Nov 5 2017

OPINIONS: Student Opinions on High School Problem Teacher

School Board Meeting: Teacher Aides and The Departure of History Teacher –

October 25, 2017  School Board Meeting –

The School Board meets every 2 weeks, to discuss and make decisions regarding the education of all the schools in the Piedmont Unified School District. The School Board Meeting on October 25 covered the following topics: the best instructional calendar for students, the importance of teaching assistants, a request for a raise, upset parents who expressed their opinions on teacher Mark Cowherd’s inappropriate behavior with students, Mr. Cowherd’s return to school after a 3 week investigation, the H1 Bond update for the new STEAM and Alan Harvey theater, the naming of District facilities, and the options of refinancing a loan.

The first topic regarded what instructional calendar should be followed in the future. It was apparent that there were still a lot of conflicting opinions about what was the best calendar.

As a senior, I greatly appreciate our current instructional calendar, because I can send my first semester grades to colleges earlier than I would have been able to if we still followed the previous instructional calendar. However, this calendar is not just advantageous for seniors. Our current instructional calendar reduces the overall stress of students, since we do not have to worry about studying over Winter Break. Speaking from personal experience, I have found that I have forgotten a lot of the material of my classes when finals are after Winter Break. While this instructional calendar may take some time to get used to, I am confident that this calendar is best for the long run.

The next topic discussed was about  a third grade teacher at Wildwood, who has taught for 18 years. She stressed that teachers assistants (TAs) are imperative to the success of both students and teachers. This teacher’s TA helps her with rotations in math, so that the teacher can focus on two-thirds of the class, while the TA can focus helping one-third of the class. This TA also helps 3 other teachers, and also helps patrol recess. TAs assess and modify lessons to explain the big takeaways to the students they are assigned to. They also go over tests one-on-one, to ensure that the student understands the mistakes he/she made, so that he/she can learn from the mistakes. Students who need TAs the most are actually getting the least amount of help.

Those from the California School Employees Association (CSEA) started out by stating that families move to Piedmont for good education, which can only be obtained when we have qualified teachers through fairness and respect. These employees want equal pay for equal work, instead of favoring teachers who have worked in Piedmont schools for a longer period of time than they have. One Special Education teacher, who works at Piedmont High School, asked to be paid more, since it is a struggle to live in the Bay Area and he goes through a lot to continue doing a job that he loves.

Lisa Sherman, whose daughter is Natalie Stollman, introduced the topic regarding Mr. Mark Cowherd. Four students had come forward to report Mr. Cowherd’s behavior, which included sending inappropriate texts and emails, giving students harassing nicknames, consuming alcohol in front of students, and talking to students about things unrelated to school. She felt that the letter regarding Mr. Cowherd return to the classroom after a 3 week investigation felt like a slap in the face. Stollman originally thought that her complaints, along with the complaints of the 3 other girls who came forward, were taken seriously, and they felt that the situation should have been handled better.

Sherman noted that students are encouraged to speak up, yet the inaction of the School Board makes it even harder for students to speak up, especially when they feel that nothing is being done. Students have always been afraid to speak up due to the intimidating power dynamic.

Esther Rodgers, a parent of 2 boys, teaches her boys to do the right thing, even if it is against their self-interest. She pointed out that this whole Mr. Cowherd situation also impacts the boys, in addition to the girls. She felt that this was detrimental to learning, and that it creates a perception of unfairness for both boys and girls.

Pear Michaels felt that Mr. Cowherd should have been immediately fired so that he would not be able to influence the students, or that he should be on leave until everything is decided. She wondered where the practical support for the students who came forward was.

Hope Salzer found that it was troubling for students to have Mr. Cowherd as a role model. She asked that the school reexamine the school policy.

Kim Hunter, who is an Alameda County District Attorney who deals with domestic violence cases, talked about how the number one thing she teaches her kids is that violence is unacceptable. She said that this is a big deal that should not be at all marginalized.

Janice Sheldon, who was speaking for her daughter Olivia, who had graduated in 2017 and was the first to report Mr. Cowherd’s behavior, said that Olivia had broken down after the recent Euro trip and had gone to the Wellness Center. Olivia was devastated that her voice had not been heard.

Elka Sorenson’s mom spoke about how Elka dropped out of AP European History, despite the fact that she had an A in the class, because she felt uncomfortable in the class environment.

Carol James, who has a daughter who graduated in 2010 and a son who graduated in 2013, talked about how her son had been bullied by Mr. Cowherd. She noted that the data points regarding Mr. Cowherd’s behavior go much further than March of 2017.

Vincent Massullo, a healthcare professional, said that the responsibility of a teacher is super important because they influence the students greatly.

Sarah Pearson, President of the Board of Education, reminded the audience that all this information of these instances regarding Mr. Cowherd must be documented in order to be used and accounted for in the investigation.

The next topic was about naming District facilities, and a new policy governing the naming of District facilities. The Board of Education has all the naming rights for any District building or facility, but community participation is greatly encouraged in this process. Individuals can be recognized for their contributions. If one does inappropriate or immoral things, their name on a plaque can be removed. There is a public meeting before any name is made final. The Board may choose to accept “legacy” gifts.

The next topic discussed had to do with refinancing a loan, and how to save the most amount of money. This loan was will be paid for by Piedmont taxpayers (Capital Appreciation Bond) to rebuild the schools. The options are cab de cab, cab de sib, and doing nothing right now. A big factor in deciding what option to go with is the interest rate. Right now, interest rates are low. One option is to take action now and take advantage of the low rate now, or to wait in hopes of getting a lower interest rate, with the risk of the downward trend changing to an upward trend.

I interviewed Sarah Wozniak, who is the Title IX Director. She attends School Board Meetings regularly, but she also came to this meeting in particular because she knew people were going to talk about their concerns regarding Mr. Cowherd. She felt that this was a very emotional meeting, and she understands why people are confused about the decision to have Mr. Cowherd come back into the classroom after the 3 week investigation. However, she pointed out that the school does not inform the public the punishments doled out to Mr. Cowherd out of privacy for him. She felt that this meeting was good for the parents of the girls, being able to see that the community supports them. Ms. Wozniak is part of the District Team, who plan to follow up on how people are feeling about what happened, and what next steps should be taken. She is interested in working with Voice Cooperative to see what students want to do about how people can or should speak up, because there is still a lot of fear about speaking up.

by Ivana Xu, Piedmont High School Senior


Piedmont Takes A Stand –

On October 25th, 2017, a Piedmont School Board took place in Piedmont City Hall. While this meeting was to discuss the possible refunding of Capital Appreciation Bonds, and a further update on the progress of the new school development, the people of Piedmont swarmed City Hall to discuss the disciplinary action of Mr. Cowherd.

Mr. Cowherd was a Social Studies teacher at Piedmont High School, he taught AP European History, AP US History, and Modern World History. An ongoing investigation regarding the sexual harassment allegations brought against Mr. Cowherd by a previous student at Piedmont High, led to a three week absence in September. This was later followed by his return to the classroom, with an email congratulating him back to the school. Previous rumors spread among the students as to why Mr.Cowherd was gone for three weeks. However, neither Mr. Cowherd nor Piedmont High revealed any insight on the matter.

San Francisco Bay Area CBS had more information on the details about the investigation, including the document that contained the specific allegations made against Cowherd. This list included: Repeatedly asking students to meet personally and privately, touching, grabbing, and/or holding students by their shoulders, heads, elbows, and backs, calling students nicknames that made students feel uncomfortable and harassed, sending inappropriate text messages and emails, consuming alcohol in the presence of students, making inappropriate and unprofessional comments that were interpreted to be sexual in nature, and asking inappropriate and unprofessional personal questions.

However, during the School Board meeting’s public forum many parents and advocates stepped forward complaining and stressing their frustration and irritation that Mr. Cowherd was back teaching.

One of the many speakers was Lisa Sherman. Sherman expressed extreme disappointment especially about welcoming back Mr. Cowherd after three weeks of absence. Not only was the email containing the congratulatory dialogue sent to the current students at PHS (Piedmont High School) the email and letter were sent to the families that brought the allegations. Lisa described this as a “slap in the face.”  She made her case by stating that allowing Mr. Cowherd back into the classroom would make the current students at PHS uncomfortable and most students could feel victimized or bullied, as PHS administration was essentially clearing Mr. Cowherd of all charges.

The hearsay in the community was that girls won’t speak up about harassment, that current students weren’t aware of why Mr. Cowherd was gone for three weeks, and that the power dynamic in the classroom was too high.

Another parent named Ester Rogers, came to the meeting with a prepared sign that read “#Me Too.”  The hashtag has been taking social media by storm, with anyone who has been sexually harassed. Rogers is a mother of two boys, and she was concerned with the impact Mr. Cowherd’s on not just the girls, but on the boys. Rogers made the point that boys can perceive that the girls would be treated differently than them, and that this would make a horrible precedent for the boys in Mr. Cowherd’s classes.

All of the speakers agreed with one another, overall stating that Mr. Cowherd should not have been allowed back into the classroom, and that the school has the duty to protect students in the learning environment.

Kim Hunter, a local Assistant District Attorney, took the stand and was outraged. Hunter was concerned with the PHS environment because the year before the school had issues with anti-semitism, a couple years earlier the school had issues with a fantasy football roster. Hunter made it clear that the voice of the children had to be heard, that the issue with Mr. Cowherd is a big deal and must be treated as such.

Annie Marshall, a local resident of Piedmont, decided to go to the School Board meeting precisely to discuss Mr. Cowherd, and to hopefully receive answers. Annie was not alone in learning new mind boggling information that the parents of some harassed student presented. Marshall was not surprised about events that transpired at the meeting, she claimed that these incidents have been going on for years. Annie Marshall a loving mother of two graduated kids, expressed her opinion on the matter, “ I just hope the School Board does the right thing.”  Marshall explained that she believed the disciplinary action that transpired was inadequate and further steps must be done. While Marshall did not make it clear on her further plan of action, it is safe to assume she was pleased with the ending results. The ending results being that on Friday, the twenty-seventh of October, Mr. Cowherd resigned.

by Madison Kunke, Piedmont High School Senior


On October 25th, I attended a School Board meeting, which was held at Piedmont City Hall. The School Board holds meetings twice a month to address issues concerning the Piedmont School District. The meeting was held in order to address the issues brought to the School Board. The issues discussed included: the salary of teacher assistant aides, the actions taken to remove history teacher Mr. Cowherd from classroom settings, CAB refinancing, H1 updates and announcements.

The first major issue addressed during this meeting was the low salaries of teacher assistant aides. Mrs. Ford, a teacher at Beach Elementary, noted that she has been working at Beach for 18 years. She told the audience that her aides are very important. She recalled that they help with yard duty, lunch duty, and help kids progress. She noted that in order for students to receive the most quality education, teachers’ aides adjust their work schedule to help the teacher execute her lesson plan. For example, for math class, Mrs Ford has a system where the class is divided into groups and each group works at a different station, learning a different mathematical skill. This system was specifically designed for the students. Mrs. Ford’s aide helps her with these rotations and also helps take over the class when kids are pulled aside to review their last test. Mrs. Ford went on to mention that one-on-one aides are very significant because they make school accessible to students with learning disabilities and these students’ success positively impacts the other students in the classroom. Mrs. Ford also noted that teacher aides have a very difficult yet important job. Everyday they have to listen to the teacher’s lessons and modify them so their student can easily comprehend the material. Their work is highly valued by the teachers yet their salary is small.

Teriss Alzer spoke on behalf of the Piedmont teacher aides and she noted that the School District’s administration has shown little value in their work and in their jobs. Ms. Alzer went on to note that teacher aides cannot live at poverty level anymore and they cannot be ignored. She said that this is the tipping point for teacher assistants and that they deserve respect and equal pay for equal work.

Jeff Verdano, a teacher assistant at Piedmont High School (PHS), noted that it is very expensive to live in the Bay Area, and as a result he has had to take up shifts at restaurants and drive Uber. He noted that he is passionate about his job and wants to continue doing his work, however, the pay is minimal.

Sarah Pearson, President of  the School Board, noted that she values and respects the teacher aides of Piedmont and that the School Board will look into the matter.

Another major issue discussed at the meeting was the manner in which the school officials addressed the sexual harassment allegations brought against Mr. Mark Cowherd. Mr. Cowherd teaches Modern World History, APUSH (Advanced Placement United States History), and AP Euro (Advanced Placement European History) at Piedmont High School.

Ms. Sherman, a high school parent, informed the attendees of the School Board meeting that during the AP Euro trip, last year, Mr. Cowherd had acted very inappropriately in front of her daughter, who graduated in 2017. Her daughter reported Mr. Cowherd after her graduation and soon afterward four other female students came forward with similar stories of sexual harassment. She said that these students stated that Mr. Cowherd had made sexual advances, had drunk alcohol when in their presence, had caressed their arms and shoulders, and had made inappropriate and sexual comments through text messaging and email.

Ms. Sherman set rumors to rest when she informed the audience that the reason the students waited until after graduation to report Mr. Cowherd was because they feared retaliation. Many of them had asked Mr. Cowherd for letters of recommendation and as seniors they knew that if they reported Mr. Cowherd he could withdraw his recommendation. Ms. Sherman also told the School Board that she was furious that Mr. Cowherd was investigated, found guilty, but allowed to return to school. Ms. Sherman noted that this is inexcusable.

Esther Rodgers, a member of the community and parent, told the audience that she has a son who is in Mr. Cowherd’s class. She expressed her concern to the School Board, noting that Mr. Cowherd, as a teacher, has a major impact on the young men in the classroom. If he creates an uncomfortable environment for everyone, this is detrimental to everyone’s learning. Ms. Rodgers also noted that people who have come forward need to be supported by the District. In her opinion, Mr. Cowherd should be kept away from students; he is a predatory teacher who should be immediately dismissed from the school faculty.

Kim Hunter, an Alameda County District Attorney, also spoke about the issue. Ms. Hunter works in molestation and she noted that in Piedmont there has been a chain of inexcusable behavior. First, there was the High School Fantasy Football Slut League. Then there was the anti-semitism assembly and now there is this conflict with sexual harassment at school. Ms. Hunter noted that children make mistakes and hopefully they will learn from them, but the first thing parents must do is listen to their children.

President Sarah Pearson addressed the audience and noted that the School Board is looking into the matter and that she is glad that so many members of the community were willing to come forward.

Another topic of discussion during the meeting was the H1 update. Mr. Brady told the School Board that there is now full documentation concerning the construction of the student building and the Alan Harvey Theater.

Brady also noted that there is a new policy called Board Policy 3290, which addresses the way in which the District names facilities. Mr. Brady informed the audience that the Board has the power to rename a District building. In addition, with the consent of the individual, the Board can name a facility in recognition of an outstanding individual who made a significant contribution to the school, to the community, or to the state.

The next topic of conversation was CAB – refinancing. The speaker, who did not identify himself, explained that in order to rebuild Havens Elementary, the School District had to take out a loan. The loan they took out was called a CAB. The speaker noted that taxes have increased among the community as well as property tax bills and therefore it is more reasonable for the District to refinance their loans for CAB loans are based on how much you house costs. In other words, the District should switch to a SIB loan.

School Board member Cory Smegal said that she appreciated his concern about the issue and that they will look into it.

To wrap up the discussion Mr. Booker, the Piedmont School Superintendent, noted that the District is opening up Article 6 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2018-2020, and they are opening retirement incentives. In addition, he also announced that the District is looking into revising the Working Budget.

 After the School Board meeting came to an end, I had a conversation with Sarah Wozniak about the topics discussed. Ms. Wozniak, the leader of Title 9 for the Piedmont School District, was at the Board meeting because she wanted to express her concerns regarding Mr. Cowherd. She informed us that after attending the meeting she felt very emotional. She also mentioned that she was proud to see the community show support for the girls who came forward against Mr. Cowherd. Ms. Wozniak also noted that the District will be talking about what happened and discussing what next step should be taken to address this matter in the next few days. She also said that her next step will be working with other high school students to discuss how students can confidently speak up about these matters.

Overall, I thought this meeting was very informational and I am glad that I attended it. Though I had a lot to say about the issues discussed during the meeting, I chose to not express my opinion because I did not feel comfortable announcing my opinion to the public on the matters presented.

I also spoke to Mr. Keller before and he recommended that I remain quiet during the Board meeting. But, if I were to have said anything during the meeting, I would have said that I am very proud of the girls who came forward in regards to Mr. Cowherd. I think it is very important that students feel safe at school and don’t feel they will be punished for making a complaint. Though I did not have Mr. Cowherd, I think that if Mr. Cowher made many young girls feel uncomfortable for several years, than he should be dismissed from the school faculty.

by Madison Aikawa, Piedmont High School Senior


On October 25, 2017, I attended an important School Board Meeting at City Hall in Piedmont. The School Board meets about twice a month and discusses important issues about the district. In the School Board meeting that I attended, they discussed an important matter that’s been going on for about two months with a well-known Piedmont High School history teacher, Mark Cowherd. Parents expressed their outrage about the teacher’s role in the District. In addition to the School Board Meeting, teachers from different schools from the Piedmont District discussed the CSCA and teacher aides better pay wage.

As the meeting began, parents and teachers were given the opportunity to speak upon an issue they were concerned about outside the agenda. It was a public opportunity where they could come up to the podium and propose an issue or topic and share it with the School Board. At this time, the meeting started with the topic of Communication and Announcements. As I continued to watch and observe, a third-grade teacher at Beach Elementary School, Alaleh Ford came up to the podium and spoke about teacher aides. A teacher’s aide is an individual who helps a teacher with instructional responsibilities. She spoke about the goals of being a teacher’s aide, which include setting goals, grouping, planning and higher chances of success. She spoke on how teacher aides spend time adjusting work schedules on Thursday and Friday to work on classwork longer and then rotate each week. They also spend time being accessible to students’ needs and make it easier for them. In speaking about teacher aides, she hopes to see teacher aides be supported by the District.

An important issue arose as the next speaker came to the podium to discuss the inappropriate actions by a well-known history teacher. A parent of a recent high school graduate and freshman college student, Lisa Sherman spoke about the troubles that her daughter faced from her AP Euro teacher, Mark Cowherd. She was surrounded by many supporters, parents who were concerned about the current situation. Some of the parents who supported Lisa’s protest held up signs that said, “#MeToo”. #MeToo is a hashtag that was created online to indicate that someone has experienced some form of sexual harassment. Her daughter and four other students reported that Mr. Cowherd had sexually harassed them when they were seniors. Lisa Sherman expressed her anger and feelings to the School Board and her concerns about the school community for students. She also mentioned that when her daughter first reported the incident, four other students have come out and spoken against Mr. Cowherd’s actions.

It was reported that on an AP European trip in February, last year, 2017, Mr. Cowherd drunkenly texted sexual things to one of his students who is a female, and it made her uncomfortable. She didn’t speak up at that time due to being afraid that with the power that Mr. Cowherd held as a teacher, both her grades and her letter of recommendation for colleges would be affected.

As Lisa Sherman’s daughter reported the incident and the other students spoke up, the School District had taken immediate action by investigating the matter. During the investigation, Mr. Cowherd was put on leave for three weeks before returning to his teaching duties. When Mr. Cowherd returned to school following the investigation, parents and current students from his class were sent a letter from Piedmont High School Principal Littlefield, welcoming back Mr. Cowherd. Lisa Sherman and other parents spoke against this letter as it was poorly written with bad word choices.  They felt their voices were not heard.

Lisa Sherman’s argued from past experiences that Mr. Cowherd inappropriately touched students on the shoulders, backs, and elbows and drank alcohol in front of students at various times. She also argued that students were uncomfortable with the nicknames given to them by the teacher.

It was also shared that some male students from Mr. Cowherd’s classes doubted her daughter’s claim and might think that Mr. Cowherd’s behavior was validated. With Mr. Cowherd’s power determine grades, write letters of recommendation, and physical custody of the student through the school hour would surely affect those students who were sexually harassed by the teacher, claimed Lisa Sherman. She also stated that students were intimidated by him, which made them uncomfortable and fear him.

After Lisa Sherman’s speech, a Deputy District Attorney from Alameda County, Kim Hunter, came to the podium. She argued against Mr. Cowherd’s actions and sided with the statements made by parents and the recent PHS graduates who reported the issue. She argued that the voices of the students need to be heard, not silenced. She shared her story of how she got molested and no one listened.

Some people tend to think that sexual harassment is not a big deal, but Kim Hunter says  that “it’s a big deal, it’s a very big deal!” No means no, and yes means yes. Sexual harassment is never ok and she strongly believes that we should listen more to the students and be by their side. She ended her speech by saying a powerful statement, “You get rid of him.”

Before the School Board meeting started, I got to interview a parent, Jamie Pehanick who was present during the meeting. She came because she wanted to hear what Lisa Sherman had to say about Mr. Cowherd’s actions. She mentioned that she was “disappointed in Mr. Cowherd’s inappropriate behavior.” She is concerned for the students, including her daughter, who currently attends school in Piedmont, about the conduct of Mr. Cowherd.  She was also concerned about the school’s “due process and law and regulations” and wanted changes. She believes the administration’s letter wasn’t properly written and the administration should have answered the parents and students questions regarding the situation.

I know by her reaction that she would be pleased with the turnout from the meeting and hopes that the School Board and the District will do the right thing.

In my opinion, I could only hear enough facts and arguments presented by parents against Mr. Cowherd. I personally don’t know Mark Cowherd, as I never had him as a teacher, so I can’t say where I stand with the situation.  But I do believe that what’s best for him is to resign and not face the students, if he were to come back from his second leave.

I don’t condone sexual harassment. It’s never okay. I do believe that the word choice in the letter written to the students and parents welcoming back Mr. Cowherd was poorly written and it could have been stated better. I believe that the first investigation should have taken longer than three weeks to investigate the situation and that the situation should have been addressed to the current students in his class in the beginning. Sexual harassment cases should be taken seriously and not get shut down in a short amount time following the reporting.

What Mr. Cowherd did was not acceptable. His behavior and his conduct should be penalized. Mr. Cowherd has subsequently been placed on his second leave and second investigation.

The next day, a Consent Assembly took place at Piedmont High School for the freshman and the seniors to discuss why it’s important to have consent in sexual relationships. Near the end of the assembly, Principal Littlefield came up to the stage and addressed the situation with Mr. Cowherd to the freshman and seniors. He announced that Mr. Cowherd is on his second leave and a second investigation was issued. He also spoke about the letter and mentioned that the letter was written poorly with bad word choices and could have been addressed better. On Friday afternoon, The Piedmont Highlander, school newspaper, announced that Mr. Cowherd had now resigned from his teaching duties.

by Eesha Shah, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.

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