A broken system

 


I am currently a teacher and coach employed by the Noxon School District. When I began my teaching career 14 years ago, I promised myself I’d always try to attack each day with vigor, excitement and a knowledge that I have an opportunity to positively impact a young mind. Countless educators across the country can say the exact same thing… but I was also naive. I was oblivious to the political, underhanded and personal agenda driven nature to which some school districts are sadly exposed. I thought tenure was a practice that didn’t make a lot of sense. I remember saying to more veteran teachers that as long as you worked hard, performing your duties diligently, ethically and responsibly, a teacher shouldn’t have to worry about tenure.

There are very few professions in this country where an individual’s employment can be controlled by a group of people who often have no first-hand knowledge of what it takes to perform the duties of that job. This is the plight that educators work in daily, especially in small school districts.


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Last week, in a special board meeting, two non-tenured teachers were denied contracts for next year by the Board of Trustees of the Noxon School District in a split vote. Both of these educators have been at Noxon for three years and were up for tenure. The superintendent and principal, who are tasked with performing observations and evaluations of staff members, BOTH recommended that each teacher be rehired and offered tenure. The board’s decision was nothing short of tragic. Not only does this undermine the authority of the superintendent and the principal, but it creates an unhealthy work environment where every employee must walk on eggshells in fear of retribution. To continually subject students to a revolving door of new teachers is detrimental to their education and deprives them of the support of staff members who are invested in their growth.

I have seen circumstances in the past where teachers were not renewed. In those instances, each teacher was given multiple opportunities to improve. He or she was given guidance and feedback by the administration. If those individuals didn’t meet the expectations, they were told months ahead of time that the administration’s recommendation to the board of trustees would be to not-renew their contract. Clearly, this is not what happened last week.

There are nine trustees on the Noxon School Board. Three of those trustees were appointed by sitting board members within the last 10 months, one within the last several weeks. These three members were part of the vote to non-renew. I question whether these three trustees could pick either of the non-renewed teachers out of a crowd or if they were simply influenced by other board members. I also question why trustees would go against the recommendation of the superintendent and principal who were hired, by the board, to do exactly what the administrators were doing… recommending the best option for the district. People’s well-being, jobs and livelihoods are too important to come into question because of hearsay. And when board members have no real knowledge of what takes place in an educator’s workspace and are expected to trust the recommendations of administrators, how can a decision such as this be based on anything other than small town gossip?


Legally, school boards can dismiss non-tenured teachers without cause. But there is a right and a wrong way to do things. There is an ethical, professional and moral way to do things, and heartbreakingly, that was not on display when this decision was made. Furthermore, the Noxon School District was already looking to fill four vacant teaching positions for next year. That number now stands at six. Noxon Schools has always struggled to attract teachers and such an action is nothing short of reckless and irresponsible.

I grew up in Noxon. I attended kindergarten through 12th grade in the same building I currently teach in, and part of the reason I pursued a career in education was because of the quality teachers I was instructed by in my formative years. I was proud to say I graduated a Red Devil. I never thought that fact would be called into question, but the actions I witnessed last week were not reflective of the Noxon I know. I have never written a letter to the editor or spoken out in such a formal manner, but I cannot sit idly by when such behavior is happening in a place I have always called home.


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It would be nearly impossible to find an employee, teacher or otherwise, who does his or her job perfectly. All teachers, whether they are beginning their careers or nearing retirement, have areas in which they can improve. But, plainly put, neither of these two individuals’ performances warranted dismissal. Nine years ago, the National School Boards Association implemented their eight characteristics of effective school boards. These qualities speak of things such as transparency, fostering a collaborative relationship with staff and community and acting in the best interest of the students. One states, “Effective school boards should lead as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual trust.” It is the job of the administration to choose candidates to work in the school. Their job is to evaluate, provide feedback to and mentor educators. Their job is to recognize the capabilities and potential in classroom leaders and staff members employed in schools. They are the ones with an education and training to make such recommendations. Administrators and teachers should be respected and allowed to do the job they were trained and hired to do without a school board micromanaging the day-to-day affairs of the district.

Despite watching this situation unfold last week, I am still proud of the efforts and professionalism of my past and present colleagues. I am proud of all the student successes we as educators witness daily. Most importantly, I have faith that this community, in an effort to prevent another disservice to our students, will work alongside the teachers and administrators toward open and sincere communication to develop a support system that never allows this type of injustice to occur in Noxon again.

Bart Haflich,

Noxon

 
 

Reader Comments
(1)

brucehaflich writes:

Proud of Bart to stand up for what he believes in and what many people in Noxon believe in as well. The whole Board meeting was flawed by short notice to the public, and use of Zoom which greatly affected comments by the public.

 
 
 

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