Ex-teacher: I was targeted for speaking out
by Kathryn Dobies
kdobies@mdjonline.com
June 24, 2010 12:00 AM | 6449 views | 50 50 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Former Harrison High School teacher Margaret Jones testifies and fights to get her teaching job back during her hearing at the Cobb County School Board Office. Jones was one of the 1,000 Cobb County teachers laid off May 15. <br>Photo by Alexander Acosta
Former Harrison High School teacher Margaret Jones testifies and fights to get her teaching job back during her hearing at the Cobb County School Board Office. Jones was one of the 1,000 Cobb County teachers laid off May 15.
Photo by Alexander Acosta
slideshow
MARIETTA - A former Harrison High School English teacher fought to get her job back Wednesday, claiming she was unfairly targeted after speaking out against the district at a board meeting in February 2009.

The Cobb County Board of Education is allowing former educators to hear appeals from teachers who have been let go either amid budget cuts or for other reasons. The district has 28 tribunals scheduled throughout the summer.

On Feb. 26, 2009, Margaret Jones, during her eighth year of teaching at McEachern High School, spoke to the Cobb County School Board about teacher supply budget cuts, asking members to consider trimming some money in the central office before making teachers bear the brunt of a tight budget. In her speech, Jones alluded to the hiring of Dr. Steven Constantino to an associate superintendent position, a job that Superintendent Fred Sanderson created.

"It seems to me that we are a bit top-heavy in this county," Jones said at the February 2009 meeting. "A few months ago, at a time when we were hearing of foreclosures all over the nation, this central office created a new position with a six-figure salary."

At that time, Peggy Constantino, Dr. Steven Constantino's wife, was principal of McEachern, thus serving as Jones' boss.

It was then that Jones' problems began, she said Wednesday when she took the stand in her own defense.

Jones told the Journal on Tuesday that her former department chair at McEachern, Erika Beck, warned her about speaking out against the district. And things didn't get better when Jones was given an administrative transfer to Harrison High.

Jones testified on Wednesday that she felt prejudice against her at the new high school from her arrival at the beginning of the 2009-10 school year - from the "very first meeting" she had with Harrison English Department Chair Nora Moulton.

Jones said Moulton "had talked with the department chair from McEachern and that I needed to mind my own business, stay to myself and keep my mouth shut."

Moulton did not testify, but was at the hearing, sitting with two Harrison assistant principals who testified, Stephanie Rainey and Priscilla Thornton. The three women could be heard snickering and chatting during Jones' testimony.

The district's attorney, Kristen Williams of Brock, Clay, Calhoun and Rogers, said Jones' contract was not renewed because she received an unsatisfactory rating on her teacher evaluation for the 2009-10 school year, and had nothing to do with the fact that she spoke out against the district in February 2009.

Harrison Principal Donny Griggers, Rainey and Thornton all testified that Jones was an ineffective teacher who had trouble managing students in her class and commanding their attention while teaching.

"My impression of Ms. Jones as a teacher, her teaching style was just different," Griggers said. "It was really ineffective. And I felt like, more or less, that she was somewhere to a new teacher - a first or second year teacher."

Although Jones was observed by the Harrison administration three times formally and once informally, she did not receive her yearly evaluation until March, after she was placed on medical leave in December. Griggers said he based the final evaluation on the compilation of Jones' four previous evaluations. Jones never returned to work after her doctor put her on medical leave in December 2009 because of high blood pressure. When she got the OK from the doctor to return in April, she was informed that her position had already been filled.

Jones said she just wants another chance to teach again and prove herself at Harrison.

"I love it," Jones said of teaching. "I feel called to do it ... I'm a good teacher and students deserve good teachers."

The tribunal began at 9 a.m. and was supervised by hearing officer R. Chris Harrison of Downey and Cleveland, LLP in Marietta. Jones' attorney was Shalini Patel of Clements and Sweet, P.C. in Atlanta.

The three retired Cobb educators who served as tribunal panelists are required to rule on the hearing within five days and make their recommendation whether Jones' contract should be renewed to the school board, which will have the final say.

The three panelists were former Hillgrove Principal Joe Boland, who retired after 35 years in May 2009; Selena Andrews, a former Argyle and Riverside Elementary schools principal who retired from Cobb in May 2008 after 24 years with the district and 35 years as an educator; and Jill Kalina, a former Harrison High School principal and a central office executive who retired in May 2008 after 38 years with the district. Kalina served as interim superintendent for five months after Joe Redden resigned as superintendent in August 2005.

When Sanderson was given the job, Kalina was a vocal supporter, saying: "I think it's a great choice. I love Fred Sanderson. I've worked with him; he was my boss. I've known him for years and years since he was an assistant superintendent at Pebblebrook. I have worked in and around things with Fred for years, and he is a good guy because he's kid-focused and he's going to do what's right for kids."

All three of the panelists said they underwent training with Brock and Clay attorneys Nina Gupta and Williams earlier in the week - Andrews and Kalina on Monday and Boland on Tuesday.
Comments
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Harrison Victime
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September 30, 2012
How would Donnie Griggers know if she was ineffective, he never leaves his office and screens his phone calls? If anyone is ineffective it is most definitely him. He doesn't look kindly on minorities, is a blazon racist. So I have no trouble believe that prejudice existed from the day she arrived even if she is not a minority.
hhs alum
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July 13, 2010
This is a list of things that are of value and importance to griggers in order

1. football

2. administration

3. bruner and moulton(admin wannabes)

4. parents

5. students

6. teachers

Teachers are made out to be the culprit at hhs. They work tediously hard but have zero say in any matter. For example- if a student complains about a teacher(because they do not want to work) the parent phones in a complaint and then griggers investigates only to side with the parents. I have seen this happen way to many times. The hhs admin should be standing up for their teachers- not putting them on trial because some power hungry half-way decent english teacher wishes she was an administrator. Typical hhs admin- ready to throw teachers under the bus!
na,na,na na
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June 29, 2010
Mrs. Moulton is an extremely fair and ethical teacher. Any student could make any comment in her class and continue to be treated fairly in her classroom. She had nothing to do with whatever was going on between MJ and the CCSD. My son was in Mrs. Moulton's class, and he flourished. She goes above and beyond everyday. Don't use this as an opportunity to lose sight of the fact that MJ was having problems long before she came to HHS. Don't blame HHS for doing the job that we all know needs to be done to remove ill-equipped teachers from the classroom. It seems the CCSD is d**med if they do and if they don't. Using this as an opportunity to be critical of others is off target.
Team Teacher
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June 28, 2010
Dear "not to be mentioned",

For someone that is ranting about people judging people, you certainly have no issue with making and posting your own judgements of others!
anonymous
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June 28, 2010
These comments are PROOF that using the teacher evaluation system as a means to RIF teachers is WRONG. We have comments here about the exact same person by two different people who claim to know that person, and the OPINIONS expressed are exactly opposite. What one person sees as positive and progressive another sees in a negative light. I have personally witnessed a situation where two people had opposing views about something and yet BOTH WERE RIGHT. When one person is "judging" another, it is merely an opinion that is expressed, not fact.
not to be mentioned
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June 27, 2010
The fact that everyone believes this article makes me sick! You should be ashamed for thinking that this is everyoone else's fault. Mrs. Jones sucked at teaching. For God sakes she got fired. Get over it. She had no business being a teacher in the first place. You people slamming cobb county. GET OVER YOURSELVES> harrison is a great school I would have all of my kids go there in a heartbeat. And did you ever think that the administrators were just doing their job?! I don't think so. So go ahead and judge people. But understand that they most likely work harder than you will ever work. And Mrs. Moulton is the best teacher at HHS. For your information.
Jackie Moon
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June 25, 2010
To all of you teachers out there I'm sorry. I'm sorry that it has come to this. I'm sorry that the Cobb County School District has taken away your right to stand up for what you believe in without fear for your jobs. It is obvious that the message has been sent. Say anything negative about anyone "high up" and you will be terminated no matter how good of a job you do. Teachers of the Cobb County School District be aware. DO NOT talk bad about any of the "higher ups" or their decisions or you will lose your job.
High School Teacher
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June 25, 2010
As a veteran CCSD high school teacher, I fully believe the otherwise unbelievable stories told by Dr. Deru and Mrs. Jones. I know Dr. Deru to be a knowledgeable, competent teacher, and a caring, kind man. (Five years ago, he taught my niece.) I do not know Mrs. Jones, but after making a couple of phone calls, I truly believe she was terminated for political reasons. Why were these two remarkable teachers denied contracts? Why were ten math teachers at Campbell denied contracts? It certainly was not because of incompetence: over 95% of their students passed the math portion of the GHSGT last year. Will I be next? Can the district terminate me simply because they can? When did the CCSD become a dictatorial bureaucracy run by self-serving individuals? When did the district forget that we are only here because of the children? When was the fate of experienced, competent teachers put in the hands of a small group of pompous, arrogant individuals with little or no classroom experience? How many more dedicated, caring teachers can we afford to lose? Yes, the district could hire two teachers for what they pay me (or Mrs. Jones or Dr. Deru), but who will train the two new teachers: Fred Sanderson? I firmly believe the district is trying to save money by denying contracts to teachers with seniority and who are not politically correct.
ccteacher
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June 25, 2010
Unfortunately, so many things are backwards in the way teachers are evaluated. I have received many completely incorrect evaluations over the years. "meets standards" where I have exceeded; "exceeds standards" where I barely mmet, etc. It is interesting to note that many administrators who are evaluating teachers have very little, if any training on exactly how to analyze what they witness in their brief visits to classrooms. The sad thing is, it really comes down to whether or not they like you. Teachers form cliques worse than high school cheerleaders, and it comes down to who you know and how much you can do to get in with people who have the power to influence your evaluation. It's one big game of favoritism and game playing. Even more unfortunate is the hierarchy in existence at the county level--too many power hungry, dirty people in charge. Witnessing teachers and friends losing their jobs and feeling helpless as to how to take care of themselves and their families, after they pour their hearts and souls into teaching students, this is tragic. You can't make heartless people care about others, all you can do is pity their heartlessness.
What22
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June 25, 2010
I can see that happening.....
WTF man
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June 25, 2010
Welcome to hell. Sanderson announced he is retiring next year. I wonder who he has been grooming to take his place? I hear Paulding is hiring...
anonymous
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June 25, 2010
You people are all idiots. You think you know Margaret Jones, but you don't know Jack Squat. I worked with her for many years and I can tell you she has the biggest heart I have ever seen on a fellow teacher. We all know that she was singled out because she spoke out about the Constantinos. I hope Margaret gets her job back and if not, sue Cobb County for all it's worth.
First Impressions
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June 24, 2010
Good grief, the three women (Moulton and the two APs) sound like characters straight out of Mean Girls. Their conduct during the trial suggests to me that they have little respect for those that they view as beneath them and really makes me much more sympathetic to Jones' side of the story.
RIFred
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June 24, 2010
Superintendent Fred Sanderson announced plans to retire.

Sanderson said he would leave his job at the end of his current contract, which expires June 30, 2011.

Questions, Questions
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June 24, 2010
This is all very interesting. The comments are even better than the article. There are still many unanswered questions:

-How can a woman be a terrible teacher one year, but not the years prior?

-How is somebody promoted to a position that she is not even certified to teach?

-Why did the county cut almost 1,000 jobs and then weeks later post 500 job openings?

-How can anybody believe that increasing class size won't hinder student success?

-How can anybody determine what school has better teachers or students?

-Why are the people in charge (administrators and centeral office staff) not suffering the same way the teachers are (example- pay cuts, furlough days, etc)?

-How can this be only a fraction of the questions that need to be answered?
Cobb Teacher
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June 24, 2010
I know absolutely nothing about Ms. Jones. However, she was terminated by administrators and she is being tried by administrators. This hardly seems fair. Why wasn't there at least one front-line teacher on the tribunal? I tend to believe Ms. Jones' argument that she was terminated for speaking out.
disheartened
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June 24, 2010
What a mess! I have personally observed Ms. Jones' teaching and she is an extremely competent and compassionate teacher. Unfortunately for her, she also stands up for what she thinks is right, regardless of the consequences. Indeed, she was warned by her former department chair that she was "being watched". A sad situation, especially for our kids who deserve better than what they are getting. Power (however insignificant) can be so corrupting!
Harrison Insider
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June 24, 2010
Another thing - I hardly think principal Donnie Griggers has any right to talk about anyone being "ineffective" - That's a bona fide case of the pot calling the kettle black if I ever heard one! If Griggers was gone Harrison really would be the "Walton of West Cobb!"
Jackie Moon
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June 24, 2010
Great posts Team Teacher. It is really sad that it has come down to this. But the bottom line is that Fred Sanderson and the BOE are the ones that have made it this way. If you want unbiased people hearing these people fight for their careers, have people come in from other parts of the state. People that do not know anyone that works for the Cobb County School District in any capacity.
Just wondering
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June 24, 2010
To Anonymous:

How do you know Ms. Jones lost the trial if you are not part of the inside track in the Harrison English department? Maybe you were at the hearing? How can that be? It was a closed hearing except for a very select, chosen few. And no one else is aware that Ms. Jones "lost this trial."

Sounds like you are the voice for Ms. Moulton. Or Ms. Moulton herself. Lots of self-congratulating going on here from the Harrison faculty. Hope you feel better.
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