Published: Aug 04, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Aug 03, 2012 06:12 PM
Most of the attention trained on the situation at Chapel Hill High School in recent weeks has focused on two veteran teachers, Anne Thompson and Bert Wartski, who are being transferred against their will.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella said the two educators were being moved out of CHHS because “a climate/culture problem exists at the school” and so “a culture change was necessary.”
Although everybody understands that personnel confidentiality rules preclude Forcella from speaking in detail about the two teachers, his explanation for their transfer was so vague it shed no light on a decision that has aroused a great deal of public interest and opposition.
But there are a lot of indications the “climate/culture” at CHHS has been dysfunctional for some time, in ways that run much deeper than whatever influence might have been exerted by two teachers – one of whom was an Honor Teacher of the Year just two years ago, and the other of whom has been at CHHS for more than two dozen years.
Among the starkest of those indications is the 2012 North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey. That study invited public school educators statewide to assess working conditions at their schools via a detailed anonymous online survey.
The responses from CHHS were striking. On certain issues – access to technology, parental involvement – teachers gave the school high marks.
But on most matters, and especially in the areas of leadership and educational climate, the results were scathing. On question after question, the ratings from Chapel Hill High teachers were drastically lower than those across North Carolina and in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district.
Does school leadership consistently support teachers? Statewide, 78 percent of teachers said yes. In the district, 71 percent said yes. At CHHS, 29 percent said yes.
Do the faculty and staff have a shared vision? State: 83 percent. District, 70 percent. CHHS, 19 percent.
Is there an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect? State, 72 percent. District, 63 percent. CHHS, 11 percent.
And on it goes, for dozens of questions.
Between that and the high turnover rate for principals at CHHS – seven in the past 20 years, the latest being Jesse Dingle, who departed earlier this year – you wind up with the picture of school with serious fault lines between faculty and administration.
Forcella, who just began his second year as superintendent, clearly recognizes that.
Given the frustrating information vacuum imposed by the personnel rules, it’s difficult to ascertain exactly on what basis he concluded that Thompson and Wartski were contributing to that “climate/culture problem” and how transferring them might help resolve it.
But from what we can see, the problems at Chapel Hill are far more systemic than are likely to be fixed by shifting a couple of outspoken teachers to East. By all appearances it’s going to take more than that to set things right.
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