Tustin teacher makes tough choice after layoff notice

A layoff notice forced Tustin Unified teacher Jenna Landero to make a tough choice about her future.
A layoff notice forced Tustin Unified teacher Jenna Landero to make a tough choice about her future.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

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Preliminary layoff notices are forcing thousands of public school teachers to ponder choices about employment, housing, and family. That's the situation fourth-year teacher Jenna Landero has found herself in this year.

Landero teaches in room D-2 at Loma Vista Elementary in the Tustin Unified School District. Minutes after the last student left for the day, she reflects on all they accomplished on this day.

"Today we started our rock pets that we’re making and we had some art projects, did a lot of individual work with my students, working at their own levels and we flew airplanes with balloons on them as the engine, which is really fun, it didn’t work very well as it said in the book."

Landero’s a special education teacher. Her nine students have ADHD, autism, and speech and language impediments. Their instructional levels range from kindergarten through second grade. Their teacher described her job as a privilege, especially in the neighborhood she knows by heart.

"I grew up in Tustin Unified in Santa Ana and I actually went to school here at Loma Vista and I think this is actually my 4th-grade classroom. So it’s kind of neat to be in here and being on the same campus that I grew up in. It’s kind of a really cool full circle moment for me."

Last year someone nominated Landero as Tustin Unified special education teacher of the year. She’s a good teacher but she said her handful of years on the job landed her on the short list for layoffs. She received the Reduction in Force notice last month. "It’s not pink which I always think, if you’re going to give me a pink slip I want it on pink paper."

Last year she didn’t see the humor in it. It was the first layoff notice for her and other teachers. She said they felt heartbroken. The Tustin district rescinded most of those notices. This year though, Landero got a final layoff, not a notice. That’s pushed her to devise a plan for her two toddlers and her husband.

"I don’t feel like in California financially we can afford to have any more children, take care of them responsibly, and in terms of my work, every year they come up with new ways to get rid of teachers because they need to meet their bottom line."

So late last year she and her husband began to wonder whether they’d be better off moving to Arlington, Texas where many of her in-laws live. The emotional effect of that idea reached a boil a few months ago.

"We were driving in the car, and I said, ‘I can’t do it.’ And I started crying and my husband’s like, ‘OK, you either need to say yes or no because we’re telling people we’re moving and then you have a freakout and you’re saying no, we’re not moving.'"

The cost of living is cheaper there, Landero said, and Arlington public schools are hiring. She’s embraced the idea of leaving what’s familiar, but she hasn’t swallowed the bitter pill of leaving her sister, stepfather and mother in California.

"My mom’s not happy, I’m taking her grandkids away, she doesn’t talk about it much anymore because I don’t think she wants to focus on it. My sister, every once in a while, will come into our room and then she’ll leave and start crying, so it’s hard."

The entrance of her classroom at Loma Vista Elementary is strewn with empty cardboard boxes she’ll use to move to Texas at the end of July. Until the end of this school year, her foremost activity is helping her special education students thrive. She said the system she’s leaving is broken because she’s seen good teachers let go while the ones who should retire stay on.

"I think that when you find a passionate teacher and you see that they love what they do so much, that those are the ones that need to be valued and uplifted and supported."

Jenna Landero’s last day of teaching in California is June 15.