Superintendent Walts Under Fire at Gainesville Town Hall

| May 15, 2018 | 0 Comments | Education

Supervisor Pete Candland and Alyson Satterwhite host educational town hall, May 14, 2018. (Photo by Brandie Provenzano.)

“My first directive to Dr. Walts would be to find a new job,” said Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland (R), of Prince William County Schools superintendent.

Candland spoke to a group of approximately 100 PWCS parents, teachers and community members, May 14, at Ronald Reagan Middle School in Haymarket at a town hall he called. Before the public meeting, he spoke privately to teachers and parents who preferred confidentiality.

The event was prompted by a letter PWCS sent to the community, inferring that the Reagan allegations were the result of a small number of dissatisfied individuals.

A third of teachers interviewed said they were subjected to bullying by an administrator, yet the letter focused on the teachers who made it “impossible” for the principal to stay in her position, not on the alleged workplace bullying.

A transfer will be granted to those educators who requested it, even though there will be a new principal, all while the division is moving the offending administrator to a position in HR.

Many were angry with the letter, and Candland received an onslaught of emails from his community members.

Gainesville school board member Alyson Satterwhite joined Candland in conducting the meeting. Brentsville school board member Gil Trenum was in attendance too. School board members have the most agency in enacting change to the school division.

However, Candland primarily intended to have Superintendent, Dr. Steven Walts in attendance to hear the concerns of his community members; Walts declined his invitation, citing a need to keep the personnel matter confidential.

Nonetheless, Satterwhite attended, giving the caveat she could not address specific personnel matters due to the likelihood of litigation. But she also made it clear that she was in support of parents and teachers.

Candland said he was bound by no such restrictions.

“I’m not impartial, I’m angry,” he said. “I want people to be upset tonight…This is our school system….This is our taxpayer dollars that are going to this school system.”

Candland said teachers are not simply feeling under-appreciated, they know division procedures are designed to “stamp down concerns from teachers and penalize those who speak out against this administration.”

While he, nor Satterwhite, can fix what has been broken at RRMS, they can begin to address systematic problems affecting schools across the division. It is a problem that has plagued the division for decades according to Prince William Education Association President Riley O’Casey.

O’Casey’s activism derives in part from an experience in which she alleges an administrator bullied her. As a result, she was involuntarily transferred to another school.

“I was told ‘do not talk about it; do not ever talk about it,” so the next day I started talking about it,’” she said. “I swear on my cat, we’ve been fighting this, and fighting this, and fighting it.”

One woman said she lived in Greece, New York, where Superintendent Walts left his position as superintendent before coming to Prince William in 2005.

“Why was he even hired?” she asked. She said she decided to teach in a different county after spending some time in Prince William and described PWCS leadership as a “pit of vipers.”

Satterwhite said no one on the current board hired Walts, but they now get to evaluate him and extend his contract.

Then the woman from New York asked if they hire an ombudsman (impartial person) to who will he or she report?

Satterwhite said Walts would like the ombudsman to report to him, which elicited an uproar.

“The fox is not only in charge of the hen house, he is also the farmer and the mayor of the town the farm is in,” Candland said.

People wanted to know how principals get on a Personal Improvement Plan. How is it that a person who creates such a decline at her school is not placed on a PIP? How is it one they can lose so many staff members and keep her job?

Satterwhite said there is a PIP for principals and other administrators on them. However, there seems to be multiple instances in which these principals are not being identified.

Is it because people are afraid to speak out, she asked? Where are they falling through the cracks?

Teachers shared various parts of the procedural process, which they believe undermine the division’s ability to hold administrators accountable.

The system discourages complaints  whether purposefully or not. Complaints against a supervisors cannot be anonymous, they always go back to the administrator in question. According to antidotal evidence, employees are universally told their complaints are unfounded.

Many said that if a teacher files a complaint, she will be involuntarily transferred, which can be a huge deterrent.

The group discussed how school surveys may be failing to identify problems when administrators discourage teachers from providing honest criticisms.

One woman said her principal told them to keep in mind negative comments work against their ability to become a School of Excellence.

“That’s undue influence on you,” said Satterwhite. “That’s not right.”

And she said that division leadership oftentimes emphasizes the positive results of the surveys, glossing over the negatives, but she wants to see the entire picture even if it’s time-consuming on her part.

One man asked how to get rid of the superintendent.

Satterwhite said his contract runs until 2021, but he has an evaluation on May 23. The evaluation mainly looks at metrics for which the division has been asked to improve upon from last year. This year, they could add parts to address current problems.

But people asked: what about not extending his contract, or getting rid of him before his contract?

Satterwhite said the board could vote to buy out his contract for $1.5 million. Many thought that was a small price to pay in respect to the totality of a school division budget.

“I have no interest in extending his contract or adding anything to his contract,” Satterwhite said. She noted it takes five members for anything to happen, so people should email their concerns to the entire board.

“We will not put up with his disregard of teachers, and we need him held accountable,” she said. “We need him to go on that listening tour.”

After she sent a response to the RRMS she got the silent treatment from the administration and some board members. “I don’t care, I’m going to speak out. We’ve got to work on culture. We have to work on communication.”

People also brought up HB 1044, a Virginia House Bill intended to address workplace bullying within Virginia Public Schools. It will be enacted on July 1, but needs school boards to adopt it.

Trenum said he has it on the agenda for the beginning of June, so the school board can begin to address new procedures as soon as possible.

One man said that it looks like the bill lacks teeth.

Candland said for his part, he would like to see an end to the Revenue Sharing Agreement. The Board of County Supervisors has the legal ability to regulate school division spending in nine categories. However, his board has abdicated its responsibility to “supervise” the school board.

Additionally, they could advocate for teachers, such as providing the cost of living increases and push for priorities citizens want funded.

© 2018, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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