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Elementary principal reprimanded for special-education failures

Original post made on Jun 14, 2018

Juana Briones Elementary School Principal Tom Jacoubowsky was reprimanded in January for leadership failures that led the district to being out of compliance with special-education regulations.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, June 14, 2018, 11:15 AM

Comments (30)

52 people like this
Posted by what's my name
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2018 at 5:58 pm

I ask any of you who out there would want to be a school principal or administrator in this day in age of Title IX, special ed, achievement gaps .....................and then get vilified with even one misstep. A thankless job for sure, especially with rabid helicopter parents of Palo Alto. Long gone are the days that school administrators actually got to spend time the bulk of their time focussing on providing quality education to the detriment of most of us.

26 people like this
Posted by One of the many nice, giving parents in this district
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 14, 2018 at 6:41 pm

You sound like someone who doesn't have much contact with what's really going on in our district or who has a particular beef on the administrative side.

I have a friend who is an amazing patient special ed teacher, who finds it difficult to even talk about her experience in PAUSD. I think if PAUSD wants to find it easier to hire special ed teachers, it needs to 1) be nicer and more trustworthy with the ones it has and 2) create a supportive rather than nasty CYA culture. Given what I have witnessed in this district, if we had parents anything like the slurs your are slinging, this district would have been sued out of existence just by the those who had indisputable just cause. You are out of line. But that's the tactic, isn't it -- abuse people and then defame them to make them seem crazy or at fault for the abuse.

I like Tom, but and I'm a little surprised that this is what he was reprimanded over. On the other hand, I think he and most staff are willing to continue playing the upper administrators' games, when they could really fix things if they decided to be upstanders together instead. Kim Diorio would have benefited from that for sure.

37 people like this
Posted by Briones Parent
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jun 14, 2018 at 7:14 pm

Mr. J was an excellent principal and will be missed. He was great with the kids and the teachers I spoke to had a good deal of respect for him.

It looks to me like the district is putting Tom and other principals in a no-win situation -- either get crushed by the bureaucratic requirements of the job, or see all its joy stolen by administrative overhead.

It's also hypocritical that Barbara Harris is reprimanding Tom Jacoubowsky for lack of followup (""did not ensure on a daily basis that the staff ...") in implementation of a plan ", when she herself did exactly the same thing, one level higher: ("whereby you assured me that you had a plan in place...")

12 people like this
Posted by Briones Parent
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jun 14, 2018 at 7:19 pm

As a followup, I just read that Barbara Harris is resigning. If she is indeed falling on her sword over this, I'm sincerely impressed that she's holding herself accountable and there is not an ounce of hypocrisy in going after Mr. J for doing likewise. If she was forced out, as I suspect, then my complaint about hypocrisy should be registered one level above Barbara to whoever forced her out.

15 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 14, 2018 at 8:03 pm

Tom is a happy go lucky guy that was at Gunn who always smiled at the nitty gritty part of job that didnt give accolades and then completely ignored it. That being said, out of all the bunch of OG admins he is the most salvageable. Get rid of Laurence..unless you want more lawsuits.

52 people like this
Posted by jordan teacher
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 14, 2018 at 8:12 pm

Big T is a really good guy with a huge, huge heart who really loves working with kids. When he was at Jordan he was always walking around campus reaching out to kids and teachers and always had a great story!

Unfortunately the job has changed over the years and especially in Palo Alto. Admins at schools are supposed to keep PAUSD out of court and are always having to push some new learning strategies, this year it was learning targets and who knows what the flavor of the year will be coming up in 2019. Being an admin in Palo Alto is not about working with kids, that is a fact! those days are long gone.

PAUSD is a absolutely fantastic place to teach because of the great kids and how parents are so invested in their kids education.

You just learn after having about 8 principals in the last 20 years at Jordan to keep your head down and do your job and never get to close to admin because like pro and college and now even high school athletic coaches, admins in Palo alto are hired to be fired.

People who know Big T personally know he is a great guy and his heart is in the right place, in this case heads needed to roll and is what it is. Big T will survive and wish him nothing but the best in the future.

21 people like this
Posted by the truth!
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 14, 2018 at 8:15 pm

The guy is an absolute: SAVAAAAAAAGE and a great guy!!!

60 people like this
Posted by Longtime School Volunteer
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 14, 2018 at 9:21 pm

I am heartsick to see the Weekly stoop to publication of what should have been a set of confidential personnel communications. I can only think that this harsh and unnecessary public intimidation will make it that much harder for PAUSD to attract and retain the kinds of humane and dedicated leaders it needs.

This article is particularly disturbing because it maligns someone who has given so much of his heart and soul to PAUSD for so long. Tom Jacoubowsky was a humane face of Gunn High School through some of its darkest times, and he carried that kindness and warmth to Jordan and then to Briones. I will always remember how, in the years of our town's heartbreaking struggle with suicide clusters, it was Tom who conceived the slogan that greeted the kids coming back from summer: "Welcome back. Welcome home."

PAUSD is a better place because of Tom Jacoubowsky. It is horrifying to see him treated this way. I hope that the Weekly will not make this same mistake again.

Moderator's Note: This story was based on records provided by the school district and are not confidential personnel communications. The law is clear that such records are public documents, based on the principal that the public interest in complaints, investigative reports and disciplinary actions relating to public employees outweighs the privacy interests of these employees. Without such a law, instances of inappropriate conduct or malfeasance of public employees would likely never come to light.

26 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 14, 2018 at 10:12 pm

Good point. Since when is do you just rummage in the personnel files for stories, Weekly?

16 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 14, 2018 at 10:40 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

@Longtime School Volunteer and Resident,
Maybe you should put yourself in the shoes of the families whose children were shortchanged their special ed services. It was bad enough that concerned teachers were documenting the issues.

Thanks to the Weekly for getting the information.

12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 14, 2018 at 11:15 pm

@Samuel, so now any principal who leaves his job gets a PRA request, and if there's a reprimand in the file also gets public embarrassment - that's part of the deal? Do you think that might have a chilling effect on the district's willingness to make future reprimands? It's all perfectly legal, but that doesn't mean its what's best.

30 people like this
Posted by Briones Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 15, 2018 at 7:34 am

Mr. J was loved by the children and the Briones community will miss his presence next school year. Shame on the Weekly for posting this article. This is a man’s reputation and career you are messing with. Briones was short staffed the whole year, not just in Special Ed. Our classroom teacher didn’t have an aide most of the year and had to rely on parents to fill that void. The district should have given Tom additional support in finding a replacement Special Ed teacher. Tom is only partly to blame for his actions - as a new principal, he should have been given support to grow and improve in his new role.

Tom will be adored by his students at JLS. Best of luck to you, Mr. J!

18 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 15, 2018 at 11:12 am

The district is top-heavy $ with excessive pay going to administrators. They should raise the compensation and benefits of the special ed aides and other classified employees to attract more candidates and fill those vacancies. The aides do a tremendous job of supporting the teachers and working directly with the students. I feel bad for the principal receiving the blame. In a hot economy like the one we have now it's very difficult to fill the many open positions with qualified personnel.

17 people like this
Posted by One of the many nice, giving parents in the district
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 15, 2018 at 11:24 am

I agree with the love being sent Tom's way. He's a good guy, and agree with the "salvageable" mention above. I wonder if this is a warning to employees like him to keep their heads down and not be upstanders, in advance of the new superintendent arriving.

I don't want my first message above to be misconstrued - it might better have said, "I like Tom AND I'm a little surprised this is what he was reprimanded over."

The district office really needs to get a grip. We would be better off if people like Tom remained administrators and had support from above to work with families rather than following the boat-payment-baiting advice from the legal side. Is there any evidence of families who were persistently complaining at Juana Briones because of this? My recollection of the Briones community is that people tended to come together, including teachers, to overcome problems, regardless of what official boxes were checked.

The legal advice that supposedly is supposed to keep PAUSD "out of court" per @jordanteacher really INCREASES liability and has increased our payments to their firms. (Studies of all areas of liability, whether its malpractice, corporate liability, etc, show how much better and cheaper it is to actually be open and honest and take responsibility and apologize/fix things when they go wrong. A culture of covering up comes from bad legal advice geared to get larger payments for the lawyers, it does not reduce district liability.)

School districts are going to have problems and conflicts and difficulties. That's why there are processes to help everyone work through them while protecting the rights of those who have less power (students and families) in that dynamic. This is how things are SUPPOSED to work. People who cannot deal with that should not be working in education, and should not be hiring lawfirms that create such negative dynamics between families and employees as we have been experiencing all these years. If the district wants to stay out of court, they shouldn't have spent so much money proactively dragging parents of special needs kids there.

This letter says "staff have lost confidence" - do they mean the staff at Juana Briones? I think the Weekly should find out how the community, both teaching and parents, at JB feel about this, and if it is the staff at JB or just the staff at the district office. If it is the latter, I hope the Weekly will air the thoughts of the site staff. If this is truly an imperial action from above, the local community will suffer for no real reason. (Is this yet another legal-instigated furthering of the boat-payment-baiting negative culture, or is there really something coming from the site that needs airing?)

5 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 15, 2018 at 11:59 am

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Your comment only highlights one of the problems with the district. They can't concern themselves with "embarrassing" employees who have done something that negatively impacts the students. We need administrators who are focused on student well-being. Tom gave his explanation as to what happened.

As a community and parents we deserve to know if our students and children are being properly cared for.

8 people like this
Posted by why
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 15, 2018 at 12:48 pm

Ken Dauber, as President of our school board, please explain why somethings end with letters, demotions, and resignations while other things are completely dismissed and overlooked.

Reprimand is issued when Tom J does not fill a special education staff vacancy and so did not ensure that mandated instructional minutes were being met for a student. He said the position was hard to staff. He gets a letter and steps down.

Holly W drops a name from the list of authors of a Title IX report and a letter goes into her file. She says she wanted to avoid distractions and she didn't modify the content. She is pressured to resign.

... all the while …

Kim D and Denise H advertise that they also failed to ensure mandated instructional minutes but, unlike Tom J, theirs affects 4,000 students not 1. Nothing goes into their files.

Also missing: Kim D's file says zip about the Federal government finding that she BROKE THE LAW when she did noting with 25 students and staff's sexual harassment complaints involving the principal, complaints entrusted to her with the hope that she’d address them.

Was it that Kim D and Denise H smiled when asked to support the Superintendent's and board members’ pet projects and Tom J and Holly W didn't?

7 people like this
Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 15, 2018 at 1:30 pm

Another colliseum event? I can understand the need for teachers/admin to document potential sexual harassment misbehaviors, but why wouldn't teachers approach someone as nice as Tom J. with the repercussions of not providing adequate instructional minutes for special ed students? Where is the collaboration and team work? Did they try to work together on the problem or was it another spring-loaded trap?

As the Jordan teacher stated, the high school principal's position is no longer one about building a community. Our elementary principals seem to do a better job at this, but it does start to fray at the middle school level. There is probably no money for it, but perhaps we need to split the principal position into two parts, 1 for community-bulding and one for the court room?

22 people like this
Posted by PAEA strikes again
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jun 15, 2018 at 5:14 pm

It was some of the Juana Briones teachers that got together and threw Tom under the bus. There are some bitter lemons over there.

15 people like this
Posted by Misha
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 15, 2018 at 6:17 pm

I could not agree more with the outpouring of support for Mr. J. He will ALWAYS have a very SPECIAL place in my heart for how he, almost single-handedly, kept the Gunn community together during tragic times. He was just about the only one in that administration who focused on the KIDS and their families and tried to bring in education about mental health and wellness.

The administrators in this district are way too fixated on avoiding liability and protecting the interest of the institution, all the while forgetting who they are really there for - the students as people and not just grades and scores.

Stop being driven by FEAR. Start focusing keenly on the best interests of the students overall. Mr J has his heart and mind firmly in the right place, always trying his BEST to serve the children. Would that we had more like him here.

Mr J, my eternal gratitude and best wishes to you always, wherever you are.

7 people like this
Posted by Kathy Jordan
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 16, 2018 at 10:01 am

Kathy Jordan is a registered user.

Kudos to the teachers who looked out for their special education students and did the right thing, possibly putting themselves at risk.

17 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 17, 2018 at 10:56 am

Parents, Community, Board and the Weekly should have been watching the District Office more closely over the last few years. District Administrators were to blame for most of the issues past and present. The Administrators should have known the laws for basic issues including harassment, sexual misconduct by staff and the need for more staff for Special Ed. The District Office should have been providing more training and more support to all the staff at school sites. That was their job! Instead the Special Ed Dir, Student Services Dir and HR Dir all left with no repercussions or consequences before the final report from OCR came out. They DID make sure they received higher salaries before leaving! They should have been held accountable for not doing their jobs for the last few years. Kim and Tom should not have been held accountable alone. We don't even know all the other staff the DO "pushed out" or investigated for no reason! They were the staff who were watching out for the students and speaking up! Where did they end up? They were not paid off like the teacher and principal who did "hurt" our students. Yes, Kim should have known better, but why was she the only one being held accountable? Yes, Tom should have pushed for more help, but it was ultimately the District Office who should have been held accountable for not finding a Special Ed aide or teacher! We need to hold accountable those DO Administrators who "used" others to raise their positions and salaries, but they are now nowhere to be found!

13 people like this
Posted by One of the many nice, giving parents in the district
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 17, 2018 at 7:01 pm

I could not agree with you more about the district office. I can only hope that now that some of the site administrators and teachers are getting hit by the mess from above, that they will finally decide to get together and be upstanders for the families. Kim Diorio in particular did keep asking above for an investigation and they told her it wasn't necessary. The trouble is that the site admins and teachers here really believed they had cover if they did what they were told from above. The teachers and most site admins are good people who really have more power to change things if only they would get together and stand up for the families here who go to such great extents to support them (instead of just believing what they are told from above, including about families who are having trouble with the DO themselves).

I agree with you that certain people really are responsible and they got away with raises and leaving us holding the bag. I can't speak in specifics because it will be deleted, but I witnessed a certain DO person having a kind of toxic personality that seems just so magnetic in person but the kind of warped person who seemed to crave drama, who would set off interpersonal crises and drama among the people around that person, and then sit back and watch while everyone else imploded. I have known just a few people like that in my life, and they are absolute poison to an organization, causing chaos and drama in others for their own enjoyment and no purpose. They also tend to be very magnetic and cool about it, and scheming, so everyone points fingers at everyone else except the real source of the problem. That person is now gone, but there were people trained to operate in that person's way, and of course there is the bad advice from district legal, so it remains to be seen whether we will be free of those influences. I kind of doubt it. But site admins and teachers deciding to be more upstanding and proactive to connect with families and protect them from CYA admins would make such a difference. I think it would also help prevent employees from being dinged for overly legalistic things that may be of no consequence while real needs go unaddressed (just like families are).

14 people like this
Posted by It's called collaboration
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jun 19, 2018 at 6:31 pm

Why do our Briones teachers always go full-union on principals? Really? Spending all day writing down supposedly the minutes that their students did not receive services? Why could they not work with Tom, one of the nicest principals you would meet, on a day-to-day basis to ensure that all of their kids got what they needed? These few teachers are the same ones that drive all our principals away.

4 people like this
Posted by Dave Palo
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 19, 2018 at 7:12 pm

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by screed
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 20, 2018 at 6:24 pm

I can not, for the life of me, figure out why this is even a story. A beloved elementary school principal is rung over the coals because he had difficulty filling a special ed teacher position? Are there any jobs out here more thank-less than being "management" at a Palo Alto school? But I suppose those high six figure salaries* more than make up for it.

(*and yes, I am being sarcastic.)

3 people like this
Posted by One of the many nice, giving parents in the district
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 20, 2018 at 8:30 pm

“Are there any jobs out here more thank-less than being "management" at a Palo Alto school?”

Yes, the parents here who are constantly piled on by the likes if you. Our school principles, by the way, make more than the Governor of the State of California, the fifth largest economy in the world, for nine months of work. We have never had trouble getting candidates. We have had some seriously underperforming overly paid upper management, too.

But I saw a lot of people thanking the principal above. You seem oblivious to the fact that the thanklessness came from the district office, not parents.

2 people like this
Posted by keeping it real
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Sep 11, 2018 at 11:53 am

Tom had it coming tbh, as he DID NOT visit the classrooms daily, especially the special education classroom at room 18. Plenty of people applied for student attendant positions and yet he chose to hire one that has no experience working with children at all. He may put up the "nice guy" front and be loved by most parents but honestly it is not like that at all. Parents might not realize, but at Briones student attendants are not on a 1 to 1 basis, rather each attendant has to cover more than one student, even for students that can't be in mainstream classes by themselves. Honesty if you are ever around Briones this year that's not drop off and pick up times, you'd know that things weren't exactly going well for the staffs.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2018 at 12:22 pm

Posted by keeping it real, a resident of Juana Briones School

>> Tom had it coming tbh, as he DID NOT visit the classrooms daily,

(I decided to delete my own sarcastic comments here.)

>> Parents might not realize, ... Honesty if you are ever around Briones this year that's not drop off and pick up times, you'd know that things weren't exactly going well for the staffs.

Well, I'm not sure why you revived this thread, but, in my personal experience, whenever something like this happens, you need to look behind the people raising the issues and see who is manipulating the whole situation.

2 people like this
Posted by Keeping it real
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Sep 11, 2018 at 4:18 pm

Manipulating or not, the special education students did not receive the instructional minutes that they are supposed to while Tom was principal. Yes the district may be held accountable as well as most student attendants are employed at an at-will basis meaning they can be let go without providing a reason. Briones had the previous special education instructor retire while still working at the school, and hired another who left after merely a year and hired another beginning the second school year. Regardless of how PAUSD is operating, Tom was not able to manage the special education portion of Juana Briones well during his time here. The issue is that there weren't enough student attendants to cover all the needa, whether if it is regular mainstream classes or heavy low functioning classes, and despite being brought up multiple times Tom did not hire more people, rather he hired a very few individuals that had no experience interacting with children that made transitioning slow and inefficient. Tom is a cool dude friend like a drinking buddy at a bar, but his time at Briones is definitely not as glorious as other comments indicates.

5 people like this
Posted by Angry lemons
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Sep 11, 2018 at 8:44 pm

There are still too many complaining teachers at Briones. Lisa Hickey had the same issue and she jumped at the chance to get out of there. Most of the worst teachers in terms of negativity retired or left over the past five years, but there are still a handful that only know how to complain. Tom J. doesn't run the hiring, that is done by the district office. No principal is allowed to just create positions. Briones needs a housecleaning, but Kevin Skelly couldn't do it, Glenn McGee was only interested in public relations, and the new guy knows better than to mess with anything that gets him the door like his predecessors. Only parents can pressure the Briones teachers to learn to get along.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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