Three months ago, at the end of his second year teaching at William Ramsay Elementary School in Alexandria, John Nolan was called into principal Rosario Casiano’s office for a year-end evaluation. Such meetings were routine. Nolan was not worried. He had 18 years of teaching experience and gotten no negative comments from Casiano or her assistant principals.
According to Nolan, Casiano began the meeting by complimenting him on his students being so “eagerly engaged” when she visited his classroom. She said she liked having a positive male role model in second grade.
Then she fired him.
Since this was only his second year in Alexandria, he was a probationary employee. He had no protections against dismissal. The date was April 1, so Nolan wondered if this might be the principal’s idea of a joke.
She didn’t smile. So he asked why his contract was not being renewed. According to Nolan, she said he had “too many negatives” on his evaluations.
Nolan was aghast. As required, he had seen all of his evaluations. At no time during his two years at the school, he told me in an e-mail, “did ANY MEMBER of the administrative staff communicate to me that my teaching was below standards. Not a single memo. Not a single email. Not a single conversation. Nothing.”
He had, however, seen Casiano mistreat other teachers, he said. “She intimidates, bullies, threatens and lies,” he said. Dozens of staffers had left the school to escape her, said Nolan and two other staffers I questioned.
Alexandria Superintendent Morton Sherman said the district does not comment on “confidential personnel discussions” and he does not accept “allegations of a disproportionate number of staff leaving” Ramsay. But Ramsay parent Hector Pineda said both Sherman and Casiano showed concern for “low morale among the staff” at a June 11 meeting with parents.
How could such a situation could arise in a district as good as Alexandria?
Firing a probationary teacher without giving him a hint of a problem or any help in getting better violates basic standards of school management. Every principal or superintendent I have ever interviewed on the matter agrees that administrators must tell teachers of flaws in their work and help them fix what’s wrong.
At least as disturbing is what Nolan said he experienced firsthand after the surprise dismissal notice. School administrators immediately began to deride his teaching skills. One assistant principal, he said, made positive comments to him after observing his classroom March 15, but shortly after his meeting with Casiano gave him an overwhelmingly negative written report on that same visit.
Nolan said he asked that assistant principal twice if Casiano had told her to change her positive view of the visit. He said the woman replied “the administration routinely discusses evaluations before we return them to the teacher.”
He has gotten two more negative notes since then from assistant principals. He wonders, as do I, why busy administrators would bother evaluating a teacher who has already been fired. The head of human resources for the school district and school board vice chair Justin P. Keating have rejected Nolan’s requests that the dismissal be reconsidered, he said.
Why did this happen? Share your guesses with me at firstname.lastname@example.org, particularly if you have encountered such a situation yourself. Alexandria schools are full of great educators. The school board might inquire why so many of them are leaving Ramsay.