Teacher transition questioned by educator
TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Gayle Behr, an all-day kindergarten teacher at the Parkside Education Center, on Tuesday distributes copies of the letter she wrote to the Palmerton Area School Board. In it, Behr, who plans to retire at the end of this school year after 33 years in the district, said that while she understood the manner in which the number of classrooms were reduced at particular grade levels, as well as the transfer of teachers from one grade level to another at the S.S. Palmer Elementary School, she didn't agree with the way it was done and how so many people were affected.
A tenured educator in the Palmerton Area School District has taken the district to task over the manner in which it handled a transition at one of its elementary buildings.
The matter came to light under the public comment portion of the school board's meeting on Tuesday, when resident Tony Papay read a copy of a letter written by a teacher who said she wasn't allowed the courtesy to speak at last month's board meeting.
The letter was written by Gayle Behr, an all-day kindergarten teacher at the Parkside Education Center who plans to retire at the end of this school year after 33 years with the district.
Behr's letter was in response to the district's decision to not replace three of the four teachers set to retire at S.S. Palmer Elementary at the end of this school year.
Last month, Sherrie Fenner, director of curriculum and instruction, told the committee there were 80 students who registered for kindergarten at Parkside Elementary, compared to just 40 at Towamensing Elementary.
Fenner said S.S. Palmer will have four teachers retire at the end of this school year, and suggested the district not replace three of those retirements.
From the 2007-08 school year to the 2009-10 school year, Fenner said kindergarten enrollment has decreased from 710 to 639 students at S.S Palmer.
However, Fenner said her recommendation came with the caveat that the district be able to hire three teachers at a later date if necessary.
In her letter, Behr said she understood the need to reduce the number of classrooms at particular grade levels due to reduced enrollment, as well as the need to transfer teachers from one grade level to another based on the dynamics of a particular team.
"What I have difficulty understanding is the way in which it was done, and why so many people were affected," Behr said in her letter.
Behr said the teachers in the building didn't learn about the proposal until after an article ran in the TIMES NEWS on Feb. 4.
"This was the first that anyone in our building heard this proposal," she said. "Mr. (high school assistant principal Bill) Congdon personally came around to each teacher and apologized to us for finding out about the possible reduction of classes through this public means."
A month later, Behr said the TIMES NEWS again reported that three of the four retiring teachers from S.S. Palmer wouldn't be replaced.
"Still, none of us heard anything about this from any administrator," she said. "No apology this time."
Then, on March 8, Behr said a posting for an elementary teacher and a sixth-grade elementary teacher were noticed on the district website by several teachers, at which point inquiries were made.
Behr said she believes that had the district worked together as a team, it could have "resolved issues that were believed to exist and retained the mutual respect that is so vital to the success of our school district."
Her decision to retire at the end of this school year was a difficult one to make, Behr said.
"In my opinion, morale is at its lowest ever," she said. "My hope is that Palmerton can again become the great district it once was when I first started teacher here... where true teamwork existed and everyone worked together toward an end... educating children."
After Papay read the letter to the board, Behr told the board she wrote the letter.
"I felt I needed to say something because I care about these students," Behr said. "I feel the morale here is very low, and I hope there will be classes to take place in the future."
Papay said it was unfortunate Behr has chosen to retire from the district after so many years of service.
"It's time to take a hard look at who you hire and who you should take care of," Papay said.
Approached by the TIMES NEWS after the meeting, Superintendent Carol Boyce said the district's administrative team assessed the matter thoroughly before it arrived at its decision.
"Our administrative team is always cognizant of what is best for the kids," Boyce said. "We try to honor what we can, all the while doing what we perceive to be in the best interests at that time."