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The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill High School teachers criticize school culture

“I love my students, but I don’t want to go back,” said one female Chapel Hill High School teacher, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from her employer.

Survey results on teacher work conditions from earlier this year suggest this feeling might be common among teachers at the school, which is the oldest high school in the area. Only 13 percent of the school’s teachers agreed there is an atmosphere of trust and respect in their school, according to the North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions survey.

Sixty-seven other teachers disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, according to the results. No teachers said they strongly agreed. In comparison, 68.3 percent of all district teachers and 73 percent of all teachers in North Carolina public schools said they either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement.

From March 10 to April 4, teachers across the state took the survey, which is conducted every other year and collects data at the school, district and state levels.

Chapel Hill High School teachers answered the survey with a 100 percent response rate, up from a 56.35 percent response rate in 2012.

Questions on the survey covered teachers’ perspectives on evaluation methods, use of class time, professional development, school facilities, community support and managing student conduct.

Chapel Hill High School Assistant Principal Kevin Kay said administrators will be taking steps this year to improve teacher work conditions.

“We’re working on some stuff to try to help our climate and culture,” he said. “I think our teachers here are exceptional, and I feel honored to work with them.”

A communication problem

Another teacher, who left Chapel Hill High School after the end of the 2013-14 school year, said he thinks problems at the school started in 2012, when two teachers were transferred from Chapel Hill High School to address what some administrators considered a negative culture at the school.

The teacher, who asked to remain anonymous because he is still connected to the district, said the transfers made many teachers feel like district leadership had it out for the faculty.

“I think that’s really where a lot of it started,” said the teacher, who said he wouldn’t have left if it weren’t for the current conditions.

Another current Chapel Hill High School teacher, who also asked to be anonymous for fear of backlash from the high school’s administration, said he thinks one of the biggest problems at the school is that issues are not fully discussed with teachers. He said the results of the survey, for example, were only very briefly talked about at the end of the school year.

“No one addressed it right away — it’s been put on a back burner,” he said. “I would try to have a dialogue about it.”

When an administrator was accused of plagiarism in December, there was almost no discussion of the issue among administrators and teachers, he said.

He also said teachers do not have much say in making school decisions.

“Decisions are handed down with very little input,” he said.

Chapel Hill High Principal Sulura Jackson did not respond to multiple calls and emails for comment in the past three weeks and was not available for an interview at her office Monday afternoon.

The teacher who left the school said teachers were not given much say in deciding what classes they will teach for the year within their subject. He also said that when teachers are brought into decision-making meetings, they are often talked down to or given curt replies.

According to the survey results, just 16 percent of Chapel Hill High School teachers agree that “teachers have an appropriate level of influence on decision making in this school.”

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District-wide turnover

According to data provided by the district, the teacher turnover rate for the 2012-13 school year (14.47 percent) was the highest since the 2004-05 rate (14.1 percent).

From July 1, 2013, to July 31 of this year, 25 certified teachers — or a third of the faculty — left Chapel Hill High. Most resigned, but some had contracts that were not renewed, and others retired.

Chapel Hill High School is not the only school dealing with high turnover rates for the 2013-14 school year. Carrboro High School saw the loss of 18 certified teachers, and East Chapel Hill High School lost 21 — indicating no significant difference between the high schools’ turnover rates.

District spokesman Jeff Nash said this summer was a busy one for hiring faculty. At one point, the district’s human resources department hired 60 teachers in just two weeks.

Many teachers leave the district because they find better-paying jobs elsewhere, Nash said.

“That’s just the reality of the climate we’re in — a very financial climate,” he said. “We don’t believe that folks are leaving this district because they’re necessarily unhappy with this district.

“There are states where they can just move to, and in some cases their salary can jump up by $10,000 or more just by signing the contract; that’s hard for us to do anything with.”

Making things better

The Chapel Hill High School teacher who left the school said conditions could be improved if there were more interaction between administration and teachers on a daily basis.

“Just having an administrator out and about would improve things, because then people would get a chance to talk to each other casually, and they would be able to see us teaching, and they would have a more accurate idea of what’s going on,” he said.

Chapel Hill High School has had about 10 principals in the past 20 years, Nash said.

The female Chapel Hill High School teacher who is still at the school said this could be one cause of the tension.

“We have so many changes in administration, and every administration that comes in, they have their own ideas,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing lacking: There’s no consistency whatsoever.”