Marlin teachers thrown under bus in blame game

A Waco Trib article from Dec. 6 titled, “Marlin ISD focuses on improving instruction to enhance student academic performance,” is a telling headline indeed. “Focuses on improving instruction” blatantly lays the blame for Marlin ISD’s underperforming students at the teachers’ feet. Blaming teachers for Marlin’s underperforming students has been the go-to for this school year, and it’s a cop-out.

Here’s a fact, though: Marlin ISD has no standardized discipline plan in place. If one exists, no one has told me. The other teachers in my building haven’t been told either. Without students’ being held accountable, there is mayhem and a teacher has no recourse to deal with unruly students. The students essentially run the school. That isn’t the type of learning environment anyone will grow from. I’ve yet to see an article about the new leadership’s discipline strategy, but I surely believe we need one before we talk about classroom management. Unless you’ve been in a classroom, you couldn’t possibly understand the magnitude of this ongoing issue.

Before anyone assumes the mess in this academically troubled school district is the students’ fault or that Marlin High School is a dangerous place, it’s not. They’re kids and they’ll go as far as the system allows. I don’t blame the parents either. We have an obligation to show the students that there is a boundary between their behavior in school and out of school. Urging our students to recognize this line has been our biggest failure this school year.

From the same Trib article: “These issues all stem from inadequate instructional leadership at the administrative level,” he [Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath] said. “My team saw very large gaps in student knowledge for kids, regardless of age. My team also saw evidence of actions taken in the last few months by the interim superintendent to address those gaps.”

I haven’t seen evidence of any positive actions taken by the interim superintendent in the high school. In fact, I met with Dr. Jean Bahney in August 2019 about the discipline problems in my classes last year, along with other concerns about my woodshop and the safety of my students due to the overly large and rowdy classes. Nothing was done or ever discussed again. In September I discussed the same issues with Dr. Diana Vaughn, TEA conservator, when she visited my classroom. Again nothing came from that conversation. I doubt there’s even any official record of that meeting.

Another passage from the same article: “Meanwhile, Bahney has focused on improving teacher professional development and standardizing and updating curricula throughout the district. She said the district is employing ‘diagnostic teaching,’ which means teachers use student performance data to determine how they teach the next lesson or whether students understood the lesson just taught.”

I see nothing in that paragraph that seems educationally exceptional, other than using an abundance of fancy words to say, “Teachers are instructing students and then giving a test… just like they’ve always done.” Note the teacher-at-fault implication is there again.

One more from the same article: “In reality, it’s about kids learning,” Bahney said. “I want them to learn whether they’re pre-K 3-year-olds or whether they’re seniors or whether they’re anytime in between. Yes, we would love to have phenomenal scores on STAAR, but I want every child to grow every day. That’s really what we’re after.”

Student growth is what any teacher wants, but since we’re under the threat of closure at the end of this school year, shouldn’t we make phenomenally passing the STAAR test what we’re really after? I see no evidence in my students that anything has been done to date to “help our children grow every day” or to bring them up to grade level or improve their STAAR scores. That STAAR test is only four months away and this educational jargon does nothing to help. When will we see action, and isn’t it a little late midway through the school year?

In another Waco Trib article dated Dec. 27, it says: “In November, Vaughn [the TEA conservator] wrote, ‘The elementary campus is still having difficulty implementing plans with fidelity. The inconsistency in implementation is having a negative impact on student achievement. Very little gains are noted.’”

This is the campus that Dr. Bahney spends most of her time overseeing, yet very little gains are noted? And is this some sort of systematic mutiny by the teachers or is the boss not good at handling instructional infidelity among her staff? Either way, I’m waiting to see some action on Bahney’s part. How many teachers have been written up for this “lack of fidelity?” This passive-aggressive blame game is doing nothing but creating a well-deserved trench between Bahney and her staff.

In the same article: “On Nov. 21, Vaughn and Bahney met with Alushka Driska [elementary school principal] to discuss campus concerns and needs. She wrote that there is a need for more intense intervention and to address the missing reading materials for students, as well as ‘interruptions in the implementation of established plans.’”

Nov. 21 and the school has missing reading materials for students? Could it be because the budget for such things was locked down pending an audit? That’s what I was hearing in my building. An audit that had our budgets on hold certainly wasn’t Principal Driska’s fault. Certainly it wasn’t her fault that I couldn’t buy supplies for my students in my shop classes. I sought donations to begin our shop project, and I battled to get that.

Again, same article: “The next day, Nov. 22, Vaughn and Bahney met with Driska to discuss the ‘lack of leadership and to give direct oversight of instruction to the interim superintendent to establish consistency and follow through in addressing instructional plans developed for the elementary school.’”

I’m reading here that Driska was forced to step aside as principal, and I’ve heard from a reliable source that’s exactly what happened. Again, she is being thrown under the bus like the teachers have been in the conservator’s report. So that leaves only Bahney and the assistant principal to deal with the struggling school and its “rebellious” teachers. But the article also states…

“[Phil] Johanson [the assistant principal] resigned at the end of November.” I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that Johanson would have an interesting story to tell. Nevertheless, this means that one person is now essentially the superintendent, the principal and the assistant principal at the elementary school. I wonder: Why hasn’t our assistant superintendent been mentioned for months? Where is she in all this? I’ve heard rumors that she too was told to stand down. Can this be true or am I just a teacher with a rotten attitude and too much time on my hands?

Also from the same article: “Attempts to reach Driska for comment Friday were unsuccessful.”

I don’t know Ms. Driska, we’ve never met, but I’d sure like to hear what she has to say. What is her current status, Dr. Bahney?

Finally, from an article in the Trib from Dec. 8, 2019, Cynthia Derry, a teacher at Marlin Elementary School, stood before the school board and said, “The work environment has become unacceptable and almost impossible to accomplish my goal of improving the status of our children. I understand the position that our school is in, but I feel that all of the current teachers are being blamed for the previous administrative negligence.”

I believe Ms. Derry is spot-on. It feels like a hostile work environment. I do, however, disagree with “previous administrative negligence.” Dr. Michael Seabolt is gone as superintendent and there’s a new boss at Marlin ISD. Dr. Bahney has been around since March 2019 and she’s been compensated royally for the job. This is Dr. Bahney’s baby now, not Seabolt’s. I can also tell you that things have deteriorated to a near-unsalvageable state since Seabolt left. In fact, it is unsalvageable if we continue on the course we’re on.

The article continues, “Derry went on to list her concerns as ‘the erratic unscheduled events that continue to negatively impact my ability to teach children who have been deemed academically below their grade levels by at least two academic years; the lack of effective consequences for infractions students continue to engage in; the lack of effective administrative support; and the lack of basic resources required for any student or teacher to maintain a positive, nurturing classroom environment.’”

I agree 100% with Ms. Derry on this last paragraph. This situation feels hopeless: It’s all happening so chaotically and so fast that it’s impossible to keep up with. Every day I experience a new reason to say, “You just can’t make this stuff up.” There is no communication that I know of that tells me what we’re even doing or supposed to be doing to help our schools. So far it’s all been illusions and passive-aggressive accusations against the teachers. I learn my school information from the Waco Trib and not my administration, and what I’m reading and what is supposedly happening are two different things.

It’s obvious one of two things is happening at Marlin ISD: It’s either a deliberate attempt to ensure the school implodes or the current leadership is inept at understanding how to help Marlin schools improve. Either way, the outlook isn’t pretty for Marlin ISD.

My hope is that others from Marlin ISD will join me in expressing their concerns about the chronic issues you’ve faced this school year.

The Marlin Democrat

251 Live Oak Street
P.O. Box 112
Marlin, TX 76661
Phone: 254-883-2554
Fax: 254-883-6553