Thursday, February 16, 2006

A District Divided: Who Should Be Held Accountable?

Many parents in a Kentucky school district are in an uproar over the removal of a popular high school teacher from his classroom:
After his unexpected removal from Providence High School last week, supporters of William Fogle, including parents and students, staged a protest demanding he be re-instated and that district superintendent Edwina Slack (formerly Sheffield) and high school building administrator James Robinson be removed from their respective positions.

The incident is just the latest in an ongoing debate between Slack and Fogle that started in the fall over an apparent disagreement about how to discipline a particular student.

But parents told The J-E Monday that their call for Robinson’s and Slack’s ouster goes far beyond Fogle’s removal from the high school.

“There are a lot of parents aware of things going on,” said Tina Watts, the mother of Providence student Jacquie Watts. “We have a lot of other grievances. Fogle brought a lot of light to things going on.”

Among the grievances, Watts said, is a lack of adequate supply of school books, confusion about who’s responsible for student discipline at the high school and many others.

She said the parents’ list of complaints will be taken to state education officials.

“This is going to go further than the school board,” she said. “We’re not playing around about this.”

Watts also added that “there are a lot of parents willing to put their names” on the list of grievances, in response to reported comments that so far, the complaints had been made anonymously.

Rebecca Hogan, mother of student Katie Hogan, shared similar sentiments. She said one of her main concerns was the delay in preparation of the students’ class schedule.

“They (district staff) spent the first two weeks of school (preparing student schedules),” Hogan said. “They wasted those two weeks. Students weren’t attending classes.

“That should have all taken place before school started,” she added. “Schedules should have been handed out. They’re not running that school right.”

Like Watts, Hogan said her concerns are bigger than the dispute between Fogle and Slack.

“The bigger issue is with Sheffield (Slack) and Robinson,” she said. “I don’t think they are good for the school system.”

Hogan said documents validating the complaints would be provided with the list of grievances.

The day of the protest, students speaking up in support of Fogle were asked to drop the matter during school hours or leave.

Slack said the students who chose to leave were given an excused absence.

“Any of the students who we had to talk with on Friday because of their apparel or actions or anything, my statement to them was, first off, I wanted them to know I was not angry with them; I was not upset with them, and I wanted them to always stand up for what they believed in, but it was my job to make sure the school wasn’t disrupted,” Slack said.

“All of the students who checked out, we gave them an excused absence. Now, do I expect it to continue to happen day after day? No, I don’t, and we can’t continue to let them check out and have excused absences, but we did not want to hold it against them on Friday, and we didn’t.”

Slack said Fogle was reassigned as “assistant to the superintendent.”

“In that position, he would be doing several different projects for us. He’s working right now on curriculum items.

“He’s helping to develop materials that might be used in the classroom. And, you know, those type of activities are things that a lot of us do. I develop curriculum materials for teachers to help them out, and Mr. Farris, the special ed director, he gathers materials and helps teachers put things together. It’s something that a lot of us in the district do.”

She confirmed Fogle is doing his work from home, but couldn’t say for sure when he would be allowed to return to the campus.

“We’re still talking with him and his representatives... there’s not been a definite, permanent determination made of how he can best serve the students,” she said.

A substitute has taken over all responsibilities in Fogle’s classes.

Slack declined to answer questions about why Fogle isn’t allowed on the Providence campus.

This is Fogle’s first year in the Providence school district. According to Slack, district policy states that non-tenured teachers work on a yearly contract that is reviewed at the end of each school year.

Reached at his home on Friday, Fogle declined to be interviewed and referred questions to his attorney, Dennis Courtney, of Murray.

Courtney didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

On Tuesday, Providence high school students Elizabeth Creamer and Christopher Creamer opted to leave school rather than remove shirts supporting Fogle. Other students waited until after school to wear their shirts.
I'm not much of a fan of authoritarian management styles, but I think that a good argument can be made that Mr. Fogle was insubordinate. But it's difficult to be certain, as we don't have the full details and background information concerning what seems to be a long-running battle between a first-year teacher and the district's superintendent.

Having said that, I believe that when things get this out-of-hand in a school district, it's indicative of a failure of leadership at a several levels.

And as always, it's the students who will end up ultimately paying the price.
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