Monday, June 27, 2011

Parents question mass exodus of beloved teachers

This is what happens when effective teachers leave the classroom in numbers: Parents attentive to the needs of their children step up and start asking questions.

It isn't clear why almost a dozen teachers at St. Johns High School on Johns Island have vacated their positions, all at once, and the district office is making every effort to say it isn't being "initiated by the district." But the superintendent does make clear to the Charleston Post & Courier that she "want[s] the new principal to lead change. That school is at risk, and ... I'm not comfortable with the status quo."

A public meeting is scheduled at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the high school, 1518 Main Road, to give parents a chance to air their concerns.

Take a look at the Post & Courier's notice of the matter:

The 10 St. John's High employees who will not be there during the upcoming school year are: two math teachers, one of whom was the department head; the social studies department head; a science teacher; a Spanish teacher; a special education teacher; a literacy specialist; a JROTC instructor; a coach; and a part-time band teacher.

Brenda Nelson, the district's director of community outreach, had explanations for virtually every position, such as retirement, transferring to another school closer to an employee's home, and elimination of a position because of lack of funding. The two assistant principals had to reapply for their jobs because of the school's receipt of a federal School Improvement Grant, and the guidance counselor had to reapply because that was an interim appointment, she said.

District 9 (Johns Island) Constituent School Board Chairwoman Andrea Murray said some of the staff members who are leaving are responsible for leading the improvement the school has seen in its exit exam scores. She expects scores to improve again this year, and she's worried that the departure of so many staff, especially some who were well-respected in the community, will hurt the school. Parents and residents are rattled, she said.

"I'm not clear on why there is such turnover," she said. "We had great teachers and now we won't have them and nobody is telling us what happened. We want to know why they're leaving. We are the voice of the community, and they are very much concerned about the direction of the school."

McGinley said the district has an obligation to respond if the community has questions. She's pleased with the changes the school's new principal, William Runyon, is making, and she's optimistic about its future.

The old saying goes, Where there's smoke, there's fire.

Maybe there's nothing sinister behind this sudden wave of departures by experienced, effective instructors and instructional leaders. But everyone knows from their own life experience that professionals who are satisfied in their workplace tend to stay where they are, even past retirement eligibility, and even when they have to drive further to get to work.

There have been enough other examples of townsfolk being resettled, willingly or unwillingly, when a new sheriff comes to town, that this incident on Johns Island bears closer scrutiny.

If you have children there, be sure to attend the meeting on Wednesday and ask -- loudly, clearly and until a straight answer is delivered: What is being done to keep experienced, effective professionals in their classrooms and at their posts to meet the needs of the district's schoolchildren? And what changes are being made for the sake of change that might drive such professionals out of their careers, or away from this school?

Just for good measure, it might be a good idea for parents on Johns Island to take the initiative to draft, circulate, collect and tabulate the results of a morale survey at Johns Island High School and other schools in the district. If things are great at the high school and elsewhere, administrators should welcome the opportunity to have an anonymous, objective and scientific process prove it.

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