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Students, parents rally to win tenure for La Entrada teacher

Recommendation for denial ignites fierce campaign for teacher

It's official. Latin teacher Michael Dumbra has tenure at La Entrada Middle School.

Students and former students of Mr. Dumbra's Latin classes whooped and hollered and clapped for joy on Friday, March 9, in the La Entrada library, as did their parents and teachers, upon learning that the beloved Latin teacher had been granted tenure, and that the recommendation to deny it to him had been roundly rejected.

"I'm really happy that it turned out the way that it did, and Mr. Dumbra definitely deserves to keep his job," said Audrey Proulx, a La Entrada alumna now attending Pinewood School in Los Altos.

Ms. Proulx had spoken earlier that day to an overflow crowd in the library at a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Las Lomitas Elementary School District.

"Mr. Dumbra is the best teacher I have ever had," she said. "He is that rare teacher (who) can inspire not only the smart kids, but the kids that need extra help. … Mr. Dumbra should be winning teaching awards, not being fired."

Board president Lee Anderson said the trustees, in closed session, decided unanimously to grant Mr. Dumbra's tenure after listening to an hour and a half of undiluted praise for him in public from one speaker after another.

"It would be foolish to get rid of a great teacher," said parent Ron Espeseth as he held back tears.

"(Firing) a good teacher is what I'd like to call stabbing yourself in the foot, or shooting yourself in the foot, or whatever kind of self-inflicting pain you want to pick," said seventh-grader Timothy Coleman.

"Mike Dumbra makes me proud of my profession," said Spanish teacher Dorian Dunne. "He's just phenomenal and this district is phenomenal and, to me, that's a good match."

Why?

Tenure is decided by the board, but La Entrada administrators -- there are two: principal and assistant principal -- make the recommendations after a two-year probationary period, said Principal Dee Brummett.

Mr. Dumbra learned of the recommendation against him on Tuesday, March 6, said a parent close to the La Entrada community.

Why would a teacher so profusely admired not be recommended for tenure? "That's a great question and it's simply one that I cannot answer," Ms. Brummett said, citing confidentiality. Asked if she was happy that Mr. Dumbra had received tenure, she replied "Yes, I am."

Confidentiality concerns also prevented Assistant Principal Pattie Dullea from discussing the answer to that question with the Almanac.

Who is that guy?

Mr. Dumbra, 34, has a master's degree in Latin and Greek from Stanford University and taught in graduate school there before coming to La Entrada. He also teaches seventh-grade core classes.

He's done other things, too. "I've had every other job on the planet," he said in an interview, including work in construction, a grocery store, and as a janitor and a dish washer.

His philosophy of teaching "is the same thing that any teacher would say: be an example for kids." His work, in the classroom and out of it, reflects his own values, which include an appreciation for objectivity and critical thinking.

"It's not that I want to teach kids what to think," he said. "It's that I want to teach them how to think" and how to use their heads every day. Some kids soak it up, but some are resistant. "If you can get to them, that's where it really pays off. That's the goal."

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