Roy Exum: Why Our Schools Stink

Saturday, December 3, 2016 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Cheryl Roddy has spent her lifetime, for the biggest part, as a teacher for the Hamilton County Department of Education and, more specifically, at East Ridge High School. She has loved teaching there for nearly 40 years and is hardly “average;” she has her master's degree in education, was twice East Ridge’s teacher of the year, was the first teacher at East Ridge to reach the first Career Ladder Level III, was the Social Studies Department chairman and, under a former principal, on the Principal’s Advisory Committee.

That doesn’t matter anymore. What you deserve to know is this veteran educator just spent her very last day as a substitute and I doubt she will ever walk back into that school again. She has just quit for good, albeit in maddening disgust. Yes, it is tragic but the reason is far worse.

The same Cheryl Roddy has watched the HCDE allow our 75-school district erode into an educational mockery, as test scores and every other gauge of measurement have affirmed. This is to say that she and a legion of other teachers in the Chattanooga district are not surprised in the least that several communities within Hamilton County are seriously considering ditched the now-inept county system and forming their own community school districts.

The current school board has, thus far, shown it is no different from those in the past that have allowed our public schools to dramatically decline. The board members bicker in open view and waste precious time as some attempt to have “the last word.” An example? It just took a precious nine months to select the search firm for the superintendent’s position when any other organization – public or private – could have hired a superintendent in that amount of time. No wonder the parents of 43,000 students are frustrated and angry.

There are people on Signal Mountain who have now publicly revealed they have “little or no confidence” in HCDE leadership to properly educate their children. They are studying having their own superintendent and board of education. Lookout Mountain, much smaller, already has an elected school board and heavily subsidizes the public elementary school.

Several other communities – East Ridge being one – are positioning their community officials to do the same. With five “poor” schools about to be taken over by the state, “chaos, turmoil and uncertainty” are more than words in the Department of Education dictionary.

Personally I have noticed improvement under interim superintendent Kirk Kelly but it has hardly been enough to deter the beast at the door – the citizens. The last three superintendents have been ushered out prematurely and “the central office” has hardly changed a speck, as the payroll names readily confirm. The teachers, the parents, businesses and church are demanding a change but thus far it is only in the front pocket of your khakis. The school board acts as if there is no problem or urgency at all.

Cheryl Roddy had already resigned from the HCDE in good standing. Now she has turned in her notice that she should never be called on again to substitute teach when needed You see, she is now “free” from the district’s well-known reprisal system and its cancerous “good ole boy” network, so she held little back in a letter you are about to read:

* * *

CHERYL RODDY’S LETTER TO EAST RIDGE PRINCIPAL TAMMY HELTON

(Dated December 1, 2016) Dear (East Ridge High principal Tammy) Helton, I want to share with you the details of my last day as a substitute teacher for Hamilton County.  I went into the classroom (last month) expecting a few problems, but nothing like what actually transpired in one of the classes.  There were 33 students in the classroom.  All were juniors. 

I told them who I was, that I was a retired teacher who had taught for 36 years at East Ridge High School and that I needed to check roll. Very few heard me because they were too busy talking, texting, listening to whatever was on their phones, etc.  I requested their attention, repeated what I had said, and began to check roll.

They resumed their previous activities, ignoring me, but I did finally get the roll completed.  Just as I finished, a student came in late; I got his name and told him to take his seat.  He began asking, “Can I help you, and can I do anything for you”?

I said no, please take your seat; we need to get started on the lesson.  As I tried to get everyone’s attention to explain the assignment, he kept interrupting me, and I kept telling him to take his seat. No one would be quiet so, following the teacher’s instructions, I called the office and requested an administrator.  The young man finally moved towards his seat.  He did not, however, sit down but began talking to the students sitting nearby. 

Finally, I said to him “Sit down!”  He immediately turned around and said to me, “You cannot talk to me in that tone of voice.  I am not some pet that you can order around…” 

He probably would have continued but Dr. Scott came in at that point.  He was worse than ineffective.  He merely asked the students to listen to me, said they shouldn’t cause problems and then said something to the effect of “Remember, if you aren’t flying right, you’re flying wrong.  So let’s fly right.”

Not once did Dr. Scott ask me why I called for him. The boy who was late went with him; again, Dr. Scott did not ask what had happened up to that point. The boy was free to tell him whatever he wished; my input was apparently not wanted.  

After Dr. Scott left, the students had a good laugh, made a few uncomplimentary remarks, and continued as before.  Shortly thereafter, the door opened, two girls entered, walked across the room in front of me and had a conversation with a boy. 

As they turned to leave, I held up my hand to stop them, and one of the girls said, “Don’t touch me!”  I merely asked why they thought it was okay for them to just walk into the room without asking permission to do so.  The same girl looked at me and said, “You’re just a substitute; I don’t have to listen to anything you say.”  

I told them not to come back in unless they asked permission.  They ignored me, returned, talked to the boy, and left again.  No one would tell me who they were so turning them in was out of the question.   During the remainder of the class, most of the students did nothing, refused to put away their phones, and continued to do as they pleased.  I was told later by several teachers to “get used to it.  That’s how it usually is done around here.  We don’t get heard and what happens is usually our fault.”

Unfortunately, what transpired in this class seems to be the norm at ERHS.  In other classes, I’ve seen the same attitudes. The students have no respect for you or any of the other administrators.  Their comments about you and Dr. Scott reveal their belief that neither of you is an effective administrator.  They see no reason to follow any rules because experience has taught them that they need not fear any punishment. 

Dr. Scott was able to teach them this fact in just a few months; you’ve had longer.  I love ERHS; I spent the majority of my professional life there, retiring in 2006. It was a school I was proud to call my “home”. However, it is now a place where rules are made but haphazardly enforced, there are few consequences which have to be faced, disrespect is tolerated, and no one wants to tell the students what they need to hear.

The school is failing the students in so many ways when it permits people to be treated as I was treated and no one wants to hear about it. And, sadly, in talking with other subs, I’ve learned that I am not the only one.  Pretending that all is well is far more important it seems than actually recognizing the problem and taking the difficult steps to solve it.

Therefore, I have resigned as a substitute after 10 years.  I do not have to and will not tolerate such behaviors.  This is the only school where I have encountered them.  I repeat—I have been a substitute at two middle schools and three other high schools and not once did I have the issues I had at East Ridge. 

I would hope you would take steps to make ERHS a better place by showing the students that discipline is necessary, certain behaviors will not be tolerated, and that there are always consequences when someone does not follow the rules.

I am sending copies of this letter to Assistant Superintendents Zac Brown, Jill Levine, Acting Superintendent Kirk Kelley, David Carroll at WRCB and Roy Exum at Chattanoogan.com.  I may accomplish nothing but I want those in authority to know what I and other substitutes faced, what really happens when a school is run by incompetents, and students are allowed to ignore and break rules with impunity.

Since I no longer work for HCDE, I am not submitting this anonymously like so many others who fear their job security, but with full credentials in the hopes that one or any of you are interested in discussing this further. I dedicated over 40 years to this system, both to its competence and to its success, and to see what it has become hurts me and devalues the near half a lifetime I spent doing so.

I would take any steps, this and beyond, to see it begin its return to former standards and hope that I will receive a reply from an interested party.

Sincerely / Cheryl Roddy

* * *

EMAIL RESPONSE FROM INTERIN SUPERINTENDENT KIRK KELLY

Thanks, I have received your letter and will follow-up on it. I am sorry that was not a good situation for you. I want to thank you for the service you have given to Hamilton County.

Sincerely / Kirk Kelly, Ed.D., M.B.A.

* * *

A RESPONSE FROM AN EAST RIDGE PARENT

Cheryl, I am sorry that you had to write such a tough, albeit poignantly written, letter. As you know, [student name redacted] education and environment are suffering because of the complacency on behalf of administrators and the complete lack of consequence for bad behavior. Yesterday, a substitute teacher, late for work no doubt, narrowly missed hitting me and two other cars as he sped in the school zone to whip into the school parking lot.

I called the school immediately and requested they follow-up with me on how they were addressing the situation. I specifically asked for Tammy Helton to return my call. She never did. Today I received a call from Dr. Scott and we spoke about this matter, which yielded absolutely nothing.

Furthermore, we spoke on several other topics including the lack of discipline in [redacted] department, the lackadaisical approach to assisting [STUDENT NAME] and other students affected by the sudden departure of (a) Chemistry teacher last year with no appointment of a suitable replacement the entire school year and the need for administrative follow-thru on the traffic situation in general at East Ridge High School and Middle School.

It was like speaking into the wind. Not because Dr. Scott doesn’t care. He most certainly expresses that he is trying. But as a subordinate to Tammy Helton (and newly placed at that) he can only do and say so much. It is long overdue for the county to investigate this high school.

It is the duty of our school board to not only do so, but do the tough job of replacing her if necessary (which I believe it is). With the unfortunate incidents in Hamilton County Schools, i.e., the Ooltewah High basketball students that were raped and now the terrible bus crash, matters like this are being put on the back burner.

I stress that both incidents are awful and should require a lot of attention. But as is true in both cases, oversight, administrative audits and continuing education requirements of administrators, will aid in preventative efforts of bad situations that endanger our students health, safety and educational integrity.

I applaud your effort to actually do something to help this school that you devoted your career to. I pray that the ones that can do something to help draw the attention this school so desperately needs, actually do so. I know a few of the recipients on your list and believe they will do what is in their power to see that something is done. Hamilton County lost a tremendous asset when you resigned and I am so sorry it was because of something that could have been prevented.

[Parent’s name]

* * *

I firmly believe that there is no malice in Cheryl Roddy. I believe Kirk Kelly is trying but here is a parent of a child who has no choice but to endure classroom disruptions, unmotivated students and harried administrators day after day. It is not right and not fair to those who are victims of their classmate’s misbehavior.

If the city of East Ridge ran the school, I have no doubt the city officials would demand troublemakers, insolence, and bad behavior would not be tolerated. East Ridge police will take such students to the juvenile detention center. When and if that occurs, the children in East Ridge – as well as the townspeople -- will get the education they need and deserve.

royexum@aol.com


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