Note: Originally I intended to write a rather long and detailed article on some outrageous happenings in the school systems in McDuffie, Murray, and Montgomery Counties in Georgia, but as I was getting started on this article, I realized that more needed to be said about how teachers in general were being professionally battered on a regular basis throughout Georgia and the United States, resulting in a beleaguered, disheartened, disenchanted, and disemboweled profession which no longer resembles anything like a true profession but more like forced labor in some Gulag-type camp. Since teachers are so often living on the edge and are afraid to speak out for their jobs’ sake, I wanted to lend my voice as an advocate for their cause. I will publish each chapter on one of my many personal blogs, as Mr. Haynes and I initially composed The MACE Manifesto: The Politically Incorrect, Irreverent, and Scatological Examination of What is Wrong with American Public Education (Big Daddy Publishers, 2014, 615 pages) on http://www.TheMACEManifesto.com. This book (hopefully not near a large as The MACE Manifesto) will be published a chapter at a time on http://www.GeorgiaTeachersSpeakOut.com.
The Crushing of Super Star Teachers and the Implosion of Public Schooling in America: A Case Study of Three Rural School Systems in Georgia (McDuffie, Murray, and Montgomery Counties).
By John R. Alston Trotter, EdD, JD
In the last three months, I have written around 20 articles, many of which have dealt with some smaller school systems in Georgia, in addition to the “regular suspects” like Atlanta City, DeKalb County, Clayton County, Fulton County, et al. It is actually somewhat shocking to witness and to hear of some of the outrageous actions by the superintendents and administrators in some of these smaller school systems which historically have been more genteel on the personal interaction levels. But, what I have been witnessing particularly in three fairly small school systems (one or two high schools) in Georgia in disheartening.
We have been focusing mainly on Murray County which lies about 25 miles east of Dalton and borders the state of Tennessee on the north. In fact, many of the teachers in Murray County reside in Tennessee but travel to Murray County to work because Georgia teachers make more money than Tennessee teacher. In March of this year, we received some calls from teachers from McDuffie County which lies around two hours east of Atlanta on Interstate 20 and only about 45 minutes to an hour west of the city of Augusta. It has one high school, Thomson High. These teachers were complaining about the awful teaching conditions at Thomson High School. Montgomery County (or “MoCo,” as some of the locals call this area) is located further south, about one and one-half hours southeast of Macon on Interstate 16 near “Vidalia Sweet Onion” country.
Mr. Neil Osbon with two recent Thomson High graduates.
These three counties are by no means the only small school systems in Georgia or in America which have, in our opinion, extremely poor leadership and operate on a very dysfunctional level and ignore clear Statutory Law in Georgia on how to govern a school system. I am sure that these characteristics are widespread. In fact, I was just talking to one of our MACE teachers the other day on the telephone about the Hart County School System or the Hart Charter School System, as they evidently like now to be called. This school system is now a charter school system, as many either already are (like Fulton County) or are moving in that direction (like Atlanta City, DeKalb County, Clayton County, and others). But, if a school system goes the charter route, it has certain responsibilities that it has to live up to in meeting its obligation under the performance contract. The state allows the school system to get out from under the “burden” of certain state mandates, but there are responsibilities that the school system theoretically has to meet. (I say “theoretically” because Gwinnett County is under a “performance” contract-type model, but it did NOT meet its obligations to perform and the State of Georgia let Gwinnett County off the hook. But, this is a game that is now being played throughout America. Billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad who are the Great Educational Interlopers, thinking that since that they were good in the business world that they can lend their “geniuses” to public education. These two men apparently do not really like public schooling and want to make all public schools in Georgia “charter schools” which can be run by private company. This privatization of public schools is already in the beginning stages in Georgia with Governor Nathan Deal’s “Education Plan.” See a previous article on this site about “pickling” Deal’s plan.)
Picketing against Governor ISIS.
School systems like Hart County which choose to go the charter school rout are required to have a School System Council and a School Council at each school. Representation from parents, teachers, and the business community must be represented on these School Councils. It appears that the system-wide School Council in Hart County only met once this past school year, just to receive training. But good is the training if the School System Council never meets? By the way, the superintendent erstwhile from Hart County, Jerry Bell, has moved on to Haralson County. Bell was inducted into Superintendent Clowns of America two or three years ago. But, the superintendent revolver door keeps swinging. This reminds me of William A. Hunter, who also has recently been inducted into Superintendent Clowns of America, of the Polk County School System here in Georgia. It appears that he left two other superintendents stints in Georgia (McIntosh and Brantley Counties) not under the most favorable conditions. Recently, a teacher from Polk County sent us this description of the William A. Hunter Administration in that county: “Nepotism, favoritism, retaliation, bullying, no-bid contracts, hiring without posting jobs, fraternization, Apple/PSD conflict of interest, God knows what else. Not to mention that he was FIRED from his last two jobs. Mass exodus of good, long time teachers. Culture of fear and intimidation.” We doubt that Mr. Hunter was fired but that he and the school boards (or at least one of them) just “mutually agreed” to depart ways. But, we do hear today that one of the illustrious teachers of Polk County just resigned apparently due to the frustration of dealing with the Hunter Administration. She had been Teacher of the Year as well as STAR Teacher. So sad.
I remember getting a call from a very effective teacher in Elbert County who had been treated brusquely and had been terminated. His termination process and hearing had been fraught with a number of irregularities, and the school system just refused to turn over information, even though the requests for this public information had been requested under the Georgia Open Records Law. MACE had not represented this teacher in this matter. He came to us after he had been terminated and his case had already been adjudicated at the state level. We still made our presence know. We spoke in an ad hoc manner at one of the school board meetings in Elberton, after the board chairman, Mr. Ben Baker (who seems to pretty much run the show over in the Elbert County School System) asked me what was going on, as several picketers and I held signs in the board meeting. We ended up in the newspaper, The Elberton Star. What was this teacher’s big sin? He spoke out on some matters. He might have been a bit hard-headed about some matters but what great teachers are not a bit head-strong. In fact, most of them are. His so-called “offense” was certainly not of the nature that he should have been fired. In fact, he was a good friend of the previous superintendent. Oops! That might have been the problem! Teachers are no longer expected to speak out, no matter how egregious the conditions are. Teachers today are expected to just grin and bear it and keep their mouths shut.
In Elbert County, picketing against school board chairman, Ben Baker.
In next the next chapter or two, we will address why good, effective (yes, “super star”) teachers are being kicked to the curb. They are told that they are going to be terminated, so that they eventually negotiate with the school board (via the school board’s attorney and superintendent/executive secretary) to continue to get paid for the remainder of the school term. Some just resign on their own, in hopes of finding better teaching conditions in another school system. There are indeed some better school systems which treat teachers more respectfully than the school systems which we will examine in this book. In Murray County, the Vickie Reed Administration kicked a very talented young teacher, Justin Frazier, to the curb. His coached the North Murray High School Quiz Bowl team to a Second Place finish in the state competition. The children loved and still love this teacher. In McDuffie County, Superintendent Mychele Rhodes got rid of this year’s STAR Teacher, Neil Osbon. Again, the children adored and still adore this man. In his first four or five years in McDuffie County, Mr. Osbon won a system-wide Teacher of the Year contest twice (sponsored by Walmart and chosen by students and their parents). Had Walmart continued this program, no doubt that Mr. Osbon would have won this honor several more times. He was selected as an Honor Educator on several occasions (including this year). What was his big “offense”? They claimed some bullshit about using teaching “rubrics,” but I am sure that it was because he confronted the administration about a lack of discipline at Thomson High. Forcing a great teacher like Neil Osbon to deal with cookie-cutter teaching methods like “rubrics” is like the Chicago Bulls terminating Michael Jordan’s contract because he “inappropriately” stuck out his tongue while doing a 360 windmill dunk! It is all about control and shutting the mouths of teachers! By the way, after Mr. Osbon was forced out of the classroom during the middle of the year, a gun was reportedly taken from a student during school-wide testing at Thomson High School. There apparently were rumors of other guns. The administration did not call off the testing and shut down the school.
Brad Lord, the Teacher of the Year in Montgomery County for the 2014-2015 school year (he had also been STAR Teacher at East Laurens High School) was, like Mr. Frazier and Mr. Osbon, illegally (more on the illegality later) forced out of his regular classroom by Superintendent Randy Rodgers. The reason for this is comical, if not so sick. He was apparently the victim of a verbal assault by a teacher/coach, and yet he is the one who was administratively removed (in contravention to the Georgia Statutory Code) from his regular classroom. Of course, the teacher/coach was husband to the principal who jumped straight from the classroom to the principal job a couple of years ago without any administrative experience. The heartfelt expressions from Mr. Lord’s students are overwhelming, as they are from the students of Mr. Frazier and Mr. Osbon. The students and parents in these three counties (McDuffie, Murray, and Montgomery) blew up social media for these teachers. But, the superintendents in these counties have remained cold as a banker’s heart. They just turned deaf ears. Some gave out loads of dissimulation. Some administrators took to having meetings at the schools to try to quell the consternation or they (or their devoted acolytes) went on social media (like Topix) to anonymously and cowardly smear and libel. More on this – particularly in Murray County – in another chapter.
This is enough right now. Stay tuned for more and McDuffie, Murray, and Montgomery Counties…as well as other school systems in Georgia and throughout the country. Our mantra at MACE is and always has been (for 20 years now) this: You cannot have good learning conditions until you first have good teaching conditions. Don’t wait until it’s too late to join MACE.