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Michael Rochelle: Editorial 6-22-13

SCAreadersSpeakOutCheatham County School Teachers Leaving?

With all the talk about teachers leaving the school system and reading Dr. Curtis’ response, I wanted the citizens of Cheatham County that care about education and their children to have some additional information from a former insider that still talks to different CCBOE employees in different positions throughout the county.

Many times the public doesn’t get to hear all the things going on. Employees are pressured to “obey or else”. As degreed professionals with much training, teachers may have relevant ideas. The teachers I know usually try their best and provide a much needed service to our community. To treat them with a “sit down and shut up” mentality is absurd. It appears the attitude from the top down is to control those under them without question. If someone gets out of line, demean them, demote them, and then get rid of them. This is unacceptable and is shown by the number of defections, even from lifelong Cheatham born-and-raised educators. Compounding the frustration is the fact that we are losing the teachers that had the years of longevity and multiple degrees. These were the ones teaching those advanced and dual enrollment college credit classes most other teachers aren’t qualified for.

There are many instances that could be brought up or mentioned to exemplify the unfortunate and needlessly dark work environment, and why parents and community members should be acting on their concerns. I do not want to illustrate with names. They have already been through enough grief and turmoil that I don’t want to bring them anything else but the respect that they deserve; however, I feel the public should know what has happened. There is no longer a teachers’ union to protect and defend teachers. It is now the job of the taxpayers and citizens to ensure the board is honest and publicly open with their dealings with all employees instead of “no comment.”

So instead of the many past dealings, let’s start with one of the most recent examples; two established tenured teachers, both had been at their school for several years, both were planning to return next year, and both had served under four previous principals that evaluated them and had given them tenure and positive reviews. This past year their school got its fifth different principal in eight years. This principal had no previous experience except that she was an assistant principal in a different system the previous year, and she was fired from that job. She called these two dedicated and respected teachers, individually, to her office on the very last day of work, graduation day, and gave them an official letter as they were preparing to leave the school for graduation. It wasn’t a congratulatory or appreciative letter. Surprisingly, the letter stated that each teacher was suspended without pay indefinitely for insubordination. Bewildered, the teachers understandably had questions. Not only would this new principal not even discuss the issues with them, but instead, she had the SRO officer escort them from the school property! Together, they had approximately 20 years of service as teachers in this county, but now they couldn’t even attend their school’s graduation and couldn’t walk back to their room without a police escort, like they were criminals or something. Later, thinking that they would have their situations righted, they individually went to Dr. Curtis to appeal. They were both told to resign or make a formal appeal, but it was added that if they chose to appeal the suspension, not only will they not get their job back, but the county will make sure they lose their teaching license and they wouldn’t be able to teach anywhere. However, if they chose to resign, there wouldn’t be anything negative in their file. The teachers, of course, chose to resign.

It has been questioned in the news recently why Cheatham County has so many resignations? As described with just one example teachers are being treated like disposable plates, silverware, and napkins. Use them then throw them away. When Dr. Curtis was asked about all these departures, he stated (I’m paraphrasing) the numbers were wrong, it wasn’t as many as reported (we all know you can make numbers say what you want). We have over 300 applicants to fill those openings. I wonder how many of those applicants are current and available and interested now. The real truth is that because of the lack of highly qualified teachers AND qualified applicants, SHS probably won’t have any French classes, and both SHS and CCCHS need Spanish teachers (again). Teachers, non-certified staff and students are not just numbers to be moved around on a balance sheet. If we are to improve our system we should be concerned why anyone chooses to leave. How long will these new hires stay? The football coach hired at CCHS this summer quit after about two weeks. There are many people looking for paychecks but it’s not easy finding teachers dedicated to helping students. The county may be able to hire someone else, but will we get quality teachers? This clearing out of the veterans has happened repeatedly in recent times among the full-time and part-time teachers, principals and even with supervisors. We have gotten rid of people with experience. We then hire someone with no experience. The students, teachers and non-certified support staff have no stability or consistency. Change and stress overshadow every teacher. The school board’s response to this condition has been silence. We are lacking checks and balances in our system. Everything is not okay and I wonder how long we can keep our heads buried in the sand.

When I was deciding whether to leave the county school system, the decision weighed heavily on my heart. Ultimately, I and many of my colleagues went somewhere else. I chose somewhere I could express myself professionally about my duties and expectations; where I would be appreciated for my efforts. I am saddened for the teachers and students suffering through the present era of Cheatham County education. Who has the answers? Who can help? It’s the ones who talk to the students, the parents, and administration on a daily basis. It’s the ones that were there before you we’re hired, and will be here long after you’re fired. Our teachers have the answers!

Michael Rochelle

Ashland City

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