Gateway: News

Peninsula teachers asked that school board candidate subbing for them not be asked back

Former engineer and teacher Garth Jackson is running for a seat on the Peninsula School District board.
Former engineer and teacher Garth Jackson is running for a seat on the Peninsula School District board. Staff photographer

Peninsula School District board candidate Garth Jackson, who touts his teaching record as part of his campaign, had five district educators request he not return as a substitute after working in their classrooms in 2011 and 2012.

Jackson’s school district personnel records were released Friday in response to a request from The Peninsula Gateway. They contain the reports about Jackson’s performance as a substitute teacher.

He is running for the District 4 seat on the school board. His opponent is Leslie Harbaugh.

The educators’ complaints about Jackson generally were about offhand comments he made while teaching for them. They also said he disregarded their lesson plans. The substitute evaluations were signed off by administrators of the schools where complaints were filed.

Jackson doesn’t deny making the comments, but said Friday they were taken out of context. His attorney, Daniel Wilmot, said allegations in the files are “hearsay” and unsubstantiated.

The school district didn’t investigate the allegations, because they didn’t rise to the level of reportable professional misconduct, according to school district attorney Lorraine Wilson.

Included in the file is a report by a teacher whose students said Jackson, while subbing in a language arts class, said Martin Luther King Jr. plagiarized parts of his “I Have a Dream” speech.

The file includes a complaint from a parent on the matter.

Jackson said he did bring up King in the classroom, but in the context of historical figures and their shortcomings.

According to another complaint in the records, students reported that Jackson, while subbing for a science class at Goodman Middle School, told the classroom that “when you drink water, you are drinking part of Adolf Hitler’s urine.”

Jackson said the remark was made in the context of a discussion on recycling water, particularly about how astronauts must recycle their urine in space.

He said he made the point that all water, including that used by people, is recycled, and listed some historical figures, one of whom was Hitler.

“I regard myself as a teacher,” he said, “and when an opportunity comes up to teach, I teach.”

Students also reported that Jackson said female students shouldn’t pursue careers in engineering because they would “never get a guy,” according to the reports.

Jackson addressed this rumor in an Oct. 13 email to The Gateway. He said the comment was taken out of context, talking about how women are underrepresented in the sciences and engineering. Jackson’s daughter is a physicist.

According to the letter, Jackson said:

I recounted my physicist daughter’s love for science but she had warned of two challenges. First, the classes were difficult and required a lot of study. The second, a more light-hearted reaction, was that she went on a lot of first dates.”

Before the Gateway’s records request, Jackson said, he had not seen the teacher and principal evaluations of his time as a substitute.

His file contained no positive teacher evaluations, but written evaluations are not filled out each time a substitute fills in, said district spokeswoman Kathy Weymiller.

Substitutes are evaluated in writing in one of three instances: extremely positive reaction, negative reaction or if the substitute asks for an evaluation from the teacher or administrator, Weymiller said.

In cases where the district receives complaints about a substitute, the district’s human resources department asks that the complaint be put in writing and kept on record, Weymiller said.

Jackson subbed in the district 21 times between November 2011 and June 2012, according to Weymiller. Jackson said he stopped subbing after that year because of temporary health issues.

Jackson said the claims in the notes and evaluations are distortions or exaggerations of what happened in the classroom.

“It ends up becoming an unexplained, out-of-the-context, very damning snippet,” Jackson said Friday.

He tried to block release of the records by filing a request for a temporary restraining order in Pierce County Superior Court. Judge Frank Cuthbertson denied the request Friday, and the records were released to the newspaper.

“How Jackson performed as a Peninsula School District teacher is of paramount concern to voters,” Cuthbertson said, citing that as a reason to deny Jackson’s request for an injunction.

Jackson’s campaign for the School Board has focused, in part, on his experience as an educator.

Jackson, a retired engineer, began teaching in 2000 with a student teaching assignment at Gig Harbor High School. He then taught for six years at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma and for three years in the Federal Way School District.

In between Bellarmine and Federal Way, he spent a year at Peninsula High School teaching math on a temporary contract.

Jackson’s file includes a letter from the district upon completion of that position. It begins, “Thank you for the professional job you did this year at Peninsula High School.”

“I could have continued there,” Jackson said, “but the math program there I wasn’t really thrilled with.”

He said he went to the Federal Way School District to teach science, a discipline he prefers to math. He left Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way after three years.

In a statement to The Gateway, Jackson said that when he left the school, his terms “were negotiated and made binding by agreement.”

He said there was an issue between him and the principal, but would not elaborate, saying only he “made some still unknown mistake and crossed her.”

The Gateway has requested Jackson’s file from the Federal Way School District. Officials said they plan to release the records in early November.

Karen Miller: 253-358-4155