Linda Holtzclaw was the last public forum speaker at the November school board meeting. When she stepped up to the podium, it was clear that she meant business:
“I come to you today as a classroom teacher with 32 years of experience teaching in Knox County Schools,” she said, explaining that South-Doyle Middle School, where she has taught for the past 20 years, has lost 60 teachers in the past two years, and that student behavior has become increasingly problematic.
Meanwhile, increasingly rigorous academic standards and a high pressure-testing regime designed to measure student “improvement” and teacher performance have exacerbated the situation.
“These two entities have collided in a disastrous explosion at my school,” Holtzclaw said.
Bringing in a new principal has made matters worse, she said.
“Teachers do not feel supported or backed up with the behaviors the students are exhibiting. Students are walking out of class, skipping class and smoking in bathrooms, leaving the campus, fighting, cursing teachers daily, bringing weapons to school and disrupting class so often that many days teachers can’t get through their planned lesson.
“There is no time to form relationships with kids anymore because of the excessive pressure to get ready for tests. The consequences these students receive are not deterring them from repeating these serious and dangerous behaviors.”
She said that students aren’t learning.
“I know some of these students would rather appear bad than stupid. Many of them can’t read. I had seventh-graders who couldn’t tell me what 7×6 was.
“Yet, I had to teach a more and more difficult curriculum to them. It is easier for the students to just appear to not care than to try to do things beyond their ability. … You can’t put a round peg in a square hole, no matter how hard you try, at least not without SERIOUS damage to the peg.
“I have said before these students are not widgets. They can’t be treated like robots. I’m afraid they are telling us this now.”
Holtzclaw said stress has taken a toll on her health and she will retire in December. She had a list of suggestions for the board:
Make South-Doyle Middle a community school. Reach out to families. Establish an alternative school within the school for the hundreds of students who need additional services in smaller, more structured settings. Hire a strong principal. Spend money wisely.
“We don’t need a $53,000 transportation review to know how to keep kids safe on buses. We don’t need to pay a Broad Academy fellow $80,000 to do an “assessment of the assessments.”
By that point, she’d used up her five minutes, and board chair Doug Harris cut her off. Here’s what she would have said if he’d given her another 30 seconds:
“We don’t need to pay Parthenon Group thousands of dollars to tell us to increase class sizes. We need to take care of our children. We have to meet all their needs, not just academic ones.
“At SDMS the students are destroying the school demanding that we do something, whether we realize that is what is happening or not. If you are really so concerned about test scores, when we are meeting the child’s emotional needs as well as academic needs, the learning will come much easier and scores will rise.
“Please work with the teachers and students and get that school back under control.”