Why a TUSD school monitor walked off the job

Why a TUSD school monitor walked off the job
(Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Kezia Willingham walked away from Blenman Elementary in Tucson after barely three months on the job.

She took a job as a part time library assistant, then picked up some hours as a campus monitor to qualify for insurance.

The violence that she witnessed shocked her.

"This is the first time I've ever been punched in the face," she said. "The first time I've had to dive in and break up fights."

A long-term substitute was recently let go from Tucson Unified School District after video surfaced of what appears to be the adult sitting in a room while Blenman students swing at each other.

Willingham, who previously worked for Seattle Public Schools for 12 years, said she never saw physical and verbal aggression like she did at Blenman.

More frustrating to her, though, was what she perceived as a lack of understanding and appreciation from supervisors and coworkers. She remembers the incident that caused her to leave the children she cared about behind.

She intervened between some students on Halloween. Willingham said she couldn't believe the way another adult monitoring the playground seemed to belittle her for the effort

"As a mother, as a person, I'm going to prevent violence and that's what I did and essentially was talked down to," said Willingham.

She said expectations for her as a monitor would change depending on who was working. Willingham said she was given some reading material on how to be a monitor, but there was no hands-on training.

Willingham believes leadership at Blenman and Tucson Unified School District have good intentions, but what she experienced was a school and a district that needed more resources to provide for the students and their needs.

There are multiple factors at play, according to Tucson Education Association President Jason Freed.

He said school districts across the state have had to make tough decisions with tightening budgets. He said the classroom is off-limits to any sort of cuts, so support roles like counselors and monitors suffer.

"Some of those support pieces just simply are not there, or they're not as bountiful as we need them to be," he said.

Freed said the challenges facing students, parents, teachers and school districts boils down to money for public education. He said people should be more vocal with their elected leaders, from the school board to the state house.

"We have to be gaining parental involvement," said Freed. "And if our state's not willing to, on their own, fund public education, then we're going to have to demand it."

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