The superintendent of the Charleston County School District got an earful Thursday evening from a room full of dissatisfied teachers who demanded more transparency, better communication and a seat at the table when district officials and board members make decisions affecting their jobs.
"We've lost a clear vision for our organization," said Meg Orchard, a social studies teacher at Fort Johnson Middle School. "It is particularly stressful when I don’t know what is the priority for the district? What is the priority for my school?"
"I'm willing to work as hard as I possibly can to achieve any sort of goal," she added, "but I feel like I'm kind of dipping my toe in many, many pools of water, and so I can only stretch myself so thin."
Thursday's meeting with teachers was the first of six "listening sessions" that Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait arranged to receive feedback regarding her strategic vision.
Postlewait's listening sessions, billed in a press release as examples of her "renewed commitment to increased transparency throughout the district," come in the wake of a backlash over principal reassignments and her decision to evaluate teachers using standardized test score data.
"It’s created not only low morale, but a huge sense of mistrust and uneasiness," said Katherine Banks, a teacher at Angel Oak Elementary, on the district's new evaluation system. "Teachers need to feel respected in that they sense that they are being clearly communicated with so that they can do their jobs to the best of their abilities without having these worries on their shoulders."
About two dozen teachers, including members of the Charleston Teacher Alliance and Teacher Roundtable, a group of the district's teacher-of-the-year winners, joined Postlewait for an hour-long panel before moderator John Read, CEO of Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative, opened the floor to questions from a packed audience of mostly teachers.
By and large, teachers criticized the use of test scores in measuring teacher effectiveness or student growth. They lamented the lack of resources in high-poverty Title I schools, over-testing and minimal parental support. Lisa Trott, CCSD's 2013 teacher of the year, proposed the creation of a teacher cabinet that could serve as a liaison between teachers and district leaders.
At the end of the session, Postlewait thanked the teachers for their candor and courage as not a single teacher appeared to mince words.
"I've been teaching in Charleston County for 10 years," said Melissa Stewart, a Spanish teacher at West Ashley High School. "This is the first year that I've been ashamed of being part of this district."
The remaining five listening sessions are scheduled for the following dates: June 20 from 5 to 7 p.m. for principals; June 28 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. for business leaders; June 29 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for students; July 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. for parents; and July 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. for the community.
All listening sessions will take place at the district's headquarters at 75 Calhoun Street.
District teachers also are invited to meet with Postlewait at her office to discuss the strategic plan from 3-4 p.m. Wednesdays until July 26, except for July 5.
This story has been updated.