Let the Record Reflect

This isn't the first time T.H. Rogers Principal Cathryn White has been accused of intimidating disregard for teachers and parents.

She also says the teachers only went to the school board when it was clear Thornhill wasn't going to do anything, even weeks after the March survey. "Then the parents got involved," says Wheatley. "There were multiple opportunities for her [Thornhill] to get in and really do some intervention. And that was all the teachers wanted to say. They wanted her to get in, realize that there was a problem and say, 'This is what I'm going to do.'"

Thornhill announced she was going to commission her own survey, which was done by Organizational Health, a Dallas company, on May 19. Results were supposed to be released to the teachers at a retreat this past Monday or Tuesday (June 1 and 2), but Uhl said they wouldn't be released to anyone else till Wednesday.

But whether those results are more favorable to White or not, Wheatley says it doesn't matter.

"It was bogus. They made them come in little small groups, Gifted and Talented Department and second-grade teachers. And she [White] stood there, right there, while they filled out the survey. Now how objective can it possibly be if she's going to sit there and stand over the teachers while they fill out the form? She coded the surveys. If you were in the Gifted and Talented program, you had to write that on the top of your survey. This way she could identify what group of teachers was saying this, that, or the other about her. Everybody said, 'Helen, this is just bogus.'"

Some of the teachers say they refused to fill out the coding. But others didn't think to do that, and some say they hesitated to fill it out honestly, afraid of the repercussions.
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Before Cathryn White, the head spot at Rogers was held by interim principal LaMyrle Ituah (six months); before Ituah there was principal Nancy Manley (six years); and before that there was principal Linda Andersson (two years). No one says being the principal of an urban school is easy, particularly one with the diverse demands of Rogers.

But the others, several of whom went on to be promoted to higher-level jobs, didn't seem to have problems getting along with a staff that includes a lot of teachers and teaching assistants who have been at Rogers for years and had a strong hand in helping it reach its acclaimed status.

In the comments section of the survey, several teachers cited morale problems, and wrote of how they were afraid to come to work, worried that they might become the next target. Others cited a lack of support from White on disciplinary issues and on issues involving complaints from parents. Since Christmas, teachers haven't been allowed to send misbehaving students to the office. "I used to enjoy coming to work, but now you have to walk on eggshells," one wrote.

Teachers say White is too tough on beginning teachers, too quick to put them on a "growth plan" which, instead of being a development aid, becomes a fast track to dismissal. One wrote that White believes everything is fine at Rogers because people do not talk to her. "As teachers we avoid the office." This teacher also wrote that if employees attempt to talk with White, they have to make an appointment at White's convenience, which means they often start as late as five or six o'clock after school.

Wheatley says that as far as HFT was concerned, "It didn't make any difference to us if she got glowing reports or she got bad reports." If the report was good, "Then we could say, 'Okay there is an isolated situation. There's only a handful of teachers that have a problem.' And then we're going to have to deal with it as a handful of problem teachers.

"But it wasn't. It was a schoolwide problem, and it became quite apparent in the results we got back from the survey."

Employment attorney Ahmad says employers often don't say bad things because they don't hold anything against a person personally, or they may want the employee to find a job somewhere else and get them off their backs.

Speaking hypothetically, Ahmad says, "There are some regulations that apply with respect to school districts in terms of checking references, criminal background and stuff like that. But as a practical matter you're not really responsible for having a bad principal just because they did a bad job somewhere else."

So someone who may not be a very good administrator or teacher can continue to be passed from district to district without anyone being held accountable?

"Assuming you can find a district that will hire you, if you can make a real good first impression or are real good in interviews, yeah," Ahmad says. "As long as you can make a good presentation in an interview, the fact that you can't do your job doesn't really matter."

Teachers spend most of their lives flying under the radar, keeping their own counsel to hold on to their jobs. If they appear before a school board, they want it to be because they or their kids are being recognized for something good, not as a last-ditch, desperate effort to try to correct something they see as wrong.

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