Coach's potential firing sparks outcry
Rumors of the possible dismissal of a popular Lumpkin County coach and teacher prompted over 50 impassioned parents to show up at last week’s Board of Education meeting. Dustin Allen teaches special education math at LCHS and coaches high school baseball and middle school football.
Several people spoke in in support of Allen. However, several speakers went further, stating they had been made aware of an unhealthy atmosphere at one of the schools.
“The level of fear of the faculty, staff, students and athletes is unlike anything I have ever encountered,” said Wes Chambers. “Even parents are in fear of showing their support for fear of making it hard on our kids.”
Chambers has two children in the school system.
Megan Scott, whose son plays middle school football, said she had also heard rumors of staff “fearing for their positions. Our educators do their jobs selflessly and are helping to grow great kids, so when I hear staff say they are fearful, it hurts my heart.
“I’ve never seen my son take coaching from a coach without looking away or rolling his eyes. I asked him why he doesn’t do that with Coach Allen, and he told me it’s because he knows what he is talking about. These kids put [Allen] up on a pedestal.”
Carrie Sisk, who has has one child who played under Allen, and one who had elementary P.E. with him before he transferred to the high school, pinpointed what she believes to be at the root of the “fear and intimidation.”
Prior to Superintendent Dr. Rob Brown’s arrival, she said, the word tenure continued to be used in BOE documents, although tenure was officially done away with when Lumpkin County schools became a charter system. Unless the system specifically states in the charter that it will continue the tenure program it is automatically dropped.
The difference that makes is that teachers no longer fall under the Fair Dismissal Act, which means they cannot be fired except “for cause.” Now they can be let go at-will.
After Brown’s arrival, Sisk said, “tenure” was removed from official school documents.
“And in the blink of an eye, our school system went from stability for our experienced educators to uncertainty from day to day and year to year. With that uncertainty, turn over began at an alarming rate,” Sisk said.
In a letter to the BOE Sisk wrote, “There is a growing atmosphere of fear among our educators and personnel in the school system. It is almost palpable at the middle school and high school levels. There is an appearance of administrative bullying, fear tactics, under-handed politics … Educators, staff and personnel seem to be afraid to voice concerns or a difference of opinion from their superiors for fear of losing their jobs or not having contracts renewed. There is an appearance of non-support among colleagues that appears again to be fear in supporting each other for fear of losing a job, a livelihood. I believe this is in large part to no longer having fair dismissal rights in place, especially for educators in this school system.”
These are allegations that Brown refutes.
‘STABLE’ SCHOOL SYSTEM
“We’ve had a reduction in the number of teachers leaving,” Brown said in an interview with The Nugget last week.
Board of Education member Jim McClure portrayed the school system work environment as solid and healthy.
“I wish my business was anywhere near as stable as the school system is,” said McClure, who has 160 food service employees. “And as for teachers leaving out of fear or intimidation, that’s out of left field. We had some complaints with [former superintendent] Dewey Moye, too. It wasn’t true then and it’s not true now.”
Every resignation is questioned and looked into by Assistant Superintendent Sharon Head, McClure said.
“The board wants to know why people are leaving. Most of it is life changes or because they can earn more money,” he said. “One is leaving this year because they had a second child, one’s husband got a job elsewhere and she is taking a job in the same county, one is leaving to care for their elderly parents … we had one tell us she is leaving because there aren’t any eligible bachelors here.”
McClure pointed out that Forsyth County, one of the fastest growing counties in the state, has a high demand for teachers, as does Dawson.
“I would guess Forsyth is paying teachers $10,000 more a year than we pay, and Dawson probably pays $5-7,000 more. Both are less than a 30 minute commute. But we are losing very few teachers to resignations. It’s our great leadership that keeps them here, plus our culture and the fact it’s a great place to raise kids,” he said.
Although teachers are no longer under the Fair Dismissal Act, that doesn’t mean they are just fired without attempting to address a performance problem.
“The community has been misinformed,” Brown said. “We are working with the individual on several different aspects of performance. We employ people in all roles, from bus drivers to administration, and we have expectations of what we want them to do to earn their salaries. And we can’t talk about what they do or don’t do to meet those expectations.”
McClure said the BOE has received very little feedback on Allen’s actual position at the school.
“Most of what I heard was about Park & Rec or traveling teams. I didn’t hear one person say anything about the classroom,” he said. “We don’t hire coaches. We hire teachers who can coach. Teaching is 90 percent of the workload. We got lectured about what he’s been doing in the community but nothing to do with what he’s doing in the school system. What he’s been doing at Park & Rec is not the board’s responsibility—or the taxpayers.”
McClure added that the board did not receive any emails from parents of Allen’s students.
However online support for the coach has been strong as a Facebook page called “Renew Dustin Allen’s Teaching contract” quickly attracted more than 100 followers, while at the same time more than 300 people signed an online petition to keep Allen as a teacher and coach.
Brown indicated that this wouldn’t impact the ultimate decision.
“I’m not worried about a petition,” he said. “I’m concerned about doing the right thing for the school system. We have 500-plus employees we work with to provide support and guidance to help them be more effective in their roles to serve the needs of students. That’s what is important—the needs of our students.”
The BOE has not taken action on Allen’s contract at this time.
The Nugget’s attempts to contact Allen for comment have been unsuccessful.