July 25, 2012
Dear Mr. Forcella,

I have been following the debate regarding the involuntary transfers of Mr. Wartski and Mrs. Thompson. As a parent who had two children at Chapel Hill High, one in Mr. Wartski’s class and one in Mrs. Thompson’ class, I am confused and concerned about their transfers. Whatever your reasons, your actions and your comments have made these transfers look punitive.

As you are interested in improving the perceived negative culture at Chapel Hill High School, I would have preferred you to start a dialog with the teachers and worked with the teachers rather than removing them. I am a firm believer it is better to be proactive rather than reactive. Your actions give me the perception you and the board are working on a private agenda.

Having been at Chapel Hill High School as a parent for the last eight years, I can think of a number of other teachers who could have been transferred for a variety of reasons. It’s hard for me to understand why you singled out these two. As a parent, the education of students is utmost in my mind, and I fail to understand how these transfers will add to the educational quality of Chapel Hill High or the other two schools as they will be teaching subjects they are unfamiliar with. Change can be a positive catalyst, but to be effective it needs to be introduced in a positive manner.

Based on your most recent letter, I have questions:

“Our classroom and school environments will need to become places where the conversations among teachers and administrators are about instructional improvement. An atmosphere of trust and mutual respect is critical to our success.”

I fail to understand how transferring teachers without explaining why builds an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. Although you repeatedly say this is not a punitive move, your actions and discussion fail to support this. The way the transfers were done fails to build a community of trust and respect. You do not respect the hard work and years of dedication these teachers have made to both Chapel Hill High School and to the community. This lack of respect makes your actions very difficult for me to accept. These moves are not about instructional improvement. How is it instructional improvement to have Mr. Wartski teach AP Environmental Science when he has never taught the course? Once again, change can be good, but it needs to be introduced in a positive way.

“It was clear to me from the depth of these concerns that in order for Chapel Hill High School to realize achievement growth for all students a culture change was necessary.”

I would like to know how transferring two teachers will impact the culture. The implication is that it will affect the culture by sending the message ‘put up or shut up.’ Could you provide information on the nature of these concerns? Culture change takes teamwork and cannot be dictated.

“Many stakeholders at Chapel Hill High School were frustrated with the culture of the school.”

This is a very broad, nebulous statement. Many is a very uninformative number, can you provide numbers of people whom you talked with as well as define whom the stakeholders were. Also, once again what is your definition of ‘culture?’ How has this impacted students’ education?

Could you provide more specific information about the ‘negative culture?’ I just finished having children at CHHS for 8 consecutive years. As with most school environments, there were differences of opinions. However, as a parent, I never perceived a negative environment, nor did my children. It would definitely help me understand your decision if I understood what constitutes a negative environment.

“It is a goal of the district to create collaborative cultures in our schools where everyone feels safe to voice their opinions without fear of reprisal from administration or from their peers.”

Your actions have made it difficult to understand how involuntarily transferring two teachers can create a collaborative culture. The action also carries the implication that it is not safe to voice your opinion. I realize you cannot comment on personnel issues, but both teachers indicate there are no written statements in their files pointing to them as being a negative influence.

“Not at liberty to disclose specifics with regard to each individual transfer situation. Personnel issues are confidential, but in every case School Board policy has been followed.”

I am aware that you cannot discuss personnel issues. However, it appears you are hiding behind this statement, as neither teacher has negative comments in their personnel folders.

“New leadership at the school and with all staff pulling together with a shared vision”

I do hope Lincoln Center can hire a principal who has leadership qualities. Don’t assume the turnover rate of principals is all due to the high-school culture; perhaps you also need to look at the culture at Lincoln Center. It will be hard for all staff to pull together when the fear of transfer is hanging over their heads.

Both you and the School Board have an obligation to the students in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools to provide the best educational opportunities possible. Do these transfers positively impact the education of students in all three high schools?

How will these two teachers integrate themselves into the ‘culture’ of their new school if they have been marked as being negative? After their years of teaching, is this a positive acknowledgement for them?

The ‘perceived negative culture’ would have taken years in the making, so Lincoln Center and the School Board own some responsibility for allowing it to continue and grow.  Why should two teachers be made to pay the price for something not their making?

Cathryn W. Chiesa