Festering teacher concerns in the Ravenswood City School District came to a head last week when the teachers union announced it had taken a vote of "no confidence" in Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff, ignited most recently by a fracas over a new middle school the district is opening this fall.
A letter signed by 143 of the district's approximate 184 teachers calls for Hernandez-Goff's immediate resignation, alleging her lack of communication, transparency and accessibility has created a "hostile and draining" work environment.
"The systemic change we long for that will positively impact student achievement must be led by someone whose communication skills and decision-making process inspires, empowers and supports all those involved to work together and work to his/her fullest potential," the letter reads.
In a statement, Hernandez-Goff called the letter a "publicity stunt." The district is "not in a position where we can afford to play politics at the expense of our children's education and future," she said, declining to comment further.
Board of Education President Sharifa Wilson told the Weekly she "wholeheartedly disagrees" with the teachers union and is confident in Hernandez-Goff's ability as a leader. She credited the superintendent, who joined the district four years ago, with increased use of data, more professional development, more elective offerings and progress on compliance with a longtime federal court order to improve special-education services.
The union's letter details several grievances about the superintendent, starting with what they describe as a flawed process to develop a comprehensive middle school. Teacher involvement in the planning for the school was "minimal at best," the union alleges, despite the fact that five teachers served on a districtwide committee tasked with developing the school.
Nicole Sullivan, an eighth-grade teacher at Ronald McNair Academy, said she and one other teacher were "hand selected" by district administrators to serve on the middle-school committee. The district added more teacher-members in response to their request for more teacher representation, but when the larger committee broke into smaller groups in the fall to plan for specific programs at the new school, communication and involvement fizzled, Sullivan said.
"There was never an invitation for more/other teachers to join. No emails sent to the educators in the district. No newsletters were distributed asking for more teacher input. There was no communication to the rest of the district," Sullivan wrote in an email to the Weekly.
Teachers do not oppose the middle school, but believe its success will depend on transparency and open communication with teachers, Sullivan said.
"As an original participant in the CMS Task Force, all I want is for this transition process to run smoothly, and for our students to get the education they deserve," Sullivan said. "With the district office secrets and lack of communication, many teachers are nervous about the transition — but not against it."
The superintendent's promise to bring a final plan for the comprehensive middle school back to union leadership for their consideration before presenting it publicly was not kept, Ravenswood Teachers Association President Ronda White told the Weekly. Teachers found out about the final details at a school board meeting last Thursday, she said. Teachers are being asked to volunteer to move to the new school, but as it expands, other campuses will be consolidated and moved, affecting teachers, White said.
"When you make a move of this magnitude, you allow for some time," she said.
The union's letter also describes missteps in communication around teacher reassignments and collecting feedback about high teacher turnover. While external factors like cost of living or higher salaries in other districts have contributed to teachers leaving the district, White said one of the primary reasons exiting teachers give is the district's culture.
Teachers cite "the dysfunction of the superintendent, her disrespect for teachers, her unprofessionalism and her inability to communicate," White said.
White said the union has raised their concerns with Hernandez-Goff previously over the last two years.
Board of Education member Marielena Gaona-Mendoza, who was elected last fall, said she believes Hernandez-Goff should resign. She agreed with the union's concerns about inaccessibility and transparency — two issues Gaona-Mendoza ran on last November.
Wilson said board members will meet with union leadership to "start bridging some of those distrust things."
The district is also on the verge of starting negotiations with the union for next year's contract.