Angry Arundel teachers say their deal was broken Gifted program's science instructor to teach cooking

August 31, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Doug Jovan has spent 29 years in the classroom, but when school starts today, his students will find him in the kitchen.

He didn't retire and promise his wife he would have dinner on the table every night at 5. He is one of 18 teachers who were abruptly transferred when the school board, in budget-trimming mode in June, eliminated gifted and talented programs for middle school students.

Jovan was a science department chairman six years ago when he moved to teaching some of the district's brightest students at Severn River Middle School. This year, he will be teaching cooking at Northeast High School. Technically, the class is Applied Nutrition.

That means cooking.

"I make some good buffalo wings," he said. "But I think there is more to this. I need to know the food pyramid."

All kidding aside, Jovan and four colleagues have filed a complaint about their transfers to school Superintendent Carol S. Parham. The teachers say they are hurt by the way they have been treated and by how principals and area administrators reneged on promises to keep them in their schools and their classrooms if the gifted program was cut.

Two days after the board eliminated the gifted program, the teachers received phone calls telling them what their new assignments would be.

"There was no thanks for a good job done, nothing about what could happen in the future," Jovan said.

Jovan learned in that call that he would not be returning to his old job as head of the science department. Thirteen of the 18 gifted and talented teachers, while unhappy about the loss of the program, were satisfied with their new assignments. Jovan and the four others did not fare as well.

All the teachers also question why Diane Sprague, the gifted and talented program coordinator, has retained that position after the program cuts. Why, they ask, if their combined salaries are about $580,000, and they held fund-raisers to pay for extra materials and computers, did school officials claim they were saving $950,000 by cutting their program?

Schools spokesman Michael Walsh said gifted and talented courses run in all grades, even after the cuts, and Sprague is in charge of those classes. For the program cost, chief financial officer Gregory V. Nourse said the gifted teachers were some of the highest paid in the school system with an average salary of $45,000. The $950,000 covers salaries and their benefits.

About 3,500 of the county's 15,006 middle school students were involved in the gifted programs now eliminated.

Jovan, who will teach two physical science classes in addition to cooking, pledged not to let his students suffer because he is unhappy with his assignment. He is looking for ways to make the class lively, searching for ideas on the Internet on how to make eating interesting for teen-agers. He's also thinking about inviting local chefs to talk to his classes.

"I'm not dissatisfied," he said. "It's all about how we have been treated in this. [Northeast] is a good school and they [the faculty] have really helped me and been very supportive. I think the kids will wind up educating me on this."

Suzy Jablinske, president of the teacher's union representing Jovan and his colleagues, said she hopes Parham will resolve the dispute in a "positive" way. School attorney Darren Burns said Parham will respond as soon as possible. Some of the teachers say they do not expect to be able to return to their old positions this year, but they do want Parham to acknowledge their complaint.

"At least a public apology of some sort from her," said Alice Liptak, a science teacher who will teach math at Chesapeake Bay Middle School for the first time in her 32-year career.

"My anger toward the board has subsided and maybe I will like teaching math. But how can a superintendent recommend that a gifted and talented program be cut? The board cut it, but she recommended it."

Liptak, like Jovan, said she is dedicated to her students and determined to help them succeed.

"If I think I am hurting the students in any way, I will retire in December," she said.

Pub Date: 8/31/98

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