Last words from a departing Albemarle High School (AHS) teacher paint a bleak picture of the school’s “culture” under the two-year reign of principal, Dr. Jesse Turner. The teacher’s parting-shot letter below (identifying details removed), sent to Albemarle County Schools’ administrators, outlines serious problems at the school along with suggestions for improvement.
Hi Dr. Haas and Mr. Thomas,
I’m one of xxx (so far) xxxxxxx teachers who will be leaving AHS this year. One of many who will be leaving. Our reasons are varied and often personal, but in 99% of cases, the culture at this school contributed to that decision. Because the culture here makes it easy to leave. For those of us who wavered for a variety of reasons, AHS – the school, the culture, the community – was often the tipping point in a hard decision. Not because of the students or the colleagues we work with every day, but because of the disregard for teachers in favor of dubious, ill-defined principles couched in impressive phrases like “student choice” and “student-centeredness.” In reality, the implementation of these principles by our administration – and by the county – have resulted in teachers feeling neither seen, heard, valued or supported. There can be no student choice nor student-centered learning if the people directing that choice and learning feel so disabused of power and choice themselves, that they would rather leave the system than stay to support the kids they have worked with for years.
So in the search for a new principal, here’s what AHS needs:
- A principal who shows up to staff meetings and listens attentively when others are speaking and presenting
- Turner rarely showed up to a staff meeting in the second semester, and he would often talk while others were talking and would be on his phone or walk away
- A principal who attends student events…ever
- Turner never came to any program put on by any arts program during his two years here. He did not attend the student award ceremony held today
- A principal who observes students and teachers in their classes
- Turner never came to classes, even when he was invited multiple times, both in person, over email, and in outlook invites.
- A principal who knows the names and roles of his staff
- Staff who worked here during both of his years, who say in the second year of teaching under him, that he did not know their name.
- A principal who enforces equitable student discipline and listens to teachers regarding student issues before meting out punishment or rewards to either side of a conflict
- Turner’s favorite students would essentially receive reprieve for whatever they wanted. They would be bought lunch. They could roam the hallways easily and without being stopped. They would lock themselves in the workroom with the blessing of his administrative staff.
- A principal who listens before yelling
- For many staff, our first interaction with Dr. Turner would be for something negative. He would yell and inform the staff that they were doing everything wrong. He would come to department meetings for staff he has never talked to before, and yell at the entire department. He would leave before anyone could ask questions. A culture of fear ruled the front office and the school.
- A principal who hires qualified, trained employees
- Of Dr. Turner’s 6 security staff hires, only ONE is CPI trained. Multiple staff have had formal and informal complaints lodged against them. One history hire is unqualified to teach high school history and he has had multiple complaints made against him regarding inappropriate conduct with women. It has been made very clear to the staff that these staff members are untouchable due to their connection with Dr. Turner.
I know that Dr. Turner is leaving. I know that there are a million pressures to his job that only those of you who have been in that position can understand. But I also know that every teacher here is saying they have never experienced a worse culture at AHS. I have watched veteran teachers cry in the workroom. Every veteran teacher still here, is loudly counting down the hours til retirement. The culture is one of flight. People want to leave. I imagine several more will leave over the summer. There is neither structure nor discipline in the building. Educational pedagogy backed by years of behavioral and psychological research seems to have been discarded in favor of education pop culture sound bites that look good in news articles by Edutopia, but which provide little to no meaningful support for teachers or students.
I strongly believe that this isn’t just an issue of one principal. It’s an issue of the ACPS system that no one person will be able to address next year. AHS cannot be the jewel in ACPS’s crown if it hemorrhages quality teachers year after year. There are good people here at every level, but they operate as islands. And those islands are sinking. Why should we be tied to a building, a room, a class, a group of students, when the school and system make it so clear that their relationship with US, as teachers, is so invaluable to them. When teachers with incredible accolades and years of success with thousands of students can retire without even a peep from central office or administration?
I know that in many ways, we are privileged in ACPS. We have money, access to incredible programs, and a fantastic university in our town. We have renovated buildings and we’re willing to try new things. We’re honest about our issues with race, poverty, and achievement. But we’re devoid of community and relationship at the building level. We, as staff, do not feel seen, heard, or valued. We feel pitted against one another. We feel disenfranchised. We feel alone.
And that’s why many of us have chosen to no longer be a part of the “we.”
I hope you take these words seriously, as I know they reflect the thoughts and feelings of most of AHS. You are both well respected and I hope you harness your considerable power and influence to turn the tide at AHS in a positive direction. I know we all care about these students. But we must also care about these teachers so that they can care for the students well.