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.