way above the official reading levels for their age and are similarly precocious when it comes to math. Despite this, the teacher teaches the class at the official reading and math levels and never teaches more advanced material to the class. I don't think there is anything wrong with this; after all, the kids are only 7, and they have plenty of time later on to ramp it up academically. But I think this does show that the notion that PAUSD kindergarten and first grade has become some kind of hellish academic pressure-cooker is ridiculous.
As adults, let's resist the temptation to fall into the cliche of "Things were so much better in my day, things are so horrible these days..." From what I've seen, Fairmeadow (and I assume other PAUSD elementary schools) is doing a great job with their youngest students, who are learning a lot and enjoying their experience.
Posted by Elli Sandis, a resident of Los Altos Hills, on Jun 2, 2012 at 2:04 pm
What a perfect article to sum up the career of a wonderful teacher and the uncertain goals and future direction of public education. As an educator myself, I admire Ginny for gifting her students with the ability to be creative and curious about the world in which they live. The biggest challenge we, as educators of the best and the brightest, face is to give them the tools they need to make the world a better place than the one they have inherited. It is clear that Ginny has made this a priority for the entirety of her career. May she go on to challenge herself, and the rest of us, to be creative, curious, and impactful on the future generations of our community. Congratulations, Ginny for having the courage to leave at the right time.
Posted by student, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Jun 2, 2012 at 4:00 pm
I am so honored to have had Ginny as my Kindergarten teacher 10 years ago. She was brilliant, and I loved going to her class everyday. Not many adults realize that a kindergartener does NOT know how to read, but will learn by being read to and learning the alphabet. Kindergarten should be the happy place for any child, they should be excited to come to school EVERYDAY. They shouldn't be expected to learn by lectures. They should be learning from their friends and their surroundings.
Ginny was the best at this teaching method. Between the biology that we learned through caring for animals, the social skills that we learned with our friends, the words that we learned from writing the biggest valentines anyone has ever seen, the dances we learned and performed, the math that we learned from counting everything around us, the stories that we learned through storytime and singing, SHE WAS THE BEST TEACHER ANYONE COULD ASK FOR.
I enjoyed making art and then narrating the story behind the piece to Ginny. She would write down exactly what you said, even if it did not make sense. I remember the feeling after she finished writing, you would feel insightful and so smart, because she was not a person who corrected every mistake that you made.
I am so happy that I had such a wonderful teacher as Ginny, and it really is a shame that she is leaving.
Posted by palo alto parent, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2012 at 3:40 pm
1rst grade parent, I couldn't agree more. I was apprehensive when my child started at Fairmeadow 4 years ago, coming from a very non-academic preschool. What a wonderful surprise this school was, and our experience there has been excellent. It is a great balance of work and play.
Ginny, you will be missed, and we appreciate your reminder about the importance of play and exploration in childhood.
Posted by Natalie, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2012 at 11:05 pm
I agree with Ginny's point of view. That's why Diana Argenti and I went to Joe Simitian to change the age of kindergarten entry. Kindergarten now is a far cry from child's play, and not appropriate for four year olds for sure.
Posted by Sally, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 4, 2012 at 9:03 am
When does the madness stop? If you push the First Grade curriculum down to kindergarten, then the former kinder curriculum needs to be pushed down to pre-school. Heck, you're supposed to read poetry to your unborn baby. The fetus can sense the difference between language with rythm and ordering from McDonald's drive-thru.
When do we allow our children to be children? When do they get to play, explore the world around them, test their curiosity, develop a spatial relationship with the world around them, find their own way?
Posted by M. Kane, MFT, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jun 4, 2012 at 10:39 am
One of my grandchildren was in a neighboring school district kindergarten class and the teacher was so afraid of not properly preparing the children 'academically' for 1st grade that unfortunately the class was joyless as he pushed to meet the new criteria. He was a kind teacher caught in the new push to make K more academic rather than what the teacher in the article advocates which is developmentally correct for 5 year old children. Great article thanks!
Posted by Laurie Hunter, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 4, 2012 at 10:51 am
Wondering if Ginny would be interested in teaching (or volunteering) at Springboard or Young 5's at the Greendell school site, part of the PAUSD? Very similar philosophies and an All-Star teaching and volunteering staff, including former teachers.
Posted by P. Ellson, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Jun 4, 2012 at 10:56 am
My children will always remember their time in Ginny’s classroom as one of the most joyful and stimulating times of their lives. She engaged children by weaving lessons about symmetry, reading & writing skills, math, patterns, and color into art and music projects and play. The children hardly knew they were learning they were having so much fun. Some of the most beautiful art my children created in elementary school was born in her classroom. Ginny transformed her entire classroom into a butterfly habitat, immersing children in the amazing lifecycles of these creatures through art and some of the most creative hands-on learning I have seen. Her celebration of Chinese New Year lasted for weeks and involved BUILDING an elaborate and beautiful dragon, not just dancing with a commercially manufactured beast. She also created a classroom community that carried forward for years. The friendships nurtured in that room are still dear to us. Ginny taught our children how to be thoughtful community members. She taught the art of building deep, loving, and lasting friendships.
What a year that was! Now we are in high school and middle school. Our family still looks back on our time with Ginny as one our fondest elementary school memories.
Posted by Old Maryland friend, a resident of another community, on Jun 4, 2012 at 12:39 pm
Ginny, Sending you congrats on your retirement--even tho it might be a sad occasion for you. I had no doubt that when you left Maryland those many years ago, you would be amazing where ever you went. Best wishes, sue
Posted by anonymous, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Jun 4, 2012 at 1:31 pm
Thanks to the reporter for informing us about this wonderful teacher. I have not had contact with this teacher or school, and I am very interested to hear about this.
In life, even as technology advances (ooh aahh!), there is something called age appropriateness, or child development and so on. I am not dazzled by costly technology and do NOT feel every tiny child "must" have an iPad funded by taxpayers like myself.
Going from this specific case to the general:
I believe exceptional, creative, dedicated teachers should be recognized as master teachers. There seems to me a need to recognize these gifted, inspiring individuals. Financial compensation should be given. But the union system forbids or discourages this - distinguishing among/between teachers.
I do NOT believe unions should continue in our public education system. I do NOT believe teachers should be required to join a union and pay union dues. I think a lot more people would go into teaching if this were the case and schools and education would be improved.
I remember another expectional teacher, Mr. Vito LaSala, Jordan Middle School (I don't know if he still teaches there) who made a MAJOR positive impact on his students -- this man was a superb teacher who inspired his students -- this is some yrs ago -- the students I knew at the time are now young adults -- but anyway, Mr. LaSala was recognized as teacher of the month or some such by the San Jose Mercury News or another similar entity in the region, and I waited for the local school to recognize this (put it in school newspaper, put it in an email to parents or etc.) and NOTHING was done that was visible. I was sorry about this.
Along with other parents (as it turns out), I personally emailed Mr. LaSala to congratulate him. Normally, I refrained from contact with my children's teachers because I know who busy most are (were). I felt at the time the lack of public recognition IN the school was wrong and must have been done to avoid making other teachers "feel bad." Instead, inspiring role models SHOULD be held up and celebrated - teachers are INCREDIBLY important -- the good ones AND the bad ones.
Unfortunately, we have a spectrum here, as elsewhere, from the outstanding to the regular/average to several who should not have been rushed into tenure (what is it, 2 years!!! to get lifetime tenure, an under the table system I heavily disapprove of, with little recourse for those to express their reservations, when one has some...)
Posted by Formerly from Palo Alto, a resident of Menlo Park, on Jun 4, 2012 at 2:20 pm
Great article! Chris Kenrick has done a great service to the community in giving Ginny Russell a forum for her views on what's happening in kinder education these days. To me, it's sickening to see these new academic standards being forced upon five and six-year-olds. And even more disheartening to see the pressure put on teachers to adhere to these so-called "standards." The school district officials would do themselves and the community they serve a huge favor by educating themselves about child development, by sitting down and listening to Ginny Russell and other teachers like her. I know teachers in other districts who feel the same way. What exactly are we doing to our children?!
Posted by Palo Alto Parent, a member of the Ohlone School community, on Jun 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm
Thank you for this beautiful article about an inspired educator. After reading it I wished I could have been in her class. What a great start all of those lucky children received from this extraordinary educator! Thank you Ginny! I am saddened to learn that Ginny will not be sharing her gifts with this fall's kinders.
I agree with the posting above suggesting that exceptional teachers should be recognized more. My children were lucky enough to be attending Ohlone School during the days when Jim Mathiott was the principal. There were so many extraordinary teachers there at the time including the now Principal Bill Overton. Our home at the time of my first child's entry into the PAUSD system was in the Duveneck neighborhood. This was in approximately l983. I was disappointed to see first graders cheating in "math lab" (an activity which was supposed to be a fun small group experience) when they thought that they were "behind" a child who might be seated next to them. Something about that school (or the family of origin?) seemed to foster a tremendous competitiveness that was palpable. The bullying started in first grade as well. I started to look for an alternative for my children and visited both of the "alternative" elementary schools in Palo Alto at the time which were Ohlone and Hoover. I was amazed when I learned that Hoover only allowed parents in the classroom to observe one day in the entire academic year! I was told that they did not believe in field trips because those trips took time away from the classroom. This policy may have changed since the 80's (I hope!) but it was shocking to me. Homework was assigned to every child starting in kindergarten and I have a strong memory of seeing a poster hanging on a K or 1st. grade classroom wall saying, "Homework is like pizza to go!" (frankly I have never figured that one out!). Ohlone was a wonderful experience for both of my children. We loved the mixed grade classrooms, parent involvement (a richly talented parent group!) in the classrooms and on field trips, the farm on the campus and all the hands-on learning experiences. For the most part school was enjoyable for my kids in elementary school. Even though I knew many people who didn't believe that children could be high achievers in a school which was perceived to be unstructured, the Ohlone kids did very well when it came to graduating from high school, being accepted to top universities and moving on to fields that they were passionate about. I really feel that having a school environment that supports exploration is critical. Ginny's philosophy would fit right in with what my children experienced at Ohlone. I think having the Palo Alto Children's Theater outreach programs on campus every year was also a high point for many Ohlone students. My child would not be the person he is today without the Palo Alto Children's Theater (another hands on learning experience).
I was very happy to read this article about an educator who believes in fostering the joy of learning. It is, however, sad that future kinders won't benefit from having Ginny as a teacher. I am disappointed that the children who enter our schools these days won't be able to enjoy the experience as much as children in my kid's classes because of so many factors. Maybe some of the attention that is being given to looking at ways to reduce academic stress (mostly at the high school level) will yield some good changes in the district.
Posted by fdar, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Jun 4, 2012 at 7:42 pm
Our kids will become techno zombies. Silicon Valley will no longer foster intellectual excellence but game addicted, socially challenged, iphone text junkies who dont read, cant write, or spell, or make eye contact.
The art of teaching will also go. Kids look at screens not at faces.
The only reason people dont admit this is because they are too busy themselves to interact with their kids and get them to stop!
Posted by Green meadow parent, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Jun 4, 2012 at 9:21 pm
Ginny will be sorely missed. From now on a culture of "I will do this because it's what the district wants" will prevail. If the district mandates assements and higher standards for students, they're going to have to pay the teachers more. And the district will have to provide more aide time to the teachers as well. Especially in the K-2 grades.
Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford, on Jun 4, 2012 at 11:09 pm
Bless you, Ginny Russell! I'm sure you'll take great pride and satisfaction in the many young lives you affected. Kindergarden teachers are so important, and you sound like a gem of the first order. Your students will never forget you.
Posted by mmmmMom, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Jun 5, 2012 at 12:23 am
Just want to add my complete support of everything that Ms. Russell has said. Unfortunately, her philosophy, her capabilities, and her wisdom are not understood or valued in our society today - especially in a place like Palo Alto. The greatest tragedy is that our children, & hence our future society, will suffer because of it.
I agree with an earlier poster that there are private schools that would certainly welcome Teacher Russell's experience.
Posted by Martin L, a resident of Menlo Park, on Jun 5, 2012 at 11:56 am
What an inspiring teacher!
I think Palo Alto has very good schools. But lately, it has gotten caught up in the frenzy for competition. In this sad trend, we parents are not exactly innocent.
I like to recommend to those interested in the what Ginny has so beautifully done, to read Joseph Chilton Pearce. This a quote from an interview on education:
“any true educational system is that it is not founded on the notion that we are preparing a child for life. The theory we are preparing the child for life, or for the future, is a terrible travesty which betrays every facet of the human being. We don't prepare for life, we equip the child with the means to live fully at whatever stage they are in. The idea we're going to train a child at seven to get a good job at age twenty-seven is a travesty of profound dimension. It makes for a world where every 78 seconds a child is attempting suicide, as is true today. It is this kind of terrible despair we breed in our children when we don't see the difference between preparing and equipping our children to be present to life.”
Posted by Jackie, a resident of another community, on Jun 5, 2012 at 4:42 pm
What we need are more teachers like this wonderful, dedicated lady. What a shame that she's being forced out of the classroom. The community is losing a treasure. Ginny, thank you for your years of service. There are certainly countless adults out there with loving memories of being one of your "kids" in the past.
Posted by Raymond White, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Jun 10, 2012 at 11:51 am
It was a great joy that both of our daughters experienced a year with Ginny.
The worst of her being pushed into retirement is of course the kids who won't have that experience.
It would seem that the PAUSD pushed her into retirement by pressuring her to change her teaching methods. It is my understanding that no data were examined to answer the question of whether her graduates were doing better or worse than those from other instructors. The data have been there for analysis for years. Forcing changes without a scientific basis is called tampering, the antithesis of scientific teaching. One fad follows another, with no scientific basis. The legitimacy of those who pressured Ginny to change without analyzing the results of her work is really in question.
Kimberley Tanner at SFSU has just been awarded a 1.5 million dollar grant to teach the biology professors at that instituion how to get out of the lecture box and into active learning modes. She and Jeff Schinski have been running a program (CCB FEST) for community college biology teachers for a couple of years now, providing training in active learning. So, we are doing at the post-high school level some of the things that Ginny is being pressured to stop doing. Sometimes the left hand does not know what the far left hand is doing.
A key idea is that there is no one best way to teach, but the engagement of instructor & students is absolutely necessary. Ginny Russell provided the engagement and I believe that the unanalyzed data would show excellent results.
Posted by paly parent, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jun 10, 2012 at 3:48 pm
Ginny sounds like a wonderful teacher and I'm truly sad she is leaving. I hope she finds a new "home" with kids - even if she just volunteers somewhere!
Unfortunately - in addition to all of our emphasis on technology at an early age and academics vs. play in early grades - it is more work to be a hands-on active teacher than it is to have strict lesson plans up on your Smartboard.
Posted by Alison Hyde, a resident of the Greendell/Walnut Grove neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 10:08 pm
By the way, since I last commented, my daughter, Ginny's former student, was awarded her Doctor of Philosophy in Microbioloy and Molecular Genetics. From Ginny's giving her a good start to this: Web Link Because my daughter learned to love learning right from the start of her school years.
Posted by Sunanda, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Jun 18, 2012 at 6:02 pm
My son finished his kindergarten at fairmeadow this year with another teacher and she was really wonderful. It is sad if Miss Ginny was actually asked to leave since it seems like she was a wonderful teacher for the kinder class. I wish the administration and Miss Ginny could have come to some compromise over the use of the electronic whiteboard and leveled readers if those were the only issues.
My son's class didn't group kids based on their levels of academic performance at all, nor did they try to test them on anything. If at all, the teacher helped the kids to grasp concepts through playful ways and social interactions. I thought my son's teacher was the ideal kindergarten teacher. I personally volunteered for the computer lab for my son's class and saw children play games involving numbers and words and it was absolutely fun. It was once a week for about an hour or so. All the children loved that class and looked forward to it. They were not expected to perform at any levels but just try out different things as per their own interest. Having a electronic whiteboard in the classroom or conducting a computer lab for the kinder doesn't mean they are deprived of the joys and fun environment a kinder is supposed to be in. My son's class also had pets, silkworms, art classes and a ton of fun activities. I just wish Miss Ginney could have influenced the management and stayed on if she really wished to remain a kindergarten teacher. She definitely would have influenced so many more children!
Posted by Jane Bove, a resident of another community, on Nov 29, 2012 at 12:04 am
Ginny, as your cousin, I have seen your dedication for years and I applaud you! Do not give up your ability to make a very important difference even if you have to do it from a different angle. Keep your views being heard. It will make a difference. My daughter has been doing similar communications down here in OC.
My other suggestion is to open your own school! It looks like you have a following.