Legacy Traditional School – If parents knew, would it really be their choice? One Teacher’s Account
By mere accident or the hands of fate, teaching at Legacy Traditional School, during the year of the pandemic (2020/2021 school year) was my first charter school teaching experience outside of the public-school districts. It was time to make a change so I interviewed at Legacy and got the position.
I began the year leery, knowing all of the things I had heard about charter schools from other educators, but hopeful because I had met my administrators and teammates and they were wonderful, accepting, and helpful. It wasn’t but a short time later when my first ‘ah-ha’ moment occurred.
Contracted teachers were initially told we would only teach in-person and the online portion would be managed by others. Quickly, the company that now runs Legacy, changed their minds, and decided that teachers would be in charge of both in person and online learners. Up until that moment, all meetings and emails guaranteed us that this would not be the case. However, as a professional educator I thought to myself, “I’ve got this!”
Every Wednesday and an hour a week Legacy provided an aid who would monitor our classrooms so that we could work on Schoology (our online platform). These Wednesdays, however, were often filled with IEP meetings, teacher meetings of some sort, and the two online/in person tutoring sessions we were required to provide. In addition, we had outdated computers and limited supplies. I worked all day to come home and work until I went to bed. My family, emotional and mental health suffered.
I loved teaching in person all year and would not have changed that for the world. I had the most amazing and supportive group of students and families. The students truly treated one another with love and respect, like a family. Legacy, however, continued to pack classrooms no matter what their mitigation plan stated about social distancing. Children were seen as numbers and money.
Online Learning FAIL
Often times families enrolled their children, not knowing that Legacy could not address their needs. One student who had been retained previously, was an English language learner, and was failing due to the rigorous and accelerated curriculum of Legacy. This student would have had a fighting chance at a school that moved at a normal pace and performing at grade level. It would have done so much for his self-esteem to feel like he was successful at something. His family kept bouncing him from online to in person all year, which the administration of Legacy allowed. This student did not complete any work and simply periodically signed into Schoology for five seconds and then signed out, each day, counting him present for the day. The student was absent around 1/3 of the school year and after speaking to the parent, they assured me their child would get online consistently. After months of this back and forth, I expressed a deeper concern about continuing online and we tried to come up with strategies for success.
Subsequently, I was reprimanded for suggesting alternate means of success. Even though this student was consistently failing, Legacy made it very clear to me that we needed to keep the family enrolled at all costs. I was amazed that we did not have a mass exodus of students. By Quarter 2, a teacher’s job was so overloaded with busy work it left little time to plan and implement lesson plans for the in person students. There was little to no accountability and students were shuffled along in an assembly line-type fashion.
About halfway through the first quarter I realized that Legacy was not a typical school, that it was really more of a business and everything was about money. Every single thing that I did as an educator was watched and micromanaged to the point where I felt as if I was not a trusted and educated professional with ten years teaching experience. For instance, our team leads and the instructional coach both have to have the passwords to our gradebooks. They both are required to go through every single item and ensure that all gradebooks are 100% identical. The owners of Legacy schools are Vertex and they controlled every single aspect of what we did, removing the local control of each location. https://vertexeducation.com/about-vertex-education/
Teachers and staff began to disappear. Legacy does not have a huge pool of substitutes like larger districts, but instead permanent, salaried substitutes that are on campus every day. These substitutes became full-time classroom teachers, gradually only leaving us with one permanent substitute for a school of nearly 900 students and grade levels kindergarten through eighth grade, during a pandemic.
Medical Exemptions & Teacher Retention
There was a well-respected teacher who was a war veteran with PTSD and an excellent leader. Even though he explained he could not wear a cloth mask and would wear a shield, he was told to either wear the cloth mask or quit his job. This man was a veteran and a hero, but he had to decide, his job or his mental health. He was an amazing teacher and human being, and Vertex threw him away like garbage. In years past and this past year, 80% of teachers did not return. Vertex loves new, inexperienced teachers they can shape and mold into who they want them to be; exact replicas of one another.
In January 2021, Covid ran through the teaching staff, including myself. Did we close? No way! Did we inform parents? Still no. We did what Vertex does best and we hid this fact from everyone. They silenced teachers with their powerful lawyers, money, and NDAs. Around forty staff members had Covid during the months of January and February. Learning came to a complete stop as classroom teachers were replaced with aides, specialists, and even office staff. Students no longer attended specials, recess, and teachers/staff no longer was allowed breaks. I seriously considered beginning to wear adult diapers as my bathroom breaks were non-existent even more than the typical school year for a teacher. Some of the aides really tried to teach students, but it was not ever intended to be their job and many quit. Legacy hired substitutes from outside agencies and the parade of unqualified, unprofessional ‘teachers’ began to fill the classrooms. Sadly, many of these subs were illiterate, old, obese, and even non-English speakers. Even administrators were out sick and Vertex sent office staff to replace them. When I inquired as to the legality of this parade, I was told that legally anyone with a fingerprint clearance card could teach in those classrooms. Who would teach next? The janitorial staff? The kitchen ladies?
The final nail in the coffin for me which cemented in my mind that Legacy was not the school for me, or in my opinion anyone, was its abuse of the special education laws. This past year we had four different special education teachers for my students. A new teacher would come and quit within a month or two. In between new people, students were not receiving their services as frequently as they should have. Many times I would send my students to their ESS classrooms, and they would immediately come back saying a sign was up saying their teacher was in a meeting and to return to their classroom. At one point, all the ESS teachers, with the exception of one, did not show up to work at all. My administration only found out because they did not show up for an IEP and when someone went to find them, they were not there. They did not request substitutes or time off. They did not create lesson plans to support students. In fact, they just texted the aide what they wanted her to do. Apparently, they all communicated and decided to not show up together as a way to show administration their frustration. Who paid for this temper tantrum you ask? The students. The hours they receive are legally required as per Federal law I.D.E.A. At times special education aides were providing services, which they are not legally allowed to do. Also, due to the non-compliance issues, special education teachers The Arizona Department of education had a huge investigation into Legacy. They were given four years to fix the problem, and three years had passed with zero work being done towards that goal. Unfortunately, the current administration was left with a huge mess that seemed impossible to fix in one school year. Somehow, they did miracles and made it happen knowing that this was the final year before the school would face legal consequences.
Due to Vertex and Legacy Charter’s failure to comply with state laws, many students fell through the cracks this year. If the years of previous administration, and Vertex, had done their jobs, students could have been tested and received services who were ignored the entire year. My own daughter was not tested for dyslexia because “they did not have time.” What a disservice we have done to our students who need extra support and resources. Classroom teachers worked incredibly hard to provide interventions for these students, but it was not enough. It should never take an entire school year for a student to be tested. Never. I, as a professional educated person with ten years of teaching experience, should not have to beg for someone to listen to me and help my struggling students. I know my students. I know what they need because I spend every single day with them. I was in her office frequently, leaving her voicemails, and emailing her. I was being persistent and at times probably demanding. This was completely intentional. I knew that if I did not do this that my children would be forgotten in the busyness of everything going on, not purposefully. They were placed on the back burner so that other more pressing issues could be taken care of.
Recommendation- Parents, Be Vigilant!
I am a teacher, I have a voice, and I will use it for my students.
I often see or hear parents speaking out against the districts here in the valley and recommending every single parent pull their child out. They tell other parents that charter schools provide a better education, have better teachers, and support all their conservative or moral values. I can guarantee you from firsthand experience that this is not always the case. Everything is there to just put on a show. It looks amazing on the outside, but everything happening behind the scenes is a mess and hidden from the public eye. The administration and most teachers at my Legacy campus were great, but they were not adequate advocates for your children. Ask the proper questions of your schools’ administrators. Review the curriculum of the school. It is your right and duty as a parent.
I had some amazing administrators and a wonderful team, but do those two things blind me from all the things I saw occurring? Absolutely not.
This was my first, and last, year at Legacy Traditional School.