A group of concerned parents, community members and staff came together Monday evening at Pioneer Park for a meeting hosted by the Parents for RE-1 Teachers and Kids group to talk about what they see as a growing crisis in the district.
The Parents for RE-1 group is moving forward with seeking signatures to put a question on the November ballot asking to recall the three board members whose seats are not up for election this year: Jodene Boerner, Jill Brownell and Jennifer Ogley. But first, they wanted to share why they are doing that and why they feel that RE-1 needs new leadership.
Parents started the meeting saying this isn’t a personal vendetta and it’s not about COVID-19 or politics, they simply care about students and teachers. Many of the concerns brought up Monday were similar to those voiced at recent school board meetings, with the top one being the treatment of staff and what many see as a hostile work environment that has resulted in numerous employees leaving the district.
According to Superintendent Shila Adolf, as of Thursday the district had 39 resignations/retirements/terminations, with some people having rescinded their resignations, but parents shared a list of around 60 administrators and teachers whom they say have left this year, with some retirees leaving money on the table by opting not to take a transition year. The Journal-Advocate asked Adolf for clarification on the number, but had not received a response by press deadline.
Not everyone who has left has done so because Adolf; some have been planning retirement for a while and others left for higher paying positions. Adolf has pointed out numerous times that the district has had a lot of turnover for numerous years: last year’s turnover rate was 19%, in 2018-19 it was 22.6%, in 2017-18 it was 17% and in 2016-17 it was 20.8%.
Areas of specific concern include at Sterling Middle School, where there are only two out of seven language arts teachers left and at Ayres Elementary all four special education teachers are gone, leaving department heads to have to train an almost entirely new staff. Plus, members of the group expressed fear that with schools like Metro State University recommending that graduates entering the field not consider teaching jobs in RE-1, there won’t be enough teachers to fill the vacancies.
The district is in the process of conducting exit interviews with those who have left, something Adolf said RE-1 never used to do. Last summer, Adolf did exit interviews herself with as many staff as possible.
This year she didn’t want to put herself in that position and because she wanted it be unbiased, she hired Chris Whetzel, an education consultant and superintendent for Woodlin School District; Gena Ramey, a retired superintendent who works for East Central BOCES; and Jeff Durbin, a retired superintendent, all of whom were recommended to do this kind of work because they are retirees or do consulting.
“It’s a non-biased way for them to complete an exit interview. I don’t get to see individual results; what those individuals will do is they’ll work together to make recommendations to the district,” Adolf said, adding that this is a chance for staff “to really be honest and get their word out, there so to speak. An exit interview has a ton of research behind it and I think most places do exit interviews; it’s a best practice, so to speak. The goal is to make a positive change or improve the school culture.”
Some teachers have accused Adolf of bullying, belittling staff – asking if they even know what they should be teaching, twisting words, not valuing and understanding the history of buildings and micromanaging.
Some comments from teachers shared by parents at Monday’s meeting include: “Education is hard as it is, but she makes it unbearable,” “I never felt so demoralized and undervalued in all my years of teaching” and “She says, don’t tell anyone else this, this is just been you and me. Nobody else knows this yet…”
A rep from the South Platte Education Association did meet with Adolf, but nothing came of it. Kim Krier, the former human resources director, told the Journal-Advocate she was asked by the teacher’s union to speak about why she resigned, so she wrote a letter. Some of that letter was shared at the May 24 school board meeting, but not all of it was read because the speaker reached their three-minute time limit; the full letter has since been posted on the Parents for RE-1 Teachers and Kids Facebook page.
In the letter Krier talks about trying to work with Adolf, noting that prior to a meeting in late fall that included her, Adolf, Assistant Superintendent Ron Marostica and former Chief Financial Officer Luke Janes, the superintendent had been somewhat communicative with her. But, that changed when Krier became aware that Adolf’s initial perception of her was that she had moved from an administrative assistant (secretary) role to one of responsibility for human resource duties with minimal qualifications.
Krier clarified that she had over 15 years human resource experience prior to RE-1, had human resource duties during her tenure with the district and had obtained certification through the Society of Human Resource Managers as a Senior Certified Professional, and said Adolf seemed somewhat taken aback.
“From that point forward, communication with me was minimal to non-existent,” Krier wrote.
She lists several examples, including a child abuse investigation involving an employee. Krier said she left a voicemail for Adolf and followed up with an email to confirm if the employee should be put on administrative leave, paid or unpaid as was the practice previously with this type of situation. Adolf replied to a text that she would be back in touch, but Krier said no further communication was received.
Ultimately, Krier had a conversation with the employee and the supervisor. Logan County Department of Human Services was familiar with the teen involved, they cleared the employee based on witness statements and the employee was instructed to provide disposition documentation.
Krier also wrote about the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, which became effective on Jan. 1. In an unrelated email, Krier said Adolf directed her to refrain from using of the district “all staff” email group without discussing it with her first. The Equal Pay Act requires employers to notify all staff at the same time about job openings, so due to Krier’s extremely limited contact with Adolf, she requested that the superintendent approve an email template she had developed to use for job announcements as this would be continual, routine emails to staff.
No response was received, and according to Krier, the district was out of compliance until approximately one week prior to her separation from the district, April 1, when Adolf requested several positions be posted and Krier said she made the independent decision to move forward to notify staff.
Krier’s concerns led her to meet with an attorney to determine her personal legal liability regarding non-compliance with the law. She also asked her attorney if Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) requests are required for board of education members to request information and the attorney confirmed that the board is part of the district organization and not subject to completing a CORA request.
Krier said she met with board president Dennis Kaan in March to share the many concerns she had and to report the hostile work environment complaints she received against Adolf from multiple employees. From January through April, she was contacted by three other board members, who requested information about staff turnover/reasons for leaving, employment law and internal discord they were beginning to hear about. Even though Adolf had directed the board request to be considered as CORA requests, Krier responded to the board members as had been the practice during the tenure of the two previous superintendents.
She ended her letter on a more positive note, stating, “my prayer for the district and community is for the acknowledgement of work well done, graceful forgiveness of mistakes made, unity to move forward together and for God to provide His strength to endure through a time of transition.”
The Journal-Advocate asked Adolf about the letter; she said she cannot comment on a personnel issue.
“I can’t comment back on personnel. I can round about policy things, but I can’t shoot arrows back so to speak, our attorney says no, I can’t do that and trust me I’m tempted. But I won’t, it’s not being a good human,” she said, adding that “however this evolves or happens for me professionally, I’m going to walk away knowing that I did not compromise my moral code.”