A dozen parents at Haven Middle School, including three former PTA presidents, stood outside the building Wednesday morning and cheered the teachers as the educators entered the school.
It was the latest show of parental support, which began as concern over student behavior and discipline, and has now shifted to anger over the transfer of seven veteran Haven teachers to other buildings for the next school year.
Kristin O’Connor, a past Haven PTA leader and parent of two Haven alumni, said the transfers, which include moving Haven’s two union representatives, “seems completely like retribution for what’s been happening at this school.”
Haven teachers have been demanding action to stop student fights, and have also complained about a lack of support and minimal trust from district administrators.
The educators have been walking in as a group in recent weeks, in a show of solidarity.
Nancy Marshall, another former Haven PTA president and parent of Haven graduates, said that the teachers being transferred had “hit the end of their rope, they spoke out, and suddenly they’re not here any more.”
The District 65 administration has acknowledged student behavior problems at the school, saying steps have been and will be taken to deal with the small number of youngsters who cause most of the trouble.
The district also said that declining enrollment across the 18 Evanston/Skokie schools means 22 teaching positions have to be eliminated, and transfers, combined with normal attrition, are the way to adjust staffing without layoffs.
The former PTA leaders agreed that some staff shifts are likely necessary for numerical balance.
However, they also questioned the process, which saw seven teacher activists at Haven being moved elsewhere.
“It sends a message to everyone else to shut up,” said Nicole Jacob Marks, another former PTA leader, and parent of four Haven grads.
The parents were particularly incensed that a middle school social studies teacher, with more than two decades’ experience, is being transferred to teach third grade in an elementary school.
O’Connor said that particular educator is a great teacher who will probably do a great job, but moving someone with that experience level to a grade which he has never taught before “seems punitive.”
In a statement late last week, the disrict administration conceded that “it may be difficult to hear about a beloved educator moving to another building,” but said those being transferred will be supported.
The adminstration also said the transfer process involved school and union leaders, who worked collaboratively to develop the staffing plans.
But the parents standing outside Haven and cheering the teachers were not buying that explanation.
Cathy Heldt, who had two children attend Haven, said “I don’t see how it’s justifiable” to transfer all seven Haven teachers who just happen to be outspoken and/or leaders.
And Marshall said that her children had teachers at Haven “that they will talk about for the rest of their lives.”
Now, they have something else to add to that conversation.
Update 1:30 p.m.: In response to a request for comment from Evanston Now, District 65 spokesperson Melissa Messinger issued the following statement:
“Yes, we did communicate with our staff and community in advance of the transfers. Staffing planning was a collaborative process with the District and DEC and careful consideration was given to honor educator preference forms, endorsements, and prior experience to minimize impact to the greatest extent.
“This was about preserving employment of all returning educators and avoiding any honorable dismissals which were able to be accomplished as part of this partnership effort.
“We recognize that change is hard and the need to support our impacted educators who may be transferring to another position and/or school. Efforts are underway in collaboration with DEC to provide the necessary support and follow up.”