By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Antonia Rivas didn't want much out of life. She loved her family: two daughters living in Houston and a son in the U.S. Army stationed in Louisiana. She liked cooking for them and their children on Saturdays. She loved the school where she worked — Shadowbriar Elementary — the only job she'd held since coming to the United States 16 years ago. She loved her church.
The 69-year-old didn't speak much English. As a custodian at Shadowbriar, located near Westheimer and S. Dairy Ashford in the Houston Independent School District, she didn't make much money — a little more than $20,000 a year — but it was enough for her to keep up with the mortgage on the small one-story house she'd been able to buy a few years back.
But she didn't have enough money to retire and still make the mortgage payments. And she wanted that house. A Bolivian national who had residency status here, she considered a house a very important achievement, two of her children say. And she didn't want help with it.
So she kept working. She didn't drive, so she rode the bus to work or one of her relatives would give her a lift. If she could hang on two more years till her son got out of the service and could come live with her, she'd be able to handle everything.
Except that she couldn't.
In the last days before the Christmas break, when things were already busy enough at the school, the head custodian fell off a ladder while trying to change a lightbulb, breaking ribs and other bones. As the custodial employee with the longest time on the job, Rivas became head of the crew.
But no replacement was brought in. Instead, Rivas's son and daughter say, their mother was told she was going to have to work a 16-hour day to cover for the missing man. Principal Lauren Topek gave her task after task, and one fellow employee said when Rivas finished her work and tried to go home early one day, Topek said no, she hadn't finished her shift.
"She told me, 'I have to work 16 hours. They don't have anybody else,'" Marisol Humerez said. "They told her just one day." But when she came home the next day, Humerez said, her mom said she'd been told to come in the next day for another 16 hours.
And the next day, and the next day.
Others at the school and her family say Rivas voiced her unhappiness, complaining that she was overwhelmed and exhausted, with no time to sleep. But she didn't refuse the duty, frightened that she might lose her job if she told new principal Topek she couldn't handle all the hours, all the work. She'd been worried all year about the young principal, afraid she wouldn't like having someone of Rivas's age around.
Finally, the winter break came, and Rivas could get some rest. Her son was coming in from Louisiana. The families would celebrate the holiday, and there were lots of activities and services planned at their church.
The only pall over the proceedings was that Rivas was so tired. And that she had been told she was going to have to go in to school to work the Tuesday after Christmas.
She never made it. On December 18, while at church, Rivas fainted and, once revived, complained of a blinding headache. She was rushed to the emergency room with what turned out to be a brain aneurysm. Three days later, after life support was removed, she died without ever having spoken to her family again. Her funeral was held two days before Christmas.
Several employees think she was worked to death and blame Principal Topek, saying she made Rivas work impossible hours. Certainly, there's no way of knowing whether the work in any way caused Rivas's death. It could have happened no matter what Rivas did.
The funeral turnout was impressive. Several people, including Shadowbriar's new and former principal, came to do their part to honor the custodian's memory as a woman who worked hard and liked to give hugs to others.
But all that wasn't enough for one employee, who wrote Joanna Pasternak, a union rep with the Houston Federation of Teachers, to say this:
On December 23 we (the staff at Shadowbriar Elementary School) went to Antonia Rivas' funeral. For sixteen years, she was one of our custodians. She died from an aneurysm that happened on the prior Sunday. She told me the last week of school before the Christmas break that she was overloaded with work and that she had to work from 6AM to 10 PM and she did not have enough time to sleep. She was tired and angry for this situation. The last Friday before Winter break I saw her at 7:30 AM trying to carry eight 6x3 ft tables upstairs. The elevator wasn't working and I told her to wait for another person to help her. She said that the principal wanted the tables upstairs immediately. She was a 69 years old petite woman. Where is the compassion?
Many teachers like me are angry for what happened and we want to speak for Antonia who is in heaven and her family that may not know how Antonia was treated in Shadowbriar this year by the principal. The death of Antonia may be consequence of all the extra work that was imposed to her.
For those who care
HISD has become an inferno since Grier took over. His reign of terror has filtered down from top to bottom. Humanity has left our state's largest school district and ultimately, it is the children of our state that will be pay the biggest price. When you are afraid, misterable, uncertain, and constantly criticized, how could anything good come out of an organization.
Topek was a scared minion and to weak to allow humanity to reign. All her Ivy League education didn't make a rodent's rump's woth of difference. God have mercy on Antonia Rivas and Topek. In a way, they both are victims. I only hope that Topek can find redemption.
The problem has NEVER BEEN TOPEK it was her boss CAVAZOS!!!!!!! Topek did what her boss CAVAZOS told her to do. Know we still have the problems!
To the family, please ask the district to release the numerous complaints against Topek when she was a science content specialist. Who cares about her educational background!!! When you are rude, arrogant, and constantly belittle others, Harvard goes down the drain. She should have NEVER been allowed to become a principal. I guarantee the district will brush her past under the rug but if you do the research it's all there and so are all her former co-workers and supervisors!!
I guess I am the only one brave enough to use my name. I dont care what u guys put on here. The first person to see me to be more than a person to push around and treat like a big nothing was Lauren Topek. Yep she wanted everyoneto push to the limit and yep she was hard on us but she gave me a chance. I also ssid Wow and thinks the truth will set you free is a sick person. Topek it was hardwork but Thank u for the change.
Topek is just a puppet for Cavazos, Sarabia, and Grier. Speak up at the town meeting to get rid of all of them! At the least, they should fire Topek and Cavazos.
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Mark your calendars: Town Hall Meeting Monday, February 20th from 6:00 -7:30 p.m. Shadowbriar 2650 Shadowbriar DrHouston, TX 77077
If that had been my mom, Principal Topek would be wearing her Harvard degree where the sun does not shine. The superintendent and the school district, unless something is missing here, should be held accountable for "no systems in place," sued personally and the district as well. Something tells me that this is going to cost HISD, which has been a laughing stock for years, big bucks and, deservedly, maybe a few heads. Sixteen hour days on your feet means someone has it in for you. Screw HISD.
This is a story of a very sick school. The staff, teachers, and parents need to be protected in order for a wholesome education to be delivered to the studemts. School is ALL about the kids and their teachers. School is NEVER about principals. Did someone forget to teach Topek that a school is where an administrator SERVES and not RULES? It appears that Topek was treating Shadowbriar like her own little kingdom. NEWSFLASH: Topek, the school is where YOU serve the teachers, parents, staff, students and the community. Get it????
Sounds like Shadowbriar is in urgent need of TLC. The powers to be should be meeting with the staff. And the parents.Forget Topek. She is a cancer on that campus.
What a travesty. Good leadership is taught to most all HISD personnel going through principal trainings. Apparently, Topek was either absent or failed the part when effective leadership styles was taught in class. I also cannot imagine that her superiors are not aware of her lack of ability to lead. Topek needs to be removed. If not immediately, then at least by the end of the academic year. The school needs a dynamic leader. The school needs sometime to heal from her abuse and poor management.
" To tie this old lady's death somehow to the principal of a school where she worked is totally ludicrous."
What's ludicrous is that you are so blind as to ignore a person who is failing miserable.. literally leaving dead people in her path. You see you are one of those people who believe "leaders" are to be followed blindly. You are blind. How sad for you.Your tolerance of BAD performers in our education's leaders is the ROOT of our failure as public education system.
As the parent of 5 children that finished from HISD schools ,I know that the cooperation between the principal and their staff ,the principal and the parents is paramount to the success of the educational experience for our children .But, having said that ,nothing justifies the mistreatment of the staff to achieve those goals. Frankly, some principlals lack the people skills to help our children without abusing their staff. Nothing illustrates this more than the mistreatment of Ms. Antonia Rivas . Don't let this good lady be forgotten and this incident be swept under the rug
I have read comment after comment I personally have never been mistreated by Topek. If she speaks I speak if not what to hell who give a dam. But I can honestly say that I have never heard anything postive about her every thing has been bad. With all respect to Antonia she was lazy as hell and never did any thing in the class rooms except empty the trash, she never did anything else all the staff knows this they just dislike Topek and have to lay the blame some where so put it on Topek. I work with May for several years she too was worthless and had her picks. We need younger people to be leaders and make change. I really don't care if Topek stay or go because the next Principal may be even wroser.
The teacher that was mention that had the brain surgery and working half days she to is old and worthless Topek was right to make her stay the entire day from I have heard her assistance do all the work. The last two left out on a jet to be free of her work load and lazyness. For the last several years that I have been at Shadowbrair I have been trying to get away, Topek is ???? what Shadowbrair need so in ending LET'S KEEP TOPEK. I know after reading this there will be a lot of mad people but who give a DAM. FREEDOM OF SPEECH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I have read that every injustice cries out for justice. I believe that in the case of Antonia, God will give her justice.
At the end of last year, Patti May decided to leave Shadowbriar because of the excessive pressure placed upon her by the SIO, Patsy Cavazos. Cavazos wanted her to get rid of teachers will low EVAAS scores. May would not do it because that action was against her values and beliefs. She became increasingly afraid that Cavazos would walk in any day and fire her, even though she had been the only principal in the last 10 years to lead the school to a recognized standing. She left the school in great shape, with wonderful programs in place for children.
Enter Topek, who wasted no time dismantling the programs and immediately writing up teachers and office staff for ridiculous things. Rosario, along with every other staff member was afraid of losing her job. She did whatever she was told to do. Rosario had always been an employee that went the extra mile and never complained.
Topek was not directly responsible for Rosario's death. However, she was responsible for not being a strong leader and making good decisions. As soon as Mr. Celouis hurt himself and wouldn't be at work for several days, she should have picked up the phone and contacted the maintenance department, demanding a substitute plant operator. As principal, she had the authority and the responsibility to do that. But, inexperience and lack of common sense prevailed.
Margaret Downing's story is about the death of a wonderful woman and the events and working environment that lead up to her death. I feel sorry for Topek - she was elevated to a position of power and authority over a school community way before she was ready to assume such responsibilities. I am sure that her actions are directed by Patsy Cavazos. The fault lies with Cavazos, Sarrabia, and ulitimately,Grier for creating a culture of fear within our schools.
I think that Sarrabia should bring back Ms. May to pick up the pieces of a broken school. The parents would be thrilled, the children would cheer, and the staff would do whatever it takes to turn it around. I'm sure that Ms. May would come back under two conditions - Let her do her job without any harrassment, and get rid of Cavazos!
" Including this.... Once I saw Topek walk past a piece of paper that was on the ground in the hallway. She radioed to a custodian to come to that hallway and pick up the paper."
Are you kidding? Is that taught at HARVARD?
Dont have to kiss her butt, and if I get fired that will be fine, The Lord will make sure I am fine. If you work at Shadowbriar or your child goes there come see me and I will tell you about Him, He is good all the time !!!!!!!!!!!!
Absolutely! Cavasos has created a poisonous atmosphere at all her schools. And she does not listen to any feedback from parents or teachers. She is the cause of a lot of issues at the Westside feeder schools.
Didn't Topek's professors, principal (when she taught ONE year) and her supervisor from her coaching stint notice what a control freak she was and what a misfit for a leadership role? Maybe someone should send Harvard this newsletter!!!! What crap does Harvard produce????
Robert. Robert. What do you do for a living? I assume you work.Here is a CBS report about "Work Stress Can Kill You". There a ZILLION studies done on work related illness, depression, heart attacks..etc.So YES, Topek has blood on her hands.
Now to get to your second comment. What do you think this article is and all the comments here are? We are TRYING to get rid of WORTHLESS leader. Now why don;t you go play in your play room, and leave this to the ADULTS here to handle. Good boy!
what that hell you talking about, she was lazy you dang fool, she was a hard working lady she worked there for 16 years.
This comment as well as many others are so disrespectful! If you are going to speak on things going on at Shadowbriar at least know what you are talking about. Be there, see how hard the people work, see that most people that work there care for kids and make sure that kids get what they need on a day to day. I have been there a while, seen many leaders go and come and none were better or worse just different. You want to blame someone, I cant give you a name but I can give you a way to help us. Get down on your knees and pray that Antonia is with God and that all the kids at Shadowbriar grow to be wonderful people and successful adults. This all started by calling for respect for a woman that has passed on, and you people have turned it into something so nasty that I can smell the s**** all around me. WOW, I cant believe how low some people can get. Thank you
Your comment was hard to comprehend. What I do understand was that you called the janitor lazy. How do you know that? Where you her direct supervisor and did you know all her duties and the hours she worked? If you do not, then how can you even comment on something you are not sure. This lady is gone and for you assume she was lazy is just low down dirty BS. You need Jesus and I hope you are not a teacher or teacher assistant. Poor kids and poor co-workers that have to work with someone like you.
"With all respect to Antonia she was lazy as hell and never did any thing in the class rooms except empty the trash"... ARE YOU FEKKING RETARDED OR JUST HERE FOR ENTERTAINMENT??? You do know there is task list custodians complete you moron? And most of what they do after trash runs, is either done late after room is EMPTY or by a person coming behind them who only does that.. each custodial team has a system.. what the fekk is your excuse?
I hope to God you are not an educator. It would be a complete travesty if someone of your caliber were "teaching" children anything. For Gods sake, before you open your mouth ever again, or write a single word, PLEASE learn a little grammar. Start with past and present tenses. Its taught in second grade.
YEAH YOU ARE RIGHT FREEDOM OF SPEECH!! AND AN ASS KISSER TOO!! Who ever you are, why don't you let one of the ELA teachers teach you a little grammar because mannnnn this mess is horrible in every way possible. Bless your little heart. Sounds like you are every bit of bitter and unhappy with whomever is in the adminstrator's position. Boy I wish I knew who you were because I would personally march my ass to wherever you are in the building and blast your dumb ass with the words that would roll off of my tongue! Stupid Ass! But something tells me that you are NOT a teacher because hopefully you would know better to post a very horrible comment like this and be proud of yourself. Get a life...FREEDOM OF SPEECH MY ASS! Now go run and tell TOPEK that!! How dare you disrespect someone is no longer on this earth. Again, Boy I wish I knew who you were because I would have your phony ass in tears!!!
Well. Since it appears there are MORE negative comments about Topek than there are positive, In fact even your own comments can't be seen as exactly favorable. So...playing by your rules, why don;t you take Topek with you and BEGONE!!!!! Both of you belong in the same hell.
And you call yourself an educator???? SO MUCH DISRESPECT FOR A DEAD PERSON....HAVE YOU NO FEAR???? Yes, you have the right to free speech, however, no one has the right to be so vile, viscous, and heartless as you have been in your note. Yes, I agree we need young leaders, but not all young leaders are full of SHIT as Topek is. There are plenty young and dynamic leaders in HISD. And Topek is NOT one of them. It appears that you are not very dynamic either. For heaven's sake SHOW SOME DECENCY. Oops. I am assuming, you have some. My bad!
OK, OK, OK! I love this comment! But I know that if my name were Patti May, I would not come back to the shambles that Shadowbriar is in right now. I definitely know that her heart was in it through and through, but it is going to take much work to get Shadowbriar back in "good" shape. As far as Cavazos, that poor little woman, she is just as evil as she looks. Now, I don't know who the pupeteer is in this case. I just know that Topek is doing everything that she is being told to do and she is doing it. Basically, I'm very confused and wish that all of these selfish administrators would look at the needs of our students and staff too consider their needs to be successful.
Yes it is because obviously she has been taught in one manner or another that her pale ass is better than others. HUH...doing others dirty will always come back at you ten-fold and guess what... guess what... Topek's day is coming very, very soon!
When I came to see you Taisha you told me my child was retarded and needed to be locked up?
Forget the lord you are going to HELL you stupid #$%
This meeting's agenda will be addressing the replacement of Topek, the prinicpal at Shadowbriar Elem. and the community needs based on their children's education. The new Candidates for the principal's position will be in the midst of the people who attends, They will be observing as the meeting is happening. Topek has no idea that candidates have been interviewed for her job. FYI it will be sooner than soon that this school gets a better leader than Topek. I love Shadowbriar and I love the teachers!! They deserve to LOVE their jobs again because right not the morale around the entire campus is tremedously low. Except for those few people (I won't name anyone) who loves Topek.
TAISHA...STOP IT!! You did first-handedly see how Topek treated the staff. So stop acting as if you did not see what was goin on. Yeah you did get a better job, that is great, but don't knock others and their experience and feelings toward the demon. Everyone is entitled to share their feelings just lke you. YES, she did mistreat everyone in some way or another. Now she did pick on others more than some, but that was because she knew which people she could REALLYYYYYY irritate.
Also, it's not about you being brave enough to use your REAL NAME on here, just like you chose to use TAISHA, others can choose what they want also.
Lastly, if you love Topek so damn much, go meet her! Her ass is about to be out of a job, if you want the same, go for it! The best advise for you is to chill, thank God that you still have a job, and let Topek go.
No, they were not made to retire. They just could not stand to work for her. Retirement was a better option.
Amen! This person, whoever they are, does not belong "educating" children until they learn basic English grammar and spelling!
Inthebackground... I PRAY you're right. I will be there. And I can't wait to see the end of (She who must not be named). Bring back my Bulldog Pledge, my school song, my Shadowbriar Spirit Song, and the Shadowbriar we all used to know and love!Join me won't you.... WE ARE THE BULLDOGS, WE GOT THE TEETH. NO MATTER WHAT WE JUST CAN'T BE BEAT. ALWAYS TRYING TO WIN THE GAME...
YOU KNOW THE REST PEOPLE!!!!SING IT OUT LOUD WITH ME!!!!