By Gus Herrera
Controversy surrounding Madison School Principal Juan Ruelas once again consumed the public comment portion of the Pasadena Unified School District’s (PUSD) board meeting last week.
Much has been documented surrounding the situation – from defamation lawsuits, to a mass faculty exodus, Madison Elementary School has certainly dominated the PUSD board’s plate in recent past. There was even a petition signed by 346 community members (including 169 Madison parents) to remove the polarizing principal as recently as a couple of months ago.
Last week’s criticisms focused on the accusation that Principal Ruelas cheated in order to manipulate student test scores to falsely display improvement under his administration. The accusations claim that Ruelas not only carried out cheating at his current position at Madison, but also during his former role at Roosevelt Elementary School.
“The so-called Roosevelt miracle did not happen! … it is an insult to the collective citizens of Pasadena,” proclaimed one passionate speaker.
Attorney Dale Gronemeier took the podium on behalf of the Community Council for Equality and Justice at Madison during last Thursday’s meeting. In an attempt to be a “voice for the voiceless,” Gronemeier submitted a 41-page analysis to the board of the alleged cheating that took place at both Madison and Roosevelt under Ruelas.
The analysis includes a summary of all the evidence presented up until now, in addition to new evidence. Also included is testimony from former teachers who claim to have first-hand knowledge of the cheating.
Gronemeier demanded that the board take “immediate remedial action” and carry out a thorough investigation to correct all wrongdoings. “You can’t sweep it under the rug like that,” concluded the fiery attorney as he walked back to his seat.
Former teachers also stood before the board in opposition to Ruelas, testifying that Roosevelt Special Education Teacher John Yang, who was responsible for the student testing, was also involved in the cheating scandal.
Testimony cited that Ruelas and Yang worked very closely together and put extreme pressure on teachers to have their students perform well on tests, especially district-wide benchmark tests.
One comment recalled a time when a special education student with severe physical limitations received a 100 percent on a test personally administered by Yang. The teacher knew something was not right – according to the testimony, the student in question could hardly read back to back sentences without a struggle and, furthermore, the highest scores achieved by students capped off around the 80th percentile.
Once the teacher reported the cheating to Ruelas, testimony claimed that the principal was subsequently “critical of her,” “picked on her,” and “went after her.”
Testimony also reports that students said Yang “had given them the answers to the test,” after which many students clamored to have Yang test them.
Additionally, certain teachers claim that they were asked to sign a form saying that they were unaware of any cheating.
Interestingly enough, there were some individuals who spoke in favor of Ruelas. Speakers representing the League of United Latin American Citizen (LULAC) and mothers of current students argued that, in spite of the controversies, the Ruelas administration has indeed brought about positive changes.
Citing a significant drop in suspensions since the beginning of Reulas’ tenure, some current students even came forth to say that Madison has developed an overall better learning environment than existed before.
One speaker even criticized the teachers leading the charge against Ruelas for looking out for their own pocketbooks, as opposed to the welfare of the children and their education.
Only time will tell how the PUSD board chooses to handle this impactful issue.