Will Chavarin didn't become an Oakland school teacher for the pay.
He certainly didn't come to Oakland so he could see firsthand what
bankruptcy and a state takeover looks like.
Chavarin came to Lowell Middle School because teaching is the only job he's
ever had that "gives me the chills."
Will Chavarin gives his students an assignment at Oakland's Lowell Middle School. Chronicle photo by Frederic Larson
He never thought when he started last fall that the bad economy would erase
his job. But his mother found his layoff notice in the mail on Thursday.
"I'm trying to cry; they say men don't cry, but if I cry, then I won't hit
the wall," he said, moments after opening the letter, which began: "It is with
sincere regret that I am writing to inform you . . . your services will not be
required for the 2003-2004 school year."
Layoff notices are landing in thousands of California teachers' mailboxes
this week as districts brace for millions in state cuts.
The ax is falling even harder in Oakland, which ran up the highest school
district deficit in California history and is now awaiting a $100 million
state bailout and takeover.
"I don't want to teach anywhere else. I feel that if I left Oakland, I
would be turning my back on my community," said Chavarin, a recent graduate of
Cal State Monterey Bay.
In urban school districts like Oakland, where 75 percent of students read
below the national average and the four-year dropout rate reaches 80 percent
at some high schools, Chavarin is exactly the kind of newcomer principals
don't want to lose.
Nationwide, 1 in 4 teachers is male -- and just 13 percent of the teachers
are ethnic or racial minorities, while about one-third of the students are
Young, educated and dedicated, 27-year-old Chavarin returned with his wife
and three children to West Oakland where he grew up, to give his friends' and
neighbors' kids a chance to make it to college.
LIKE AN UNCLE
"I know their parents -- I can call them when Johnny is starting to mess up,
" said Chavarin, who walks one block to work every day. "I can be that uncle
who watches out for them."
A second-generation Oakland schools graduate, Chavarin guided the sixth-
graders to a championship basketball season in his first year as their coach.
He stays after school four days a week to help in the tutoring center. He
volunteered to be a Saturday school teacher for struggling students.
When Chavarin walks the halls, young boys run up to him, jockeying for a
chance to slap his hand and say, "What's up, Mr. Chevron?"
He's planning a trip to Marine World, took the basketball team to a Golden
State Warriors game and acted as chaperone when one boy's essay skills won him
two tickets to see the Oakland Raiders.
"I'm raising my hand for everything -- I figure the more I do, the faster I
learn in my first year and the quicker I become a better teacher," he said.
One night a week he goes to Cal State Hayward for a five-hour teaching
class. He's three months away from earning his full teaching credential.
"I was optimistic -- I figured I'd stay because I brought so much to the
table," he said.
Oakland district leaders have trimmed 176 full-time teachers, counselors
and psychologists, plus 260 support staff, to try to whittle a projected $64
million deficit for the coming school year. That's on top of a combined $82
million deficit for the current and past fiscal years.
Experts called in to sort out the district's finances say the deficit
accumulated because the district failed to adjust to declines in enrollment, a
24 percent salary raise for teachers and the addition of several hundred new
hires to the teacher pool.
Gov. Gray Davis is expected to sign the $100 million bailout bill this
month, which will also strip the Oakland school board of its voting powers and
require state schools chief Jack O'Connell to install a state administrator to
run the district until the loan is repaid.
Chavarin hopes the new administrator will recognize and rehire energetic
teachers like himself. In the meantime, he'll have to roll up his world
history maps and look for a new place to hang them.
When Will Chavarin walks the halls of Lowell Middle School in Oakland, students often greet him with, "What's up, Mr. Chevron?" Chronicle photo by Frederic Larson
"I've been applying to other school districts, but it's hard because
everyone is laying off teachers," Chavarin said.
He might work for a charter school, which manages its budget independently
of the district. If plan B fails, plan C is to get a job from a relative as a
janitor or a carpet installer.
"My family is my world, and they have to eat," he said.
His students knew he might get laid off, and they are worried now. Several
of his first- and second-period students rank Chavarin as their favorite.
"He, like, makes us laugh, and makes the work seem fun," said Champagne
Zedd. "But he stops us from goofing off," added Vincent Harris.
Chavarin's goof-off quelling skills were put to the test -- literally --
last week while a Cal State Hayward supervisor was observing his classroom.
A student from the playground jumped into an open window of his class to
taunt the students, prompting one of his pupils to yell, "Get back, ugly butt!
" in return.
"Now both of you are being disruptive," he said, silencing the girl.
Within minutes, he refocused the class on the task of writing a persuasive
essay. The class groaned until he asked them to write about subjects close to
their heart, such as why they shouldn't have to do homework, and why they
should have a two-hour lunch.
Chavarin specifically sought a job at a middle school, and the trade-off of
working with hormonal preteens, he said, is the chance to steer them onto the
right path before they decide they know all life's answers.
Two days before he was laid off, two of Chavarin's uncles who were in town
on a job laying carpet stopped by to check out his classroom.
One examined the decor, taking a close look at a poster of George
Washington Carver hanging next to a student drawing of the late rap artist
"This is cool, man," he said.
Not knowing his fate, Chavarin smiled with pride.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle