Exclusive Interview- Sheila Silver; Not A Drama Queen, Real Royalty

“Why would you want to stay where you’re not wanted?” Culver City High School Drama teacher AVPA Director Sheila Silver’s expressive eyes were slightly wet, although from emotion or just exhaustion it was hard to tell. Sitting with her in the cavernous darkness of the Robert Frost Auditorium during a break in Friday rehearsal, she was entitled to either or both. Carrying on through the turmoil of impending dismissal, she seemed to be as focused as usual on the success of the next production with the Academy of Visual and Performing Arts. Silver noted that despite her documented failings as a teacher, “I did get 35 kids to come to school on a day off. I think that does say something.”

I asked the question that hundreds of people in the community were asking- why was she being let go- and her answer was both modest and forthright. “It’s a job that requires a lot of cooperation, a lot of interaction, and I’ve been told that I am difficult to work with. I’m too honest, I’m too direct.” I pointed out that her title was in fact “Director” it gave us both a smile, and when I noted that honesty was traditionally considered a virtue, she shrugged. Beyond these seeming failures of communication was the accusation that she did not follow procedure.

“Starting in November, I have had note after note about how I’m not following procedure,” she sighed. “Here’s one example; I had a delivery of pallets for a set that arrived four hours ahead of schedule. What was I going to do? I can’t move these things myself. So I had to call a few students out of other classes. The procedure is that you have to give two weeks notice to pull someone out of class, and right, I did not do that. I have had kids taken from my classes without two weeks notice. But I’m the one who is written up for it.”

Asked to reveal more about her turmoil with the administration, Silver offered a few comments that had come her way from other teachers – “They said I should not have been so successful in my first year. I should have been more modest, and not won all these awards right off the bat.” Another echo of petty jealousy was that the drama program was poaching students out of the other branches of the academy. “I tell [the students],” Silvers said, “that if they have made a commitment to another program they need to think long and hard before jumping to change their major. But if someone really wants to act, I don’t like to turn them down.”

After November, it seemed as if she were being ticketed for jaywalking every time she crossed a street, with every minor infraction of procedure being noted on her record. “After being written up, after being called on the carpet for all these little things, I’m given a student teacher and told to train him in my English and Theater classes.” She shook her head. “So although I am officially an incompetent teacher, it seems I am competent enough to train my own replacement.”

At the base of CCHS Principal Pam Magee’s decision to end Silver’s employment now is that it only requires two years for a teacher to be tenured. After that, the administration must deal with the teachers union in regards to ending a contract. Strangely, few people involved in Silver’s current dismissal seem to recall the huge (and successful) push by the students, parents and local theater community to save her from the 2009-2010 round of budget cuts.

When Principal Magee and CCUSD Assistant Director of Human Resources Leslie Lockhart insisted at 2 p.m. they had to shut down the meeting that parents attended on Thursday, Feb. 10, Lockhart said that they had an IEP (Individual Educational Plan) meeting to attend to, Lockhart was actually on their way to give Silver her final paperwork.

“It’s been so tough,” Silver sighed, “I do feel that I’m being called to account for stuff that other teachers are never written up for. I feel targeted. I’m very sad but they are clear on the fact that I’m out. All I can really do from here is try to make it easier for the next teacher who sits on this stage.”

With that, she called an end to the break, and her devoted students put away whatever was left of their lunches, and returned to rehearsal, eager to hear her direction.

www.culvercitysymphony.org

5 Comments

  1. Well, at least we the public now have some information. This really does sound like a pile of petty things being used to oust her. Such a shame. I’m still thinking and hoping that it’s early days & it can be turned around. Thank you for this article.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful and accurate article. You captured the essence of Sheila Silver and the travesty surrounding her firing. I am one of the parents hoping that there will be a positive outcome to this story. I have seen the how her excellent teaching, creativity, and personal code of ethics have impacted her students. Adults are supposed to lead our children by example; at the moment, some of her colleagues, the administration, and the school board are sorely lacking in leadership skills.

  3. Sheila Silver is my niece’s teacher. In the short time that my niece has been at this school, I have watched from afar (I live in the midwest), as my intelligent, beautiful, talented,(yet shy) niece, began to come into her own. She has found a “home” in the drama department and was so proud of their production of the Laramie project and her role in it. What a crushing blow for Sheila Silver’s students to learn that they are losing her over petty differences at the administrative level – differences that don’t even sound like they were worked on towards an amicable resolution. Just the CYA “documentation” that the HR departments have become so good at. They began building a case against her with paper – and probably never once told her that these small infractions of procedure (she’s a new teacher, after all – can’t you guys cut her a break?) – were going to threaten her job. Who is mentoring our great teachers out there so that they aren’t lost?

    While I know many, many good and great teachers out there – we all know a LOT of really bad teachers who are not inspiring our children, not leading them into new directions, and are just “showing up” every day and hiding behind tenure. Yet nothing can be done about them. Instead, they go after someone who wants to shake things up and help these young adults find their footing in a crazy, mixed up world.

    The administration may be feeling smug because they have the power to get away with these shenanigans – but they aren’t fooling those kids. Those kids are too smart to not understand the petty politics and procedural back-stabbing that was behind this shameful ousting of an award winning teacher who was demonstrating leadership, inclusion, acceptance and understanding to her students.

    The administration looks bad – and they should not be allowed to forget it. I hope the parents of Culver City High School, as well as the students, keep holding the adults accountable, in every forum possible – PTA meetings, school board meetings and elections, etc. – and send the message that they played dirty – and everyone knows it.

    The administration of CCHS just proved the axiom – “people fear change more than they fear failure.” Shame on them and the poor example they are setting not only in letting Ms. Silver go – but in the despicable way that they went about it. It was not honorable. It was cowardly.

  4. We have an education crisis in this country. We value celebrities (in all industries) over those who truly make our society run (such as teachers) and pay each class of worker accordingly. As a result, it is increasingly difficult to find and retain first class teachers and our children are left with a potpourri of excellent, good, fair and poor teachers.

    Sheila Silver is an excellent teacher. She provides a first class education for our children. She has instilled great passion for the theatre and the arts in our children and compelled them to develop a tremendous work ethic and has provided them with such an open and accepting educational environment that the students have truly formed a familiar, tribal community. The accolades bestowed on her productions have reflected brilliantly on the high school and the community at large. She received excellent performance reviews until her fall production of “The Laramie Project” was greeted with rave reviews.

    And now the Principal has recommended she NOT be re-hired?

    And now the School Board has voted 3-2 NOT to rehire her?

    Based on WHAT?

    How did she go from being an excellent teacher at the end of November to a problem teacher who should not be re-hired by early December?

    This in an OUTRAGE.

    And everybody in our community should be up in arms over this. Why are our children going to be deprived of an excellent and inspirational teacher?

    The Mission Statement of Culver City High School is:

    “Culver City High School is an engaged and caring academic community where diversity is valued and respected. We are committed to educating and inspiring all students to become life-long learners and contributing members of our global society.”

    The Mission Statement of the AVPA is:

    “Culver City High School’s Academy of Visual and Performing Arts (AVPA) is committed to creating the optimum environment for students of all ages to excel in the performing arts by providing the finest artistic education and training for both the aspiring professional and novice. Our training program is proudly built on three principles: People, Passion, & Performance.”

    How are Dr. Magee and the CCUSD School Board living up to those Mission Statements by getting rid of Sheila Silver?

    That is the question that we, as a community, must DEMAND an answer to.

  5. Excellently written letter!! I wholeheartedly agree with it all! Did you forward this to the school board & [email protected]? I hope to see you at the CCUSD meeting on the 22nd.
    You stated the case perfectly! Thank you!

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