No Child Left Behind
Rose Hill struggled to meet achievement targets under the federal No Child Left Behind law, falling short in four out of Czarniak’s six years at the helm. In 2009, the principal introduced initiatives to boost progress.
Sixth-grade teachers worked together to meet the directives. Nichols was “an integral part of the team,” said Mary Van Kula, one of two former Rose Hill teachers to testify in support of Nichols.
That year, Nichols became the building representative for the Fairfax Education Association, a local chapter of the NEA. Nichols said she thinks that helped make her a target. Rose Hill’s four previous FEA representatives all left the school or resigned, she testified. “I was bullied,” she said in an interview. “It was a clear case of abuse of power.”
Czarniak declined to be interviewed by telephone. Asked to respond to the bullying accusation and other questions, she said via
e-mail that it would be inappropriate to comment on a pending personnel case.
But “generally speaking,” she wrote, “dealing with a teacher dismissal is serious and time-consuming. The decision was not taken lightly and was based on my responsibility to provide every child with a quality education that is driven by current best instructional practices.”
Phyllis Pajardo, Fairfax’s assistant superintendent for human resources, also wouldn’t speak about the Nichols case. But she said the school system should be able to enforce standards for good teaching.
“We have the right to say, ‘When you come work for us, these are the expectations that we have,’ ” she said.
State regulations call for fact-finding panels in dismissal cases to have three members: one chosen by the teacher, one by the superintendent and one neutral party to whom both sides agree.
The Nichols panel was Michael Hairston, FEA president; Dwayne Young, principal of Centreville Elementary; and Johanna Fitzpatrick, a retired judge.
The hearing ended in late April. The panel released its findings nearly four weeks later.
School administrators had demonstrated valid concerns about Nichols’s methods, Fitzpatrick wrote, but they had not convincingly explained how a teacher with such a long record of success had become incompetent in such a short time.
Plus, the judge wrote, evidence had shown a “teacher who went far beyond the requirements of the classroom to foster a love of learning.”
The panel was unanimous: Nichols should not be fired, but she should instead resume work at another school. There should be a probation period for Nichols to address issues raised about her teaching.
That is not the last word. The panel’s recommendation went to the School Board, which has ultimate authority.
Nichols has asked the board for a public hearing of her case. It could happen as early as July. But before it gets to that point, she and her attorney hope to reach an agreement with the school system so she can return to the classroom.
“I’ve proven myself,” Nichols said. “I just want to go back to work.”