Internal strife at Hanna Boys Center

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In the wake of a dark four-year period at Hanna Boys Center – which saw a series of sexual abuse cases land the 74-year-old home for at-risk youth on a three-year probation with the state Department of Social Services – the residential school for troubled boys is embarking upon a complete overhaul of its high school teaching staff.

According to Hanna officials, the school is rehiring all of its teaching positions – and current faculty must reapply if they want to continue on with the school. At least three positions won’t be filled. Hanna officials described it to the Index-Tribune as the next steps in an ongoing reorganization strategy.

In an April 29 memo to staff, Hanna executive director Brian Farragher wrote: “Job descriptions have been revised to reflect the new expectations. All our current teaching staff will need to reapply for the available positions. We will be advertising externally for teaching positions. All faculty will need to evaluate their own readiness to meet these different expectations.”

Hanna Boys Center was founded as a home for wayward youth in 1945. Archbishop Hanna High School serves kids in eighth through 12 grades; it currently has 19 teachers, but is scaling back to 16 for the coming school year.

Farragher said in the memo that a reorganization was necessary to ensure the school was better aligned with 21st century educational practices.

“This realignment will include a new philosophical approach that combines competency-based education, trauma-informed care, and culturally sustaining pedagogy, an enhanced role for teacher leadership, a somewhat longer workday and a stronger focus on literacy,” wrote Farragher.

In recent years, Hanna has been transitioning to what Farragher calls “trauma-informed care,” a trauma-based treatment protocol that eschews punitive discipline — deemed damaging to young people largely raised in traumatizing circumstances.

The so-called trauma-informed approach is centered on building relationships and working through trauma and behaviors that result. Farragher told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in 2018 that it goes beyond handing down punishment, requiring staff members “to develop new skills, to puzzle through problems, to restore connection.”

He conceded at the time the new paradigm had been “destabilizing for us in the organization.”

The continuing reorganization and now the need to reapply for jobs has created no small amount of stress among the center’s current faculty, said several people associated with Hanna Boys Center.

The Index-Tribune spoke with nine current and former Hanna employees, all of whom requested anonymity; multiple sources cited the firing of whistleblower Timothy Norman as a reason for their discretion. Norman, the former longtime clinical director at Hanna, was fired in 2016 after raising concerns with Hanna management about drug use, drug sales and bullying among the student residents. Last year he was awarded $1.1 million in a wrongful termination lawsuit against Hanna Boys Center.

Staffers said the new model based on trauma-informed care isn’t working and isn’t a good fit for Hanna’s population. They said students face few consequences for such misbehaviors as smoking marijuana, being rude to teachers or skipping class. Staff members told the Index-Tribune they felt it was creating an unsafe atmosphere at the school.

Farragher told the Index-Tribune this week that changes such as the ones they are making are “very challenging in organizations like ours,” and they are being done “to better align our practice with the evolving science on neurodevelopment and toxic stress.”

“I am sad it has become acrimonious,” Farragher said. “I think we all want the same things for our young people, but there is a lot of new, emerging practices that are disrupting the old ways of doing things. I wish it were easier.”

As to calming any tensions within the faculty, Farragher said the best thing is to “move this process as quickly as we can for everybody’s sake.”

Some changes in leadership were made last week, he said, and this week they are conducting interviews with teachers.

Archbishop Hanna High School principal Mike Ruyle has been re-assigned as Director of Education, something Farragher said better aligns with Ruyle’s skill set. Meanwhile, Courtney Jackson and David Yale have been tapped as the school’s new program managers.

Farragher said the new faculty job descriptions reflect the direction the school and center are going. The new positions reflect a slight increase in salary, said Farragher, which will compensate for a longer work day of less than an hour per day. The extra time will be tacked on at the end of the day, for “more opportunities for relationship building and passion projects with kids,” Farragher said.

Decisions about teacher re-hires will be made in about a week, Farragher said. The administration hasn’t decided yet if other departments will also undergo a rehire process.

Staff members told the Index-Tribune that morale at the center is at an all-time low.

Farragher said they’re making an effort to “give everyone a fair shot,” but they also want to be “direct in what we’re doing.”

“We want to reassure things will be OK, but things will change for some folks,” said Farragher. “We’re going to land where we’re going to land as quickly as we can so people can make other plans.”

Added Farragher: “For the people who don’t come back, we’re working around an appropriate severance package so they’re not left high and dry.”

Contact Anne at anne.ernst@sonomanews.com.

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