Future of HISP program in question

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The C. K. McClatchy HISP Council sent out a “HISP eAlert” notifying CKM families of Ellen Wong’s, Humanities and International Studies Program Coordinator on Jan. 15 of her seemingly abrupt decision to resign effective June 2020 should SCUSD fail to “take action to make improvements at McClatchy.”

This announcement immediately sparked speculation about the fate of HISP without its founder.

“If she leaves and no one takes over as HISP coordinator and other HISP teachers also leave then HISP will deteriorate, and that will cause problems for the entirety of the school,” said Elli Arzbaecher (HISP ‘20).

Language in the eAlert also suggests that the problems that have led to her resignation, as well as the possible consequences of her stepping down, are McClatchy and SCUSD-wide issues:

“Although Mrs. Wong’s resignation may seem to affect only the HISP program, its roots stem from the following circumstances that affect the entire McClatchy student body.”

The letter goes on to outline six “circumstances” that influenced Wong’s decision, each more vague than the previous: “Lack of attention by campus leadership to new staffing, […] lack of confidence in school leadership, indifferent attitude toward recruiting qualified teachers, questionable ethics in reallocating student funds to pay staff members, not actively supporting the superintendent’s vision toward equity and access in HISP, [and] lack of a HISP successor.”

When asked their first reactions to Wong’s announcement, Nate Starace, HISP world cultures teacher, said “I was saddened, but I understood why. [I’ve] watched it build up over the years,” and HISP English teacher Bill Maxwell said “[his] heart sank. For her to even consider this would mean that the situation must be completely untenable. ”

“Students had a lot of questions,” continued Starace. “There is still a lot of uncertainty. [It is] hard to speak for all of the students. They aren’t too sure what is happening or what next year looks like.”

“I’ve seen signs of panic mostly in the underclassmen,” added Maxwell. “Some have asked me to write letters of recommendation for Christian Brothers. Upperclassmen seem to be pretty sanguine about it. They are upset but see it as another thing on a long list.”

Regarding the district’s involvement, Starace commented, “I have not seen any evidence of them attempting to improve circumstances at McClatchy. Therefore, I can’t see them all of a sudden doing so.” Maxwell agreed but said he is “choosing to stay positive even if there is no evidence to support being positive.”

As the news spread, unanswered questions dominated conversations such as Will Mrs. Wong retire from teaching altogether? and what will happen to HISP?

Starace said he “believe[s] next year there will be a program, but it may not be what it is now.”“I will not leave CKM, but will stay on teaching, no question,” said Wong. “There are no plans to change the program at all and if in June I still feel it is necessary to step down, then there will be an effort to find a replacement.”

Wong is a fixture at CKM with or without the HISP program. Her legacy will continue to inspire students and teachers alike no matter her final decision. “She does an amazing job even just as a teacher,” said social science teacher Tammy Abdo.

“Not just students are learning from her; I gain from her expertise and how she runs things and how she does things, and just being entrenched in it you learn so much from her.” Maxwell added, “Mrs. Wong is the strongest person I know and the best leader I could imagine.”