Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas

October 7, 2006

Either Or

EITHER Syndey McGee is a champion of the arts and the Frisco school district composed of neanderthals seeking only to please a culturally repressed parent OR Frisco ISD has been unfairly and unwarrantably attacked by a sensationalist press manipulated by an incompetent educator interested only in preserving her job.

Sorry, while there are plenty of people in this country who are willing and even eager to see all issues in black and white that doesn’t mean it’s reality. As far as I’m concerned, no one is off the hook.

Let’s start with the “smoking gun.” McKinney ISD provided McGee with a positive evaluation and a payment if she agreed to leave. What does this prove? McKinney ISD wanted her to leave for a variety of reasons but for some other unknown reason wasn’t going to be able to do it by bringing disciplinary action against her or simply by not renewing her contract. While the district may have had good reasons for wanting McGee to leave, they also did something that put them in the position of allowing McGee to negotiate the terms of her departure. My guess, and please, I know this is only a guess, is that the district somehow screwed up their own personnel policies in dealing with the issue. Just because an employee doesn’t meet standards doesn’t excuse the employers from doing so. Oh wait, oh never mind, I was going to make some broader generalization but that would only get me into trouble.

So McGee comes to Frisco. You could make the argument that is was under suspicious circumstances but then you’ve really got to blame McKinney for not doing it’s job. Furthermore, you could also make the argument that perhaps, (please note that I am once again speculating and freely admit that I could be totally wrong) by applying for an art teacher position, McGee was actually look for a situation that would be more accommodating to her temperament. Perhaps.

In any case, many of the same problems she had at McKinney plague her relationship with other teachers. In recent years, her principal has been making verbal suggestions and even sending informal emails to McGee regarding her performance. Then there is the trip to the museum, the parent complaint, and the performance evaluation.

It’s EITHER about censorship OR about workplace performance. EITHER the principal was strictly addressing workplace issues OR was trying to undermine art appreciation in the community. EITHER McGee is trying to preserve freedom of speech OR undermining the school’s reputation to save her job. How about a little of both on all sides?

It sounds like enough things went wrong with the museum trip to push the principal into taking formal action. There’s a memo and the evaluation. According to Frisco superintendent Reedy,

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Opinion: Viewpoints:

One paragraph in the five-page memo discussed concerns regarding the field trip and mentioned the parent complaint. It was included in the memo as a recent example of concerns involving Ms. McGee’s planning, organization and follow-through.

The parent complaint wasn’t about the hour wait or the problems dealing with the DMA. It was about a piece of nude art a child saw at the DMA. Yet, the district has gone out of it’s way to say that the complaint had nothing to do with censorship or is the reason why the memo was written. Again Reedy states that:

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Opinion: Viewpoints:

No teacher, including Ms. McGee, has ever been fired or reprimanded for taking students to the museum or for a student’s incidental viewing of nude art. No teacher, including Ms. McGee, has ever been fired due to a parent complaint.

I know I’m probably fixating but I can’t help but notice that he never states how the district actually handles such complaints. He continues with the following “but”

We do expect teachers to preview materials through the eyes of students, the parents of the student and through the expectations of our community. We expect teachers to plan, prepare and communicate accordingly. A poorly planned and organized field trip is a failed learning experience.

Uhmm, so what does this have to do with not reprimanding teachers for a student’s incidental viewing of nude art? It wasn’t incidental? It wasn’t planned? It was planned?

Given all the problems the principal apparently had with McGee, why even bring up this one parent complaint? If no teacher is fired because of a parent complaint, why include it in the memo? Why was it given any credibility at all?

The principal could have very easily accomplished her task without including the parent complaint. The fact that she included it indicates that she gave it some importance. I’m still waiting to hear from the district that the parent wasn’t just complaining about the nude art but rather that the teacher did not prepare the students for viewing the art or provide a meaningful context for it’s viewing. Pretty quiet.

“Aw come on,” you say. That’s just one thing she did wrong, McGee did plenty more. Actually, any supervisor who waits for a crisis situation to start documenting employee issues, has not been doing her job. The district has talked about some principals preferring “informal” means. And informal means can be great when they work. But then when the principal prepares a very negative evaluation in writing, shouldn’t the teacher be worried? She’s not being informal, so why wouldn’t an employee perceive this as a version of a “work improvement plan” and a sign that her job is in jeopardy?

Maybe because of her basic personality, McGee doesn’t belong in the public school system. However, that does not mean she was treated fairly by the district. Nor does it mean that the district wouldn’t use parent complaints in evaluating teachers. (Think about it, no one is going to care if a bunch parents started complaining that a teacher allows her students to spend all their time in “free reading” while she’s talking on her cell phone?) According the Reedy, the facts are that the complaint was part of the memo. Someone complained about “naked” art and it was given legitimacy.

Now the district is taking the side of the principal and acknowledges no lapses on its part. At this point, the district is sort of stuck in an either or situation much in the same way that McGee is. McGee wants to make sure she can get another job and getting everyone to believe that she was fired for nude art is a great way to compensate any negative evaluations she may have. And the district really wants to get rid of a teacher for some legitimate reasons and doesn’t want the bad press it’s getting.

In a way, it really does come down to how the principal handled the parent complaint. If it had never been mentioned, what would McGee have gone to the press with? However, since it had been mentioned, the district is being forced to defend its actions in public. At some point, the fact that a 5th grader saw nude art in the DMA made a difference.

21 Comments »

  1. Would you admit that you were being released for things like : no lessons plans, no displayed art work, spending too mauch time outside of my class, unprepared field trip. Of course not. They way to get public attention is to say “nude art”. A transfer was denied to another school, and she needed to stir the pot to figure a way to get out of meeting expectations set by her boss. Her plead is that she was mistreated, and that is absolutely not the case.

    Comment by ME — October 7, 2006 @ 10:30 pm

  2. To your point, texased, about “free reading”: “(Think about it, no one is going to care if a bunch parents started complaining that a teacher allows her students to spend all their time in “free reading” while she’s talking on her cell phone?)”

    Yes! that would definitely be poor job performance!

    Teachers are paid to teach and should never be on a cell phone during class time. I would also think that talking about the issue on talk radio during school hours, like Ms.McGee did,would also be of serious concern!

    I also find it interesting that you want to put blame on the principal for not writing all “evidence” down on paper. That’s like saying that just because someone murders someone and they have witnesses, but they weren’t read their rights, then they don’t have to go to jail. I know that’s an extreme analogy, but you get my drift.

    Another point: FIVE pages with only ONE paragraph about the parent DMA complaint is also quite telling of a principal that did some documentation.

    The ONLY thing that made the DMA nude art the difference was McGee and the MEDIA!!!

    Comment by Angel — October 8, 2006 @ 12:05 pm

  3. Doing radio talk shows during school hours is a serious concern. I believe that I have not been defending McGee’s professional behavior since comments from Sad Teacher.

    Yeah, it’s an extreme analogy but who gets to decide when it’s okay not to follow the rules?

    According to the district, the principal didn’t bother with the memo until McGee requested it.

    Ultimately, why was the parent complaint included in the memo? The district has repeatedly stated that this isn’t about the complaint. So what was the point of documenting this particular parent complaint since apparently she had a number to choose from? It was the principal’s decision to include the complaint. Why?

    By including the complaint, the principal provided McGee with the “dirt” that the media would go for. If the complaint had not been included in the memo, I would have never heard of Sydney McGee. For some reason, the principal thought the parent complaint was important. Why?

    Comment by texased — October 8, 2006 @ 12:31 pm

  4. Why? because the trip was unorganized, “chaotic” to quote one parent. According to some Fisher parent blogs I read on a local forum, there was no unit of study associated with the field trip, no preparation on how students should behave at a museum, and their children gained little from the experience. I would guess that the paragraph related more to these issues than the nude art. Also, as children might snicker (expected at such an age) the teacher could have handled the matter in a more professional way; could have turned it into a “teachable moment” even.

    Now, back to the issue of the one paragraph, probably blown out of proportion: we won’t be able to read what’s in it nor the entire five page document without Ms. McGee’s permission. If she feels her employment directives for improvement were soley based on the DMA trip, why won’t she give permission to release the documents.

    What’s also being lost here is the fact that she was never told that she might lose her job. Only given directives for improvement, only denied a transfer to another school so that the principal could have more of a chance to give McGee chances to improve. Bottom line.

    Comment by Angel — October 8, 2006 @ 12:53 pm

  5. It’s also quite telling that McGee is quoted as saying that she doesn’t even know what piece of art the students saw. Shouldn’t she have been aware? She could have talked about the statue, could have discussed the beauty of it, calmed the children down. That may have kept the student(s) from even talking about it to their parents. Maybe the students really could have learned something about seeing nude art and appreciating the art form and why it was created. Things to ponder.

    Comment by Angel — October 8, 2006 @ 12:58 pm

  6. Not that it’s about the DMA Art, but I felt the need to make this point to all of the radicals that might read these debates…just something to point out to those that will never stop thinking it’s Ms.McGee “plight.”

    Comment by Angel — October 8, 2006 @ 1:00 pm

  7. Forgot to also add: “According to the district, the principal didn’t bother with the memo until McGee requested it.”

    True! about the memo request: however, this would indicate that she was given verbal warnings, had no intentions of firing or documenting since the principal was working on teacher improvement. Her request for transfer was denied but she was asked to come back giving her chances for improvement. Instead McGee chose to allow the media to run with the angle about the museum.

    Another point to ponder: Unfortunately the timing of the museum trip was last April, when most schools do their end of year teacher evaluations. That timeline just worked to McGee’s advantage and she knew it. Whether McGee requested or not is beside the point since this would have been the time of year to document teachers anyway.

    Comment by Angel — October 8, 2006 @ 1:33 pm

  8. Wow. Definitely in the “Either/Or” category.

    Comment by texased — October 9, 2006 @ 9:25 am

  9. Hooray for Sidney McGee!

    Comment by The Liberal Avenger — October 9, 2006 @ 10:32 am

  10. Why is it that those that blindly support Sydney’s position don’t see that she is only a champion for herself not the arts? She didn’t teach all the children. She spent time with a select few. She didn’t set lesson plans. She never sent home any of the work that they did in class except at perhaps two holidays – Christmas and Mother’s Day. Is this considered teaching? If so, you are welcome to her in your school. I don’t wish to get into a debate regarding her award winning status, but for those that truly care to know the truth – research it. I am not blindly following the principal or the administration. I have first-hand experience as a parent. I am not prudish and neither are my children. I am however exacting when it comes to people doing their job. I do my part with my kids. I expect the teachers to do theirs. I support them in their role. Just because someone has been teaching for 28 years does not mean that they can’t improve. Anyone that believes that status quo is appropriate needs to remember that we all can improve. Why didn’t Sydney wish to do that? I wonder…..

    Comment by Parent Chaperone — October 10, 2006 @ 9:11 am

  11. When someone goes as far as this to hide the truth, then the truth becomes an offence and not only an offence but an instrument of downfall. The thing I fear the most is upon me now.
    The fact of the matter is that an educational organisation is not the place for ignorance and obfoscation. Educational institutions should be the vangaurd for knowledge and wisdom in all its facets, instead we are now inudated with taudry titbits and specious utterances of ludity, we should be ashamed that knowledge is now the tattered old rug that it has become and ignorance and stupidity now the favored child of this nation warming itself in front of the fire of the sacrifices of many who have gone before. It is a most dispicable situation to see the bastardisation of this nation through people who feind knowledge and wisdom yet are as ignorant as a dull blade. Where must we go now? well as our history has taught us we must fall to rise again. Only the strong shall survive.

    Comment by Johno — October 11, 2006 @ 10:26 am

  12. Some informative information to read here:

    http://www.friscoisd.org/news/mcgee_response_06oct.htm

    All in all, she was never fired because of the field trip. Matter of fact, she was never fired, only put on paid administrative leave because she was disturbing the learning environment.

    Interesting.

    Really you can see how the media would take her twisted-around-to-fit-her-needs information and sensationalize it to the public while the district’s hands were tied and could not respond fully for fear of privacy rights.

    Comment by Angel — October 11, 2006 @ 6:46 pm

  13. Angel, you say she was never fired. Well, is she allowed back into her classroom? I didn’t think so. Is she being paid? Yes, because there is a contract that requires she be paid. If the School Board didn’t pay her then they would end up paying much more in a law suit they couldn’t win.

    She has been fired by all definitions excepting yours and the School Board.

    Comment by Pat — October 12, 2006 @ 8:58 pm

  14. OK then call it fired, whatever. She was dismissed, fired, let go, or put on paid administrative leave, but not for a student(s) seeing nude art on a field trip.

    Comment by Angel — October 12, 2006 @ 9:53 pm

  15. Speaking strictly from a legal definition, there IS a distinction between “fire” and “administrative leave”.

    Research of the legal basis behind this reveals that the offical definition (in United States federal law), is found in 5 USC Chapter 63 (parts 6321, 6324, and 6325). According to that statute, administrative leave is “An absence from duty administratively authorized, without loss of pay.”

    You are correct, Pat, that she is not being allowed to teach in a classroom at Fisher Elementary. However, since this absense is mandated by an administrative order, specifically referred to as “administrative leave”, it is distinct from being relieved of her position (“fired”), which would imply a loss of pay.

    Comment by Frisco Parent — October 12, 2006 @ 9:58 pm

  16. Agreed Angel…. I don’t think the substance of the argument (on either side) about Ms. McGee is altered whether she was fired or placed on administrative leave….

    I have a question for those people who continue to insist that this situation was a result of students seeing nude artwork. The school board, the administrators and many of the parents who actually were on that field trip have stated repeatedly that it was NOT the field trip, and certainly not nude artwork seen on the fieldtrop, that caused this whole situation. Clearly, you do not believe those statements. What specific thing needs to be done to change your view? Is there ANY evidence that you could see that would change your mind? Or has everyone become set in their positions to the point where it is impossible to take another viewpoint?

    Comment by Frisco Parent — October 12, 2006 @ 10:03 pm

  17. http://cbs11tv.com/topstories/local_story_278190717.html

    for anyone interested in seeing some television news footage from October 5.

    Comment by Angel — October 12, 2006 @ 10:11 pm

  18. Send the Frisco district’s administrative staff (and the school’s principle) your thoughts:

    Nancy Lawson
    Richard Wilkinson
    Keri Miller
    Linda Bass
    Doug Zambiasi
    Debra Nelson
    Rick Reedy
    Shana McKay-Wortham

    Comment by Think outside the classroom — October 12, 2006 @ 11:30 pm

  19. Nancy Lawson lawsonn@friscoisd.org
    Richard Wilkinson wilkinsr@friscoisd.org
    Keri Miller millerk@friscoisd.org
    Linda Bass basslr@friscoisd.org
    Doug Zambiasi zambiasd@friscoisd.org
    Debra Nelson nelsond@friscoisd.org
    Rick Reedy reedyr@friscoisd.org
    Shana McKay-Wortham mckays@friscoisd.org

    Comment by Damn, round 2 — October 12, 2006 @ 11:30 pm

  20. http://www.friscoisd.org/news/mcgee_timeline.htm

    Please check out this site for more up-to-date information in a time line format before you go on emailing these people.

    Comment by Angel — October 13, 2006 @ 4:49 pm

  21. Great article, definately a good read. Also should check out this information site about McKinney Texas Definately relevant information there.

    Comment by Mike Arnold — November 24, 2006 @ 4:38 pm


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