Published: Jul 20, 2012 12:24 PM
Modified: Jul 20, 2012 12:25 PM
Crowd protests reassignments
Board weighs teachers’ appeals in closed session
CHAPEL HILL - Two Chapel Hill High teachers protesting their involuntary transfers will learn this week whether they’ve got to go.The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education deliberated the transfers in closed session Thursday night. Teachers Anne Thompson, Bert Wartski and their lawyer discussed the transfers with the board and administrators, but no decision was announced. The teachers will receive a letter of notification within seven days.Administrators say the transfers were not punitive, but they have caused a stir among faculty members and students. About 80 people attended Thursday’s meeting to protest the reassignments. Dianne Jackson, president of the district’s Federation of Teachers, told the board the transfers were “detrimental to the climate of the school.”Wartski, an A.P. Biology teacher who has spoken out against policies in the past, has said he believes his transfer is punishment for speaking out. A letter from Superintendent Thomas Forcella (see page3A) said his decision was not punitive.“It absolutely is,” said Thompson, an Honors English teacher who has been at the high school for 26 years.Current and former students, parents, and fellow staff members echoed that belief at Thursday’s meeting.“It is very disheartening when those people (who) go out of their way to speak out … have their voices cast aside,” said Alex Werden, the rising student body president of Chapel Hill High.Jackson said that based on working with Forcella, she was confident that Wartski’s transfer “was not to silence staff or to serve as retaliation.”However, Jackson said, the involuntary transfers will have the effect of intimidating other staff members and creating a culture “where speaking up was viewed as problematic.”Jackson cited examples, without giving names, of staff members threatened with insubordination. People commenting at Board of Education meetings are asked not to identify students or faculty members by name.Chairwoman Mia Day Burroughs reminded attendees of this policy, a sticky wicket given that the Town Hall chamber was packed with students and parents who had come to support Wartski, the district’s Honor Teacher of the Year in 2009-10.“This teacher was a positive influence in my education, as well as my development as a critical thinker,” said Jennifer Strange, an elementary school teacher in the district and former student of Wartski. “This teacher taught me that high school was not about your GPA, but about a love of learning and an understanding of what you have learned.”Adrienne Duffield, a resident anesthesiologist at UNC Hospitals, credited Wartski, her high school biology teacher, with pushing her into a career in medicine.“I think there is one person in this room who is responsible,” she said. “And other than my parents, I think can say that he is the single most important person in becoming who I am.”Based on inputWhile some think the transfers were intended to silence outspoken teachers, Forcella has 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 school’s climate, he has said. The first official announcement was at a May 16 faculty meeting. In his letter to Chapel Hill High faculty and staff Thursday morning, Forcella wrote the transfers were not about punishing individuals who speak their minds about school or district policies, but about creating a positive culture.“I want to be clear that the transfer decision was not about instruction nor was it about speaking one’s mind but rather it was about placing individuals in the right place in order to take advantage of their skills and talents,” the letter said. “Of utmost importance was providing the best opportunity for the school to create a positive school culture.” Forcella said he does not intend to implement further involuntary transfers.Meanwhile, the district is closing in on a new principal to replace Dingle, who left this spring. Roughly 18 people have applied for the post, and interviews could begin in a few days, Forcella has said. ‘Awfully vague’Trey Tanner, Wartski and Thompson’s lawyer, addressed the board during its public comment session. He was speaking, he said, as a parent of children in the school district.“There’s this overwhelming amount of community support; I think you can see it,” he said, gesturing to crowd that had stood up against the transfers and applauded statements in support of Wartski.“There’s nothing in their personnel files; there’s no indication of grievances with other staff members,” Tanner said. “(The administration has)) been awfully vague in identifying how this is for the welfare of the school”As they waited for the board to weigh the matter during closed session, Thompson said she did not want to change schools and teach a new subject assigned by the school district.“My passion is British literature; they’re trying to take away my passion,” she said. “I’ve spent 34 years building my curriculum.”Wartski has also been assigned to teach a new subject, environmental science, which Tanner says he has no experience teaching.