Published: Jul 14, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jul 14, 2012 02:57 PM
Forcella says teacher transfers best for everyone
Superintendent says teachers reassignedafter significant input
CHAPEL HILL - State policy prohibits him from saying why three teachers have been involuntarily transferred to other schools, but Superintendent Thomas Forcella said the decision is best for everyone.Chapel Hill High School teachers Bert Wartski and Anne Thompson received letters this month about the decision. Forcella declined to name the third teacher, who works at a different school.Whether its a school or a business, we always try to match the strengths and styles of individuals ... where you can best use [them] and the appropriate place for your employees, Forcella said.Voluntary and involuntary transfers arent uncommon a few took place last summer, Forcella said. However, this is the first time in his 18 years as a superintendent that a transfer was contested, he said. Forcella became superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools one year ago.While rumors circulated that the transfers were intended to silence outspoken teachers, Forcella said the decisions were based on significant input from school leaders and staff. Former Chapel Hill High Principal Jesse Dingle invited him to talk with faculty in April about the schools climate, he said.The first official announcement was at a May 16 faculty meeting. As word spread, more than 400 students, parents and alumni joined a Facebook group supporting the teachers at on.fb.me/PkD4rk. Some will speak at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school boards July 19 meeting.Before the meeting, the board will hold a closed session with Forcella and the teachers. They will get five minutes each to explain their positions and have submitted supporting documents. The board could decide on Wartskis and Thompsons appeals that night or take more time to consider the evidence. The third teacher being transferred has not contested the move, Forcella said. If the decision is upheld, the teachers can appeal to the Orange County Superior Court. Both have hired attorney James Trey Tanner to handle their appeals.Tanner said Thompson, an Honors English teacher who declined to comment, is being moved to Carrboro High Schools English department. The 26-year teacher already had planned to retire next year, he said.While teachers can be transferred for the schools general welfare, district policy also recommends alternatives when possible, and neither teacher got that chance, Tanner said.Im sure [district officials] have reasons; I just dont know what they are, he said.Forcella said he cant share specifics, but other options were considered.Wartski said he is outspoken but doesnt understand how he could be part of a toxic environment when he only tries to help students and faculty. He said he hasnt done anything wrong but would accept probation or a remediation plan if he could still teach A.P. biology at Chapel Hill High,. His transfer to East Chapel Hill is not fair to those students, because it will be his first time teaching A.P. environmental science, he said.Wartski said he also worries about how this could affect other teachers.The facultys divided. Theyre all running scared. Theyre afraid that if they open their mouths, theres a possibility that theyll be treated the same, he said. Former Principal Jacqueline Ellis said Wartski and Thompson are vocal, passionate and dedicated, like many teachers at the school. They love that school, and they advocate for that school, and sometimes, depending on how vocal some of the staff can be, they dont necessarily always do it in the most diplomatic way, she said.Forcella said the district is closing in on a new principal to replace Dingle, who left this spring. Dingle did not return calls or emails seeking comment.Roughly 18 people have applied for the post, and interviews could begin in a few days, Forcella said. While he couldnt say what motivates someone to choose one school over another, the applications for were low compared to more than 50 applications for Carrboro High School, he said.My hope is that with a new principal coming in that theyll create a positive culture and improve the culture at the school, Forcella said. Relationships that exist within the building are important for student achievement, they create a positive culture, and it does have an impact on students.While teachers initially may be hesitant, they should speak their minds, Forcella said. In a positive climate, teachers and administrators collaborate to reach high levels of student achievement, he said.The 2012 N.C. Teacher Working Conditions Initiative, an anonymous survey of education statewide that asks about leadership, community support and involvement, training opportunities and other issues shows the school needs to change, he said.Only 56 percent of Chapel Hill High teachers took the survey, but the school had some of the districts lowest scores. Fewer than 30 percent said administrators did not consistently enforce student conduct or appropriately involve teachers in decisions. They also indicated a low level of trust and mutual respect, said faculty and staff do not share a vision for the school and said teachers lack consistent support from school leaders.AP calculus AB teacher Keith Cooper supports both teachers and also is concerned about being able to schedule fall classes. Besides transferring two longtime, excellent teachers, the district is replacing the principal and teachers who moved or retired this year, he said. If students decide by the fifth day of school to transfer out of either class, it will complicate the issue, he said.Theres also the question of who will assume Wartski and Thompsons extra responsibilities, from mentoring students to coordinating graduation and other special events, he said.Forcella said he doesnt expect the transfers to create scheduling problems, since the schools plan their classes around the number of students signed up and not the teachers.