DALLAS — A veteran Cobb elementary teacher who is fighting to keep her job amid what she says is discrimination from a new principal woke up Sunday to find a threatening message written on her car windows.
Elizabeth Nilsen, who just completed her sixth year teaching at Hayes Elementary in Kennesaw and 12th year as an educator, has filed two complaints against Hayes Elementary Principal Teressa Watson. She believes those complaints prompted someone to write “will Watson win — U will lose if you don’t back off” on the passenger side of her car in what appears to be a white paint pen.
“Whoever did it kind of knew how to do it the right way,” she said. “We had also been seeing for about a week and a half a red van around the neighborhood and parked in front of my house twice Friday night.”
Corp. Ashley Henson with the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office said the vandalism happened between 10 p.m. Saturday and 7:20 a.m. Sunday. Pictures of her vehicle were taken for evidence and patrol officers were notified of potential vandals or suspicious vehicles.
Watson and school district officials declined to comment for this report.
Nilsen filed her first complaint against Watson in March, claiming the principal was discriminating against teachers based on their age, race or disabilities.
Nilsen is a 43-year-old white woman who is legally blind. She lost her sight in one eye and has a retina implant in the other.
She filed the second complaint in April, accusing Watson of falsifying documents after she allegedly signed and dated her teacher evaluation April 2, nearly a week before she actually signed the document.
Nilsen said her problems with Watson began last November after she was given bad marks on her classroom evaluation.
“When I went for my feedback, she chewed me apart,” Nilsen said. “The way (principals) can start a paper trail is to attack us on our performance.”
She said Watson was supposed to schedule a second evaluation but instead showed unannounced one day and gave her another bad review.
“After that, she came in once or twice a week … (and) put me on a (Professional Development Plan),” she said. “I wasn’t given a choice not to sign (the PDP). It was a stressful situation.”
Nilsen said Watson gave her articles to read, study and report on to help come off the PDP, but eventually Nilsen’s health got the best of her.
“My doctor put me on medical leave March 6 because I was at a heart attack and stroke level … due to malignant hypertension induced by (Watson),” she said.
According to an Open Records Request, which Nilsen had to file in order to learn the ruling of the complaints, the principal was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Nilsen will have a hearing about her teaching contract and Watson’s recommendation to not renew it at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the boardroom off Glover Street in Marietta. Board members Kathleen Angelucci, Alison Bartlett and Board Chair Scott Sweeney will preside over the hearing.
The hearing was canceled early Wednesday.
Nilsen said she was advised by her doctor not to attend the meeting due to her high blood pressure. She is at risk of losing her remaining eyesight in her good eye if she undergoes any more stress.
John Adams, executive director for Educators First, which is representing Nilsen, said, “The investigative report indicated that Watson essentially admitted falsely backdating Nilsen’s annual evaluation form.”
“To my knowledge there have been at least a half a dozen other principals or administrators who were demoted or worse for similar infractions.”
Watson was named the principal of Hayes Elementary in mid-June after the district combined the Intermediate and Primary schools for next school year.
Adams said he does not think the Cobb school board was aware that Watson was under investigation when they approved her reassignment.
He also said a number of teachers at Hayes have contacted him since June concerned about her being named the sole principal.
In 2009, a group of protesters from a Fayetteville-based teachers union, Metro Association of Classroom Educators, picketed outside Hayes, calling for Watson’s removal because of her approach to education.
Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, two callers said teachers were being micromanaged and forced to spend hours on unnecessary paperwork, leaving little time to teach, the Journal reported in October 2009.