Rosemarie Ochoa knew it was coming.
Still, when the substitute came to pull her out of her 6th grade science class, then in the middle of a "super-cool" science experiment, to receive her official notice of termination, she took it hard.
"I know it's coming," Ochoa said. "I know where I stand on the senority list, I know that I'm going to get it, but it's still a huge disappointment. This year was the slap in the face."
That's because this year was the fourth year in a row.
For the next few weeks, Ochoa will be a teacher at Edendale Middle School, one of seven San Lorenzo Unified schools in Program Improvement, and one of three now in Alternative Governance. In her five years at the district, she's shuttled from kindergarten to fifth grade to sixth, exclusively between these three schools.
Her story underscores one of the difficulties faced by hundreds of districts and legions of young teachers around the state: new teachers often fill the most difficult schools, ensuring those schools will be hit hardest by the constant reshuffling of staff.
Hillside Elementary School and Edendale Middle School, the two lowest-performing schools in the San Lorenzo Unified School District, each lost 50 percent of their staff last year.
"It's a new generation of teachers coming in that just keeps getting pink-slipped," Ochoa said."With the students, it's just one more teacher out the door. Especially in Program Improvement schools, in a Program Improvement district, (students) need consistency."
Yet, little is said or written about the phenomenon, partially because, like Ochoa, many lose their senority on the first layoff and must accept positions as "temporary" teachers in order to return. Even at school board meetings, where the fate of permanent teachers is hotly debated, the far-more-numerous temporaries barely warrant a mention.
Still, layoffs impact schools in a variety of hidden ways.
Unsure whether she would have a job in the fall, Ochoa worked through her entire summer, again putting off plans for a vacation, as well as planning for the future with her boyfriend.
She was rehired the day before the first day of school, giving her just hours to adjust to middle school math and science from elementary school's single-room instruction.
"I had to learn how we do fire drills, what are the procedures for a morning, how does the scheduling work in middle school," Ochoa said. "When I'm going from school to school and grade to grade, I have to learn all over again what's expected of that student at that level."
While Ochoa was still teaching in elementary school, specialized training she received at one school was at least partially trasnferable to the next. Now, most of it was useless, a problem that's equally frustrating to administrators.
"Part of it is retaining the people that you train," said Melanie Spears, the district's director of secondary instruction . "At Edendale, the first year I came to this district, they were doing a lot of great things. I went and did some tweaks, and they jumped 20 points—but the staff is constantly different."
And then, there's the tests themselves. Ochoa said she was so nervous on the first day of the California Standardized Tests, she came to school with her shirt on inside out and backward.
"She’s actually a fantastic teacher, and it’s amazing how she’s so resilient through all of these changes," Barbara DeBarger, the district's head of Elementary Instruction, said of Ochoa.
Peers and administrators agree. Yet her seniority—decimated in part by repeated RIFs (the term means 'reduction in force', though teachers use it interchangeably with laid-off or pink-slipped)—virtually guarantees that, should she land another temporary assignment in the district in the fall, she'll lose it again by the spring.
But even that is far from certain. When she was RIFed the first time, Ochoa had 24 months of rehire rights. Those rights expire this summer.
Still, she said she's hopeful.
"Last year, they called me the day before school started," she said. "School starts at 8:25, and (this year) they'll call me at 7 a.m. and tell me to come."