Thursday, April 19, 2007

Administrative Idiocy: Parents And Teachers Fight Back

Administrators in one Texas school district really know how to disrespect teachers and anger parents:
ANNA – The story of Black Friday has shaken the small Anna school district, but tonight many people here hope to make it a legend of the past.

Some residents of this rural Collin County town have painted their cars, donned T-shirts and posted signs to protest Black Friday, the day known by staff for the practice of publicly firing teachers.

Many parents and teachers plan to attend tonight's school board meeting when the board is scheduled to hear appeals in closed session from three staff members who say they were pushed out of their jobs in a humiliating way the day before spring break.

Black Friday drew widespread attention last month when staff members told the school board that administrators dressed in black suits had pulled them aside in front of their co-workers to notify them that their contracts wouldn't be renewed for the coming school year, tantamount to firing in the education field.

"I can't believe they can get away with doing that," said Shannon West, who plans to attend the meeting with several other parents. "They've got it so all the teachers are scared. What kind of work environment is that?"

Some of them accused officials of retaliation tied to TAKS testing security breaches, nepotism and other issues. Joe Wardell, the district's superintendent, declined to comment on specific personnel matters but said he plans to review the dismissal process.

Former Central Campus principal Laura Jenks and two teachers, Tiffaney Taylor and Carol Falls, are scheduled to appeal the decisions tonight. Dr. Jenks was moved off campus to an administrative job on Black Friday. Ms. Taylor and Ms. Falls lost their contracts effective at the end of the school year.

Dr. Jenks said many of the teachers who spoke out against Black Friday at the March board meeting have reported to her that they have been retaliated against in the past few weeks. Some of them say administrators have eavesdropped on their classes through the intercom system, Dr. Jenks said. Others say their computers were searched.

"They do feel they are being mistreated and not treated the same as other teachers," said Dr. Jenks, who said the superintendent has treated her well.

Dr. Wardell said he hasn't received any reports of retaliation.

"I can't imagine how to respond to that," he said when asked about the intercom allegations. "Why would anyone want to be doing something like that?"

Ms. Falls, one of the teachers who was let go, said she's confronted some people who she feels have treated her differently since she spoke out.

"The general atmosphere at the campus is tense," she said.

Ms. Falls told the school board in March that she felt she was fired in retaliation for reporting that she saw Assistant Superintendent Dirk Callison enter the room holding TAKS tests and answer sheets after hours. Mr. Callison said he was looking for computer parts and didn't disturb any testing materials.

Dr. Jenks reported the testing breach to the superintendent, who reported it to the Texas Education Agency. The TEA did no further investigation.

Dr. Jenks said she believes she was pushed out of her job because she reported the breach and also recommended that the district not renew one of her employee's contracts. Others identified that employee as Mr. Callison's wife, Jan, an art teacher at Central Campus.

"I care about my teachers, and I care about my kids, and that's why I'm not on campus," Dr. Jenks said. "That's what I believe."

Mr. Callison has said there is no connection.

Ms. Taylor, a kindergarten teacher, said she's not sure why she was dismissed on Black Friday. Since the March meeting, she said, she's heard from parents and others in Anna, a tight-knit town of about 7,000 people.

"The support is great," Ms. Taylor said. "The parents have been awesome."

Connie Montgomery, whose granddaughter is in Ms. Taylor's class, made T-shirts and posted signs against Black Friday after the board meeting in March.

"The way it was handled was wrong," Ms. Montgomery said. "Ms. Taylor is one of the greatest teachers Anna has ever had. When my granddaughter goes to school and Ms. Taylor isn't there, she cries."

Many teachers said they had heard about Black Friday but thought it was a rumor until March 9, the day before spring break.

Dr. Wardell said he didn't realize the teachers had that outlook about the notification process. State law requires school districts to notify teachers whose contracts won't be renewed at least 45 days before the end of the school year, he said.

"It's good that you're letting people know that early," he said, "but the negative side of that is that you have 45 instructional days with kids, and you may wind up with a person who is not happy you made that decision."

Dr. Wardell said he would review the process in coming years.

"I never dreamed there was any level of that perception out there," he said.
Maybe the governing board ought to "review" Dr. Wadell's contract....
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