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Hell No, We Won't Go

Most teachers say they won't work in struggling high schools


For talented teachers who struggle to make it on puny salaries, it should be a dream come true.

Some would get a $15,000 signing bonus and most would get a 15 percent raise in pay. All they'd have to do is transfer to one of the school system's four lowest scoring schools and boost students' scores, in some cases by over 10 percentage points, and meet tough performance standards. If they fail, they could be fired. If not enough of the system's most talented, experienced teachers choose to go willingly, they could be forcibly reassigned from higher scoring schools.

Most of the teachers Creative Loafing talked to -- including most of those the school system suggested we talk to -- thought Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman's plan was, shall we say, a little loco.

Teach kids at schools where less than half the student body passes annual tests and most of the students are poor?

Several teachers said that if they were forced to teach at the target schools -- Garinger, West Charlotte, West Mecklenburg or Waddell high schools -- they'd leave the district and teach elsewhere. Ironically, most agreed that if Gorman could pull this off and move experienced teachers to struggling schools, something good might happen there.

"Is he (Gorman) going to leave too if this doesn't work?" said Ginger Bevan, a civics teacher at Independence High School who has been teaching for 28 years. Bevan thinks the students at these schools can't achieve the test score gains Gorman wants in two years. Because of that, she says teachers who are forced to transfer and could be fired if they don't make the grade are being set up for failure.

"It seems like they can't blame the kids, they won't go to the parents so that leaves one group to place the blame on -- teachers," said Bevan. "I just want him to say, 'I'm holding hands with you, and if you go, I have to go, too.'"

"If you don't put gates on the gateway," said Judy Kidd, "how do you expect to blame the (high school) teachers when (middle school) principals promote functional illiterates?"

Kidd, head of the Classroom Teachers Association, says the plan won't work unless the school system ends the social promotion of eighth graders who fail their end-of-course tests and are promoted to high school anyway.

"I think that it's a great idea that they want to give me a 15 percent raise," said Rebekah Myers, a chemistry and physics teacher who is in her third year at West Mecklenburg. "He (Gorman) had to start somewhere. Our kids deserve it. There are great kids at West Meck, motivated kids. I'm rip-roaring ready to go."

"Only teachers from outside the district could possibly be duped into being a part of that," said one high school teacher who asked not to be named. "No one from here believes that they (the administration) will do what they say and pay you what they say. They'll have to bring them in from far away, like California."

"For me, there is a quality of life issue," said an Independence High School teacher who asked not to be named. Even though the potential $15,000 signing bonus alone is almost half his $32,000 salary, he says he wouldn't be willing to make the move.

"To go into those schools and deal with the problems wouldn't be worth $15,000. These schools have struggled for so long. My suspicion is that the problem is bigger than who is at the front of the classroom."

"I was shocked to hear about it," said Quinn Jones, a second year English teacher at Garinger. "It has lowered the morale of teachers at school. We know our jobs are on the line. It seems like it holds teachers accountable for what the students do. It puts a lot of accountability on us."

"We have 14 sections of kids who have not passed the eighth grade test, but they came to high school," said Joanne Whitley, chair of the math department at Garinger. "The other high schools can hide these kids under good scores. We can't."

Whitley says she is currently struggling to fill seven vacant openings for math teachers and doesn't know what she'll do if teachers whose students don't post the scores Gorman wants are fired. But she says good teachers could make a difference if the district can manage to hire them.

"I make my scores," Whitley said. "Twenty of me could help a school make it."

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