By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
Again, as the letter writer says, no one can be certain that all the extra work led to Rivas's death.
But it might have helped if Rivas had been able to catch her breath before going to her maker.
By all accounts, Antonia Rivas hadn't been the only one feeling the strain this school year at Shadowbriar, a Title I third-through-fifth-grade school with more than 60 percent of the students on free or reduced-price lunches. (None of the school personnel who talked to the Press wanted their names disclosed, saying they were afraid they would be fired for speaking up. Parents also didn't want their names used, saying they feared retaliation against their children.)
Topek, who declined to be interviewed by the Houston Press, came to the school last May for a few weeks of transition with outgoing longtime principal Patti May.
It's never easy replacing a beloved principal, which by all accounts May was, but Topek seems to have stumbled at the starting gate unnecessarily. Among her first actions: abruptly announcing the dress code would change in an early-morning automated call to students' homes — which was almost immediately rescinded after parental outcry to the district — and rewriting the "school cheer" and turning it into what one parent referred to as sounding like a "North Korean chant."
Of course, given Superintendent Terry Grier's desire to rapidly improve things in HISD, no principal is going to be allowed to sit on his hands for a year — however much parents might want the status quo.
"If there's something that needs to change, he expects them to change it," said HISD spokesman Jason Spencer. "The students can't afford to wait. [But] you know you just don't go in like a bull in a china shop and change things just for the sake of changing them."
But, citing these two examples, that's exactly what parents say Topek did — make meaningless and infuriating changes that had nothing to do with academic improvement. The school already had a "recognized" rating from the Texas Education Agency in its last assessment — did it really need to revamp?
Shadowbriar employees complain that the new atmosphere at school is filled with tension and fear. "We no longer say good morning to each other," one said drily. "We say, 'How many times did you get written up?'"
All the employees we talked with said they were very upset with the way Rivas was treated and urged her to stand up to the principal, but she refused.
Parents say Topek lacks experience — she's in her early thirties and, according to them, had only a year as a classroom teacher and only three months as an assistant principal at a middle school before coming to Shadowbriar.
Spencer said Topek had been a classroom teacher during the 2002-3, 2004-5 and 2005-6 school years (although on her school Web site, Topek herself only refers to her one year as a classroom teacher) and was a science content specialist from 2006 to 2011.
"HISD principal candidates are not required to have any assistant principal experience," Spencer made clear.
Spencer also pointed to Topek's educational credentials: "She graduated summa cum laude from New York University and received her master's degree from Harvard University in 2004. She is pursuing her doctoral degree."
Big whoop, say parents. Topek refers to Harvard all the time, they say. "That's intimidating to people at our school," one said. Or, perhaps, a sign of insecurity.
Discussions with Topek don't go far, parents say. "She responds but never answers your questions," one said. Another said she felt after talking with Topek that her child "would be an experiment" at Shadowbriar. They were additionally upset when their kids came back from mid-year break to find many of them reassigned to different teachers and/or with different schedules.
They are convinced, as one said, that Topek really doesn't want to be a principal. "This is just a stepping stone to where she wants to go," another said.
When one employee missed several days of school because her daughter was sick, Topek called the daughter's school, checking to see that the child was really out of class. The principal apologized later, but, as one other employee put it: "I would like a new principal. We all have one vision, and it's not with her."
Edwin Humerez knew something was wrong when his mother didn't get up to greet him when he arrived at her home before Christmas. "Usually I would just hold the knob and she would get up. But that night she didn't get up." On Sunday, she was slow getting up again, which meant she was late for the day's activities at the church.
HISD job requirements say custodians should be able to lift 50 pounds. The custodial staff hierarchy is part of Construction and Facility Services, and its "team leaders and area managers" set the shifts and assign hours, Spencer said. There is no mandatory retirement age.
Asked if a principal was in charge of a custodian, Spencer said a principal was a "customer."
Asked if a principal or custodial department supervisor can demand a custodian work extra hours, Spencer responded: "Overtime is requested of an employee, at the employee's right of refusal."
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.
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 !!!!!!!!!!!!
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
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.
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!!!!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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!
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!
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.
" 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?
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