Fired city teachers weren't given opportunity to improve, they say

250 lose jobs as part of improvement effort

June 25, 1999|By Stephen Henderson and Liz Bowie | Stephen Henderson and Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Trinita Henderson got fired from Baltimore's public schools while she was out on maternity leave. Stephanie Alston got the boot after her principal told her to stop wearing skirts that were too short.

Kristine Woodson lost her job because she couldn't control a classroom in which pupils called her a curse word and erupted into fistfights. Tammy Haisley can't say for sure what happened to her, because she got fired without receiving an evaluation.

City school officials said this week that these four and more than 250 other teachers will lose their jobs as part of an effort to make classroom instruction better.

Among those fired are many beginning teachers who believe they were not given the support necessary to be successful, and should be given a second chance.

Many teachers believe they were fired for no good reason. The city teachers union says many of those cases might be challenged.

Kathleen Charles, a teacher at Diggs-Johnson Middle School, said she heard that her principal fired any teacher who got an unsatisfactory in any of the seven areas of evaluation.

"That's just not fair," she told school board members at Tuesday's meeting.

Figures released yesterday by school officials show that 44 of the teachers were nontenured, and had been working in the school system for more than three years without getting their state teacher's license. Two teachers had been allowed to continue working for 13 years without certification.

Teachers must take a certain number of education courses and pass a national teaching exam to become certified in Maryland.

By comparison, 106 of the fired instructors were hired last summer and 59 were hired two summers ago.

Kristine Woodson left a fund-raising career last summer to teach third grade at Madison Square Elementary in East Baltimore. Though she has a master's degree in elementary education and has wanted to teach for some time, she was unable to control her pupils.

"The kids ran the school a lot of the time," Woodson said. "And there was no guidance given to me in terms of how to do better."

Woodson said she begged her principal for suggestions, but was told only to "be strong" and come up with creative ways to manage her pupils. When she told the principal that pupils were cursing at her and making racist remarks (Woodson is white), the response was the same.

"When I would try to get concrete strategies, I wouldn't get any," Woodson said. "The principal was blaming me for the things that were happening."

Woodson, who is eight months' pregnant, left the school in March because she feared for her unborn child's safety. She was breaking up fights almost daily between boys in her class, she said, and didn't want to risk injury any longer.

She intended to return to the school after a year at home with her baby, but last week, she received a notice that her contract was not being renewed. Woodson was not certified because she had yet to take the National Teachers' Exam.

"But I don't see how being certified would have helped me with the kids who were out of control," Woodson said. "I needed some support."

Stephanie Alston said her principal at Coldstream Park Elementary School had no problem with her work, only with her attire.

"She said I was wearing skirts that were above the knee," said Alston, who showed up at Tuesday's board meeting wearing a dress whose hem was at midthigh level. "I have been used, abused and mistreated."

Trinita Henderson said she left Rosemont Elementary School on maternity leave last spring, and received her nonrenewal notice while still out.

"Nonrenewal of a contract is not a positive way to keep young teachers in the system," she warned the board. "And some of us are really dedicated. We want to stay."

Schools Chief Executive Officer Robert Booker said he will have his staff review all of the firings to make sure proper procedures were followed, but he added that he believes everything was handled fairly.

If he finds that a teacher was dismissed wrongly, he said, he will correct it.

Booker also said yesterday that more tenured teachers would be warned next month that they have a year to improve their performance or be fired.

School officials yesterday corrected some of the information released earlier this week. Edie House, director of communications, said that no final action has been taken against 28 tenured teachers who were told in late April their performance was unsatisfactory.

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