Williamsburg students stage walkout to protest mistreatment of teachers

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by Karen Hopkins, 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on May 29, 2014 at 3:02 PM

Updated Thursday, May 29 at 6:28 PM

WILLIAMSBURG -- Nearly 100 Warhill High School students walked out of class Thursday morning to protest that school leaders are mistreating teachers.

Senior Jong Lee said teachers do not feel safe expressing their concerns and are fearful for their jobs.

"The students were peaceful. We respect their desire to peacefully protest," Williamsburg James City County school spokesperson Betsty Overkamp-Smith said.

While there is a code of conduct with rules for skipping class, it's not clear yet if students will be punished.

The problems arose after a new administration took charge at Warhill High this year. Students claim Principal Jeffrey Carroll and his two new assistant principals are ruling with fear and intimidation, creating a hostile environment. 

This school year, 21 Warhill staff members have either resigned, retired or sought transfers to other schools. Parents and students fear more teachers will want to leave next year. However, school officials said it's normal to have school employees leave each year.

Lee argued that teacher morale is at an all-time-low. Teachers look worried and nervous, and that's affecting their education. WJCC Superintendent Steven Constantino is standing behind the leadership at Warhill, and Principal Carroll has said he is willing to talk with anyone who has concerns about the school.

Part of the problem is constant turnover in leadership. The school has had six principals in seven years.

Another issue is the division's pay scale for teachers. A first year teacher earns $40,301, and a teacher with a doctorate and 37 years experience earns $80,000. 

"Teachers across the country have dealt with significant issues with frozen pay scales," Overkamp-Smith noted.

Additionally, teachers statewide now have to pay 5 percent more into their retirment funds.

Williamsburg James City County School board is working to address concerns regarding pay. This year, the board has approved a one percent pay raise for school employees, and a 3.42 percent raise to cover benefits costs. 

New statewide teacher evaluation rules are also creating more pressure.If they fail to meet the administration's expectations, teachers put on an improvement plan. If they don't make progress, they'll lose their jobs. At the same time, the Virginia Department of Education is making SOL tests more challenging and rigourus. 

These same issues are problems at schools throughout hampton roads, but this is the first time students have protested on behalf of their teachers.

 

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