Say what you will about those dozen or so teachers at Greenbrier High School who wrote a letter complaining about the school's principal, Margie Hamilton. (Click here to read the letter)
But you can't deny the fact that it took guts.
Seriously: How many of you, when faced with a disagreement with your boss, would get together with a handful of coworkers and write a letter not just to the boss, but to the boss's boss and to the chairman of the company's board ?
Probably not many, especially these days when jobs are scarce.
Yet that's what these teachers did. They wrote a letter of complaint to Hamilton, and sent a copy to Superintendent Charles Nagle and school board Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco.
We don't know, because none of those involved are talking, exactly how much discussion led to this stage. I know some of the people who signed the letter; they aren't impulsive hotheads. So I can make some assumptions about how it progressed all the way to the nuclear option.
The first assumption: It is unlikely that this was the first attempt at communicating that there was a problem.
We don't know specifically how those problems got this far, but we do know in the past few years there was a lot of murmuring that a "mass exodus" of teachers from Greenbrier had taken place.
The letter refers to that: "our school has seen a dramatic turnover in staff."
Has it? Even if it were substantiated, the fact remains that any teachers who might have departed because of leadership conflicts failed to do what the letter-writing teachers did: stand their ground. If they were kindred spirits with the letter-writers, their absence doesn't do those writers much good now.
Still, if there was an identifiable effort from lots of educators to seek employment elsewhere, that at least would be a visible sign of conflict. It's worth looking into.
For those who didn't leave, assuredly many are happy with, or at least tolerant of, Hamilton's leadership. How many? We don't know. We do know that the letter-writers are only a handful compared to the total number of staff members at the school.
The writers limited themselves to seeking signatures from fellow veterans, noting that 28 percent of staffers weren't asked to sign because they're new. Others, the letter says, didn't sign because they "feared for their jobs."
Well, of course they did. Go back to the beginning of this commentary: The reason it takes guts to sign your name to a critique of your boss is that it has the potential of curtailing your livelihood.
In fact, I'm willing to bet those teachers who signed the letter still "fear for their jobs." That's a risk they willingly took, though that risk in academia is somewhat less than out here in the real world where every one of them could have been out on the street the next morning.
But what else did the letter-writers do before it got to this point? Did they individually or collectively meet or try to meet with Hamilton, or a school board member, or a central office administrator? Did they seek mediation?
We just don't know. But it isn't plausible that they'd go from mere grumbling to writing a job-risking letter with no steps in between.
That should be the next part of this process, though Buccafusco indicates the system won't look into the complaints. While it's noble to insist on following chain of command and for the board to express confidence in the person they put in charge of the school, there certainly is no harm in seeing if the claims have (or lack) substance.
None of that means they have to take the letter as gospel and use the contents to beat on Hamilton, or to give Hamilton the green light to retaliate against the writers.
Instead, they ought to explore what happened for the discord to go this far. Somewhere in the middle is where they'll likely find the truth.
You never know; that truth might set some folks free. I hear Richmond County is hiring.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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