MONKTON — Nine teachers at the Monkton Central School have chosen to leave the school, according to Monkton Central parents and the school's May newsletter. Along with an administrative decision not to rehire a 10th, that would shrink the elementary school’s 18-person faculty by over 50 percent.
Around three dozen teachers and parents at last Thursday's school board meeting said they were there to discuss the school climate at Monkton Central School, which many parents said was adversely affecting their children’s learning potential, happiness and well-being.
“This school is in crisis,” parent Neil Jenson told the board. “There are serious, deeply dysfunctional relationships here in the school that I am very concerned about for my children going forward. Just absolute, complete lack of apparently healthy relationships between the administration and the teaching staff.”
Many attributed the high volume of departures to deep conflicts between the teachers and other staff on one side, and the principal, superintendent and school board on the other. Jenson and others referred repeatedly to the striking results of an anonymous survey of teachers that had been shared amongst teachers and parents in recent days.
The Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Vermont survey is an anonymous statewide poll of school-based educators to assess teaching conditions at the school, district and state level. The survey was administered to teachers and other educators around the state in March and April.
Though only just over half of teachers statewide took part, 100 percent of Monkton Central School teachers responded to the survey. The Monkton results, available online at www.tellvermont.org/results under the Addison NE SU link, show a striking level of teacher dissatisfaction in the area of “Institutional Practices and Support” compared to the supervisory union, other elementary schools, and Vermont schools as a whole.
For example, only 6 percent of teachers at Monkton Central (one respondent) agreed with the statement “Faculty and leadership have a shared vision,” compared to 65 percent in all Vermont elementary schools, 45 percent in Addison Northeast and 59 percent in Vermont schools overall.
Not a single Monkton teacher “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the statement “There is an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect at this school” — 69 percent “strongly disagreed,” in fact, while 31 percent merely “disagreed.” Nor did any Monkton teacher agree with the statement “Teachers feel comfortable raising issues and concerns that are important to them” (63 percent strongly disagreed, 38 percent disagreed), and only one respondent agreed with the statement “The school leadership consistently supports the teachers” (47 percent strongly disagreed and 47 percent disagreed.)
Parents said they had requested that a discussion of the survey be added to Thursday’s board meeting agenda, but the district had declined to do so.
Superintendent David Adams said he had seen the survey but had not looked at it in detail and was not sure how much weight and credibility its results had; several board members said they had not seen it at all.
“TELL Vermont, I believe, has been promoted through the Vermont NEA to a small educator group of teachers,” Adams said. “Not all educator groups and stakeholders had an opportunity to weigh in on it.”
Though the TELL Vermont survey was, in fact, a survey of teachers and not administrators, it was heavily promoted throughout the state and co-sponsored by the Vermont Agency of Education, the Vermont NEA teachers’ union and the national New Teacher Center (which administers the survey in each state). Gov. Peter Shumlin also publicly endorsed the survey, urging every teacher in the state to fill one out.
Regarding the high volume of teacher resignations and apparent discord in the school, the Monkton school board took the position that they cannot interfere with principal-teacher relationships, but that if the principal and the teachers were to meet and prepare a report — preferably in writing — they would consider it at a future meeting.
But teachers and parents seemed to feel as though that route had already been exhausted.
“I come at this from a business point of view, where if I had a problem with my boss I could take it to HR,” a parent told the Independent after the meeting on the condition that he not be identified by name. “There is always an out, a way to get the point across without directly confronting the boss. Teachers here have said they felt a significant fear of retaliation … You need to provide an alternative route. When that much evidence exists that people are unhappy, there’s a system problem.”
Principal Susan Stewart was at the meeting, and she did not comment on the school climate, nor did she return calls to the Independent. Several teachers contacted after the meeting also declined to discuss the situation with the Independent.
After the board went into executive session, Monkton parents said the current school environment negatively affected their children, with what they perceive to be failing academic strategies (the school, like all others in the district is transitioning to adapting the Common CORE standards) and disciplinary measures that focused on the removal of privileges.
One said that the sixth-graders had gone “on strike” recently, taking over the jungle gym and chanting “We want freedom, we want it now!” after a number of privileges had been revoked. Another recalled taking his daughter out for a meal and having her tell him that she wasn’t allowed to talk during lunch.
Some said that they were seeking alternative schooling for their children through home schooling or private schools; others expressed frustration that they did not have the financial resources to do so.
“It’s run based on fear now,” one parent said.
CORRECTION June 19, 2013, 3:00 p.m.
An article and an editorial concerning the Monkton Central School in the Monday, June 17, edition of the Independent left some readers with the impression that nine Monkton teachers had simultaneously resigned at at a June 13 school board meeting. The online version of the story has been amended to more clearly reflect that nine Monkton teachers chose to leave the school in the course of the last several months for a variety of stated reasons. The Independent regrets the use of the word “resign” in the original headline and any misinterpretation or misstatement of the timing of events.