South Putnam employees comment on school climate

Friday, May 14, 2021

Parents and teachers at South Putnam have continued to show their frustrations with school leaders. The dialogue has also invoked the culture there as a reason why teachers may either stay or leave.

Part of a large group which attended, two employees expressed concerns about colleagues leaving due to ongoing strife during the South Putnam School Board’s regular meeting Wednesday evening.

South Putnam Middle/High School science teacher Natalie Hodge first spoke on job openings for teachers as what she feels “is the most significant challenge” facing the school.

She noted that there were 1,858 openings in the Indiana Department of Education’s job bank, adding that this does not cover all potential listings. She also said that the IDOE’s job bank was not the only career opportunity.

“Teachers are choosing to leave K-12 education to pursue careers in higher education or outside of education,” Hodge provided. “A great concern to me is the number of science, math and special education openings in the job bank.”

Hodge stated that one-third of South Putnam’s teaching staff has either resigned or is planning to. She segued into administration at the middle/high school maintaining a positive culture where teachers are valued.

“I think that we can all agree that trusting and keeping high-quality, appropriately licensed teachers is of the utmost importance to our school district as we face an unprecedented shortage of highly qualified educators,” Hodge said. “In order to fill our openings and compete for the small number of new teachers graduating from college, we are going to have to offer a competitive salary or a fantastic school culture and climate.

“We’ve relied on our culture to attract and keep teachers,” she added. “My hope is that the South Putnam School Board will keep this concern at the forefront of every decision made moving forward.”

In her comments, South Putnam Middle/High School nurse Bethany Combs indicated that the board was “frustrated” with her due to criticisms she has made. She echoed the theme of teachers having passion for their students.

“I took a 66-percent pay cut to come here, and I love my job,” Combs said. “I love my job. I love the people I work with. I love the students that I serve. We have an amazing team here.”

Combs said she has felt targeted and fearful of losing her job because she has spoken out about issues at South Putnam. She added that she had previously reached out to the board and Superintendent Bruce Bernhardt to share concerns about “a lot of frustrated teachers and administration” looking for other employment.

“Our faculty is not standing with you guys,” Combs said. “They’re not standing with your decisions. They’re standing with an administration that’s now struggling because of some of the decisions you guys have made.”

Combs did not outline what the decisions in question were. She said that while she would “never pretend to know everything” and “never, ever pretend to be right,” she implored to the board that more teachers could leave because of such decisions.

“This is a mess, and we’re looking at losing a lot of great teachers,” Combs concluded. “They’re not replaceable. You will never replace them with anyone else.”

Susan Traynor Chastain, who is assisting the board with issues of law regarding policy and statutes, also fielded a question about why the board did not move to cancel Athletic Director Tom Starnes’ teaching contract during its April 14 regular meeting.

Chastain responded that public comment times were not for question-and-answer, in addition to the query being about personnel and not appropriate to discuss in a public meeting.

Former at-large member Anthony Heavin motioned to accept findings for canceling Starnes’ contract at the meeting, but the motion died without a second. Both Heavin and former Warren Township representative Craig Newby resigned afterward.

In other business:

• The board approved two-year contract extensions for South Putnam’s principals, which would include Levi Yowell, Zach Love, Tona Gardner, Debbie Steffy and Todd Gowen.

• The board approved a resolution presented by Sutherlin, Zeiner & Barclay outlining bond reimbursement, which covers bond-related expenses out of the Operations Fund such as improvements.

• Fillmore Elementary fifth-grade teacher Jill McCammack presented an award from Mental Health America of Putnam County (MHAoPC) to Bernhardt on behalf of South Putnam’s faculty.

McCammack explained that MHAoPC recently had its annual meeting, during which they announce a Person of the Year and an Educator of the Year. It was determined that all educators in Putnam County schools deserved the latter, and thus she accepted the award for South Putnam.

The board also recognized South Putnam’s Students of the Month:

• Central Elementary School: Addison Cook

• Fillmore Elementary School: Hallie Birt

• South Putnam High School: Mia Wells

• South Putnam High School: Cayden Witt

Wells and Witt were not in attendance.

The board also approved the following personnel report:

• Resignations:

— Certified: Theresa Doud - MS/HS chemistry teacher; Laura Solano - MS/HS Spanish teacher; Zachary Rayce - MS/HS special education teacher; Tracey Heet - MS/HS science teacher; Heather Nees - MS/HS math teacher; Quinn Albright - Central Elementary special education teacher; and Holly Sims - MS/HS art teacher;

— ECA: Theresa Doud - MS/HS academic science coach and concessions (one half); Laura Solano - Spanish Club; Tracey Heet - FCA sponsor, middle-school academic science coach and seventh-grade sponsor (one half); Heather Nees - seventh-grade sponsor (one half); Rachelle Custis - head varsity volleyball coach; and Holly Sims - assistant cross country coach, assistant girls’ track coach and fine arts coach;

• Retirements: Cindy Scobee - corporation office secretary; and Dan Snellenberger - bus driver;

• New Hires:

­— Certified: Bobbi Scioldo - MS/HS special education teacher; and Emily Pedigo - MS/HS Spanish teacher;

— Classified: Lindsey Sprinkle - Central Elementary food service (part time).

The entire board joined Bernhardt, Chastain and Administrative Assistant Terri Beasley for the meeting.

The next regular meeting of the South Putnam School Board is scheduled for Wednesday, June 9 at 7 p.m.

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  • Tough time to be a kid in school:



    No in-school teaching

    Canceled extra curricular

    Gender confusion Ed

    CRT Ed

    Who thought up this BS?

    -- Posted by direstraits on Fri, May 14, 2021, at 6:58 AM
  • The answer to your question is obvious.

    -- Posted by beg on Fri, May 14, 2021, at 9:00 AM
  • Well, it is time for someone to step up and be the Adult in the room.

    I have kept a close eye on this "situation" and have some observations as a taxpayer in the SP district.

    I am going to breakdown my observations as someone that is above the noise that is being made by school staff and parents.

    1. With a little research you can learn what, "Finding of Fact and Law of Conclusion", is and what it entails. You would also learn that Certified School Employees have something called "Due Process". School Boards that let an employee go without proper procedure, or documentation can find themselves in a court battle.

    (This begs the questions if maybe this may have been the issue in the case of the AD.)

    2. I am still very unclear on what the objective is of the teachers and staff. What are your demands? I hear a lot about the worry of a culture change at SP, but how is the culture changing if all 5 Principals had their contracts renewed for another 2 years? So there will be no culture change at the schools other than there will be a new Superintendent.

    3. Teacher pay at SP has never been as high as larger communities that have a higher tax base. This is nothing new, but teacher pay within the county if very similar. Teaching in a larger district may bring a higher pay scale, but it also brings larger class sizes, lack of parent involvement among other things.

    4. If we look at the bigger picture and the chatter going on, someone didn't get the position that they wanted. It seems there is a lack of professionalism from the person that didn't get the position. Obviously, SP was looking to fill the Superintendent position with the retirement of the current Super.

    5. Board members resigning an elected position because they can't deal with a decision not going their way makes me question why they ran for the position. Board members need to be objective in their decision making and can't let their relationships with school personnel cloud their judgement no matter the situation.

    I urge you all to rise above the noise, rumors, and drama. Be the Adult in the room and do your research. We live in a great community with a lot of good people that have let emotion and rumors override sound decision making.

    -- Posted by jmack46120 on Fri, May 14, 2021, at 10:34 AM
  • Thanks for your comment jmack ! You took the words right out of my mouth!!!! Just because certain people didn’t get there way, they decided to act childish and make life hell for some employees in the building! If you don’t like the decisions that were made, don’t let the door hit ya on the way out!!! GROW UP and stop making SP look like a bunch of fools!!!!!!

    -- Posted by fillmorechick on Fri, May 14, 2021, at 5:25 PM
  • It is spelled "their" not "there". Their is a possessive pronoun. There denotes a location.

    How do we expect kids to learn English correctly when the adults(?) write incorrectly???

    -- Posted by Don Antonio on Fri, May 14, 2021, at 7:57 PM
  • probably an auto correct. it is not important vs the issues and intent of the statements

    -- Posted by beg on Fri, May 14, 2021, at 11:39 PM
  • @beg--education is expensive but, the payoff is using what is learned to make oneself look educated. Not using your native language correctly makes one look very stupid.

    -- Posted by Don Antonio on Sat, May 15, 2021, at 5:59 PM
  • Hey Don. The comma goes before but when joining two independent clauses. If you wish to use your native language correctly, that is.

    -- Posted by Koios on Sat, May 15, 2021, at 8:14 PM
  • So much of the focus of schools today are on the adults either in the system or gaming the system for their own gain.

    The design of these huge government fed entities has hidden meaningful teaching about the necessities of making a good life and gainful employment and instead wandered off into meaningless indoctrination and mindsets of whatever the current world consensus advocates for.

    It acts like a mob with the power of the government standing behind it. Who will resist?

    There is a designed system at hand that's working. Only its working for those that designed it. Not for the original ones it was designed to Sheppard and serve.

    -- Posted by direstraits on Sun, May 16, 2021, at 12:57 PM
  • Until someone explains what the heck is going on, I don’t see how anyone can have an opinion here. So far this is a lot of upset over nothing until someone tells us what they’re actually upset about.

    -- Posted by techphcy on Sun, May 16, 2021, at 7:48 PM
  • direstraits says, "The design of these huge government fed entities has hidden meaningful teaching about the necessities of making a good life and gainful employment and instead wandered off into meaningless INDOCTRONATION and mindsets of whatever the current world consensus advocates for.

    It acts like a mob with the power of the government standing behind it. Who will resist?

    Well said! Thank you.

    -- Posted by Prince of Stardust Hills on Sun, May 16, 2021, at 8:04 PM
  • He Don, so autocorrect took over! Anyway, you are missing the point, Karen!!!

    -- Posted by fillmorechick on Wed, May 19, 2021, at 6:04 PM
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