Monday, March 24, 2014
Debbie Fort on teacher turnover: "I am sick to death of blaming the tornado'
If it had not been for the empty seats in the Corley Auditorium at Missouri Southern State University tonight (courtesy of Joplin Globe Editor Carol Stark's rules), the room would have filled with applause during a response to the problem of teacher turnover in the Joplin R-8 School District.
Incumbent board member Randy Steele blamed the tornado. He blamed it on the stress, blamed it on high school teachers not being ready for the 1-1 initiative where laptops were given to all of the students. Of course, that did not explain why middle school and elementary teachers were also leaving the district in droves, but it managed to get Steele through the answer.
Lynda Banwart indicated she wanted to hold on to teachers and who could argue with that sentiment.
Board President Jeff Flowers took a different tack. There is no teacher turnover problem because the Joplin Globe says there is no teacher turnover problem. Flowers quoted a Globe story in August in which a Globe reporter, most likely fed the information by an upper-level administrator whose last name is a four-letter word, compared the turnover in Joplin to that of inner-city school districts.
After Flowers finished, there was a long pause as he slid his microphone over to the next candidate, former Irving Elementary Principal Debbie Fort.
At that point the electric moment occurred. In another forum, in which the people would be permitted to fill those empty seats, there would have been a moment of stunned silence, then thunderous applause.
Since those seats were empty, I have to imagine that response was how many of those seated in their living rooms tonight or during one of the numerous playbacks of the forum before election day when they heard Debbie Fort say the words that so many of us have thought over the past several months.
"I am sick to death of blaming the tornado."
Fort continued, noting that teachers were leaving because "they don't feel safe," and "they don't feel supported."
At that point, not learning from the lesson of former Vice President Al Gore, Flowers did something candidates s:hould not do, he began raising his eyebrows as if he could not believe what Debbie Fort was saying. It was something Flowers did time and again during the forum.
The three candidates who have questioned the school district's status quo jumped on the teacher turnover question.
Following Mrs. Fort's response, David Guilford said, "This is a problem and we need to address it." Guilford blamed it on a lack of support. Jeff Koch echoed the sentiments of Mrs. Fort and Guilford.
Shawn McGrew, the final candidate to address the question had his own unique spin on the turnover issue, claiming the solution is already in place in all of the programs that Superintendent C. J. Huff has implemented, though he did not mention Huff's name. He did, however, mention nearly all of the programs.
Other links to Turner Report coverage of the March 24 Joplin R-8 Board of Education Forum:
Winners and losers in tonight's forum
What Jeff Flowers and Randy Steele Did Not Say Said a Lot
Flowers: We Are Open and Transparent; Koch, Guilford, Fort: No, You're Not