About half of the teaching staff at Diggs Johnson Middle School have been effectively fired by the school’s principal, Lawrence Johns. Although the school system , plagued by understaffing, is seeking candidates as far away as Pennsylvania, Johns has recommended that the contracts not be renewed for at least 15 teachers, many of whom are considered excellent by their peers. Johns, a former gym teacher, is retiring this year amid reports of an upcoming demotion.
Most of the effected teachers have been employed for less than two years. Considered to be on probation, they are neither protected by the teachers’ union, nor does Johns have to disclose any cause or reason for their dismissal. Many of those being dismissed had failed an aptitude test, but some had passed, and some that had failed kept their jobs. Reportedly, one teacher who had failed due to inferior teaching skills was kept on. “There is no rhyme or reason; we were devastated.” said one teacher. (Due to a fear of retaliation for speaking to the press, the teachers interviewed for this report requested anonymity).
Johns reportedly used the aptitude test in a biased and inconsistent manner, manipulating the outcome to serve his own purposes. According to the teachers, the inability to immediately locate a class plan when asked, missing a PTA meeting for a mandatory class, and the taking of sick time were often the reasons given for failing the test. “He does not know policy or procedure,” said a teacher. “The instrument [to judge a teachers’ effectiveness] is too subjective and vague,” said another, “there need to be guidelines.” The teachers who failed will be barred from employment in the school system for several years, and will have the stigma of being labeled as unsatisfactory teachers when seeking positions elsewhere.
According to a source, the principal gave several reasons for his actions. First, that the school’s score on a state evaluation had not risen. Second, that enrollment was shrinking, and that the school had over
as incompetent by many in the school system.
When asked why the teachers who were being fired were singled out, one teacher pointed out that those in the purge had not attended Johns’ retirement party.
Neither Lawrence Johns nor the representatives of the Baltimore Public School System would answer questions relating to this issue.
Before yesterday’s purge, there were about 30 teachers for over 400 students. The teachers point out that Diggs Johnson’s student body has a high rate of special needs and emotionally challenged children, coupled with a largely indifferent community of parents. The stress can be debilitating, they said, especially for a new teacher. However, Johns offered no support, only criticisms, the teachers said, pointing out that he was viewed as incompetent by many in the school system.
When asked why the teachers who were being fired were singled out, one teacher pointed out that those in the purge had not attended Johns’ retirement party. Neither Lawrence Jons nor the representatives of the Baltimore Public School System would answer questions relating to this issue.