Peninsula School Board candidate was reprimanded while teaching in Federal Way

Records released late Friday by Federal Way Public Schools show that Garth Jackson, a candidate for Peninsula School Board, received two letters of reprimand while he was a full-time teacher in the South King County district.

Jackson, reached Monday afternoon, characterized the reprimands as the result of a conflict over teaching styles between him and his supervisor.

“These are wounds that healed over for her and me a long time ago,” Jackson said.

His supervisor, in her reprimands, accused Jackson of insubordination and repeatedly skirting rules. He was threatened with possible termination and resigned six months later, effective June 2011.

Jackson later made waves in the Peninsula School District, where five educators asked that he not return as a substitute teacher after he worked in their classrooms in 2011 and 2012.

He has pointed to his 12 years of teaching experience as one of his qualifications to sit on the School Board, and his campaign signs identify him as a teacher, engineer and parent. He is running against Leslie Harbaugh.

He came to education after 28 years as an electrical engineer for Tacoma Public Utilities. But he said the conflicts he encountered in his second career forced him to give it up.

“I’m the kind of teacher who kids go home and talk about, and say, ‘Look what we learned today,’ ” Jackson said. “When that rubs up against assembly line teaching, the record isn’t reflective of my quality as a teacher.”

Jackson taught science in Federal Way from 2008 to 2011. Margaret Peterson was principal of the Math, Science, Health and Fitness Academy, which was part of Todd Beamer High School.

She wrote one letter of reprimand to Jackson in 2009 and another in 2010.

The request for public records to Federal Way was submitted Oct. 7 by The News Tribune’s sister paper, the Peninsula Gateway.

In an Oct. 28 story, the Gateway reported on complaints from five Peninsula educators, including comments he made about a variety of subjects. They ranged from plagiarism accusations directed at Martin Luther King Jr. to anecdotes about drinking part of Adolf Hitler’s urine that Jackson used to explain the planet’s water cycle. Jackson said those comments were taken out of context.

The newly released records from Federal Way include letters from Peterson, as well as Jackson’s rebuttals. Among Peterson’s complaints were allegations that Jackson:

▪ Failed to properly implement accommodations for special education students.

▪ Failed to allow a diabetic student to take glucose.

▪ Conducted a demonstration involving a bowling ball suspended from the ceiling without monitoring student behavior for nearly two minutes.

▪ Failed to require all students to wear safety goggles while they broke apart model bridges made from Popsicle sticks.

▪ Failed to require student goggles for a demonstration in which he lay down on a bed of nails, covered his chest with another nail bed, placed a cement block on top of that and then asked a student to hit the block and break it apart with a hammer.

Peterson said she instructed Jackson to clear his home-grown experiments and demonstrations with her if they weren’t district approved. She said he told her he would comply, but then “behind my back, you have ridiculed me to staff and students.”

Jackson countered:

▪ He said officials wanted him to hand out tests and quizzes in advance for special education students. He said he gave practice tests, but that officials told him he had to give them the real thing. He objected.

▪ He said he was unaware of the diabetic student’s condition, and thought the student was making too many requests to use the restroom. He said once he was made aware, he “bent over backwards” to accommodate the student’s needs.

▪ He said the bed of nails demonstration, the swinging bowling ball and the smashed Popsicle sticks were designed to illustrate scientific principles and make science “fun, real and hands-on.” He said students were not in jeopardy.

“I felt so good about turning on the lights in these kids’ eyes,” Jackson said Monday. “But it got to the point where there wasn’t joy in teaching any more. The joy in the classroom was overwhelmed by the office politics.”

Editor’s note

The News Tribune usually does not publish critical stories about candidates in the last few days before an election, unless significant new information comes to light that we believe voters would want to know. In this case, Federal Way Public Schools released written reprimands and other records about Peninsula School Board candidate Garth Jackson after 5 p.m. Friday (Oct. 30). The News Tribune didn’t see them until Monday. Our sister paper, the Gateway, filed a request for the records Oct. 7. Both newspapers had hoped to see the records well before now.