BUFFALO, N.Y. – Anyone who has seen the inner-workings of public education knows that while the buildings and classrooms may look cheerful and welcoming, schools are too often run by ethically challenged people who are more suited for Wall Street than Sesame Street.
Buffalo parent Timekia Jones has learned that lesson the hard way.
Jones’ revelation started last fall, when she discovered her signature had been forged on several important documents that Harvey Austin School officials needed to file with the state. As a parent representative, Jones needed to sign those documents showing that the elementary school’s stakeholders agreed with the administration’s school improvement and spending plans, the Buffalo News reports.
Jones tells the Buffalo News that when she confronted Principal Brigette Gillespie about the forgeries, Gillespie initially denied any wrongdoing. According to Jones, it was only after she pointed out she couldn’t have signed one of the documents on the day in question because she was in the hospital for surgery that Principal Gillespie admitted, “We signed your name.”
As the charges of wrongdoing became public and worked their way up the school district’s chain of command, Jones claims administrators tried to pressure her into stating “she had given the principal permission to sign her name to a school improvement plan document but had forgotten,” the News reports.
Jones not only refused to back down, she handed administrators a written affidavit containing her statement about the incidents.
That’s when things started to get ugly.
Jones says shortly after her Oct. 21 meeting with Chief of School Leadership Casandra Wright and a human resources administrator, the hours of her job as a teacher’s aide at the school were changed, thus preventing her from attending important parent meetings. Jones believes the schedule change was retaliation for her whistleblowing ways.
School officials eventually returned Jones to her regular work schedule, but denied Jones’ charges, as well as her version of the larger controversy.
Jones has formally filed charges against Gillespie, and is waiting for the state attorney general “to step in and investigate,” according to WGRZ.com. It’s worth noting that Jones received a top award from the school in 2012 for all her contributions as a parent, according to the Buffalo News.
‘They’re trying to force her out of the school’
Jones’ latest run-in with the district occurred earlier this month, when she requested a meeting with her sixth-grade daughter’s teachers. Jones says her daughter is struggling with the new Common Core-related homework, and she only wanted to talk with teachers about getting extra help for her.
Jones was informed that a meeting could only occur if a representative from the Buffalo Teachers Federation – the local teachers union – was present to monitor the conversations, the Buffalo News reports.
That meeting occurred last Friday – though not between Jones and her daughter’s teachers. Instead, Jones met with Assistant Principal Deanna Schmitt, a union official “and several other teachers who do not teach her daughter,” the News reports.
According to Jones, Schmitt and the union rep told her the teachers didn’t want to meet with her alone, given that she had gone public with the forgery story. Not only did the meeting not resolve Jones’ concerns, it increased her belief that school officials are playing hardball with her, in hopes that she’ll transfer her daughters to another school.
District Parent Coordinating Council President Samuel Radford III agrees.
“I think at this point, they’re trying to force her out of the school,” Radford tells the News. “(Jones) did nothing wrong, so why is she getting all these consequences?”
School officials claim they were under the mistaken impression that Jones wanted to talk about her daughter’s problems with school bullies. But that doesn’t make much sense, even to Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore.
“There’s something else going on here,” Rumore tells the News. “It’s very unusual under normal circumstances for this to occur. How it happened, I have no idea.”
Once the story went public, the head of the Buffalo school board intervened on Jones’ behalf and demanded that she be allowed to meet with her daughter’s teachers. That meeting occurred earlier this week, according to the News.
Despite all the grief Jones has received since blowing the whistle on Gillespie, she has refused to back down. She’s still involved with Harvey Austin Elementary School, and has refused to consider transferring her two daughters to another building.
“I’m not going to give them that satisfaction,” she says.
Gillespie is still listed as the school’s principal, though Buffalo News blogger Sandra Tan writes that “school folks haven’t seen much of her in recent weeks while a substitute principal has been filling in.”
Tan hints that Gillespie and other Harvey Austin Elementary officials could be on the way out, as Buffalo schools Superintendent Pamela Brown has decided to “relaunch” the school next fall, presumably with new leaders.
Radford, the president of the parent council, is calling for “whistleblower protection” for parents, the News reports.
What a sad commentary about how too many of our public schools are being managed.