About 100 parents, educators and students met at the Semmes Community Center this evening to protest the transfer of more than 20 teachers from J.E. Turner Elementary School.
The protesters lined the sidewalks of Moffett Road in the rain with signs that read, “We love our teachers” and “Take back Turner.”
Almost simultaneously, Martha Peek, Superintendent of the Mobile County Public School System, met with parents at the school initiated by an all-call. There she told parents the teachers had requested to be transferred, which is accurate.
However, the majority of those transfers were approved by the Mobile County Board of School Commissioners as mandatory and not voluntary, which AEA Representative Danny Goodwin says carries a negative stigma.
“The superintendent may say ‘this is a way to make sure they get first choice at a job they want,’ but we have principals that don’t want to take a mandatory transfer,” Goodwin said. “Or if they have to take one, they may be forced to non-renew a new teacher who’s not tenured.”
When teachers transfer within a system, they are allowed to keep their tenured status, which is earned after three years and helps protect a teacher’s job.
The vast majority of the teachers asked to be voluntarily transferred from J.E. Turner because of problems with principal Missy Nolen, but they claim Human Resources changed the nature of the transfers to mandatory before they were voted on by the board during a meeting last Friday.
“There was a lack of cooperation with this principal. There was no communication, and teachers weren’t being treated as professionals,” Goodwin said. “Some were not allowed to participate on committees they’re required to serve on. They were basically stonewalled.”
Goodwin said the central office had an opportunity to deal with the situation before but chose not to.
“They investigated it. They sent a top level administrator to look into it,” he said. “They’ve listened, but they haven’t done anything about it.”
A group of parents from Turner spoke at an October board meeting to complain about a lack of communication with the new leadership and to express concerns over several incentive programs and other popular traditions that were discontinued.
This past year was Nolen’s first at Turner. She transferred from E.R. Dickson Elementary School at the end of last year, where similar problems were reported by some teachers. Janet Bridges, a retired MCPSS teacher, said she was at Dickson when Nolen started as a vice principal.
“She was an outstanding vice principal — very nurturing, upbeat and corporative,” Bridges said. We petitioned for her to be our principal and she became principal with a lot of teacher support.”
Bridges said once she became principal, Nolen was not the same.
“A principal needs to be a collaborator and support the teachers,” she said. “I don’t want to talk bad about her, but teachers put so much pressure on themselves already. They don’t need any additional pressure from their principal.
Goodwin said he was kept out of a meeting with Nolen and a teacher he represents at E.R. Dickson, which is uncommon as AEA representatives typically attend meetings with principals concerning teacher discipline.
“I obtained permission to (attend the meeting) and I sat in the lobby until someone from Human Resources let her know I was there,” he said. “She didn’t know I was there until she came out of the meeting.”
Goodwin said he’s never seen this many transfers from a single school in his career except during a transformation, which replaces an entire school staff from the top down and is rare. There are only 37 teachers at Turner, which equates to nearly 60 percent of the staff requesting to leave in single year.
A large number of teachers said the meeting wasn’t about bashing MCPSS, but was instead about supporting teachers. However, this situation isn’t the first time teachers and parents in Mobile County have reported problems with school principals.
Earlier in the year an anonymous letter was sent to the central office and local media outlets detailing issues with a principal at another school.
In April, teachers from an MCPSS middle school sent a letter to the Mobile County Education Association claiming many staff members were harassed and bullied into quitting their jobs.
The letter listed eight teachers who had quit as a result of interactions with a principal and sighted micromanagement, bullying, harassment and threats of certification revocation.
Goodwin said MCPSS has a tendency to try and keep such things quiet.
“With any business, the leaders do their best to protect other leaders,” he said. “I think there needs to be a little more equality in how we deal with disciplining everyone — from the top down.”
The meeting in Semmes was planed at the campus of Mary G. Montgomery High School, but was changed to Semmes when organizers were informed they couldn’t meet there.
“I represent teachers that were absolutely threatened about coming to this meeting,” Goodwin said. “They were literally scared to be here.”
Updated at 10:30 a.m. June 3 to correct typographical errors and make changes to sentences detailing anonymous letters sent about other principals in the system.