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Students to school board: We’ve had subs in honors math class all year

A sophomore from Palm Beach Lakes High and four of his classmates, all eyeing careers in the justice system, came to seek a piece of that from the school board Wednesday night. They say they have gone the entire year without a regular geometry teacher.

Thursday morning that courage to stand up for what’s right, bought Joseph Trahan and one of his compatriots, Lemuel Gadson, a trip to talk to an investigator, who both students say seemed more interested in the nexus of their trip to the board meeting than the reason they were there.

“That’s the vibe I got from it,” said Gadson, 16. “He’s not trying to solve the problem, he’s trying to throw us under the bus. It was questions like, ‘How did you get there? Whose idea was it?”

The man doing the questioning appears to work in the district’s human resources department, and it was clear, said Gadson and Trahan, that he missed Trahan’s plea to the board the night before.

Trahan, a former award-winning math student, told the board members and superintendent that his honors level geometry class has been led by a series of substitutes, who regularly relied on YouTube math videos to deliver lessons.

“We’re just given busy work and grades for our busy work,” Trahan said.

He said the group is struggling to learn the concepts. Trahan said they did horribly on the district-designed mid-term, but are getting passing grades by benefit of extra credit points that come by buying the teacher sweets or drawing pictures.

“The current sub says stuff such as, ‘I am not a teacher. I’m here to babysit you and give you grades,’” Trahan said. “This isn’t what we want. We want a higher education. We demand more out of ourselves… When the EOC (end of course exam – designed by the state) comes around, we’re not going to be prepared.

“Time is not something you can get back. We’ve already lost so much time. We’re so ill-prepared. And we are looking to you for help.”

Palm Beach Lakes High sits off Military Trail just south of 45th Street in West Palm Beach and is home to more than 2,000 students. The state rates it a C. Principal Cheryl McKeever referred all questions to the school district’s communications office.

By Thursday afternoon, those officials said a math coach had been tapped to fill the job and promised lunchtime and evening tutorials as well as online and other lessons to catch up the students before the state’s end of course exam in the first week in May.

Meanwhile, an investigation is underway to determine what went wrong, said district spokeswoman Kathy Burstein. She said it appears the class did have a teacher who resigned Nov. 7.

Trahan says he counts at least four subs this year, most recently the school’s basketball coach.

The students, a mix of freshmen and sophomores – boys and girls – from West Palm Beach, said they have high aspirations and reached an “Aha” moment, not while sitting in math class, but in their Legal Concepts and Comprehensive Law class in the school’s legal academy.

They were talking about contracts and negligence, Gadson recalled. He and the others all had to sign a contract to enroll in the legal academy and then they wondered if the school was holding up its end of the bargain.

Their legal teacher, Malik Leigh, who both teaches and practices law full time, accompanied them to the board meeting.

“Nobody can do more about themselves than they can,” Leigh said.

At campus Thursday morning, much of the focus seemed to have turned away from geometry and on to the law class and its teacher. Joseph Trahan’s father said he came to campus and spoke to the man who interviewed his son.

“I was asked if the school was involved with their being in the board meeting. I told them no, it was all their (the students’) idea,” Lyndon Trahan said Thursday evening.

The family has been trying to rectify the lack of a proper teacher for months.

Celena Trahan said she called her son’s guidance counselor, who simply noted that Joseph was carrying a B in the class – even though Joseph said he hasn’t earned it. Trahan also called an assistant principal, but got no action, she said.

His father is glad Joseph will be given the tools he needs, but questioned how anyone could make up three quarters of the year by May’s exam. And the hit Joseph took on his high school transcript at midterm is permanent, he said.

Michelle Jackson said she was willing to forgive a staffing problem for the first couple weeks of school, but by the end of first semester she worried the gap was going to cause problems for her son Marques, dragging down his GPA and his readiness to take college admission tests.

“My son has now lost a whole year of his math education,” Jackson said.

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