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 Charlotte-Mecklenburg teacher says farewell

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March Mellow

Join date : 2009-04-26
Posts : 209
Location : Char-Meck

Charlotte-Mecklenburg teacher says farewell Empty
PostSubject: Charlotte-Mecklenburg teacher says farewell   Charlotte-Mecklenburg teacher says farewell EmptyFri Jun 12, 2009 3:10 pm

A teacher's farewell, a district's plight
‘If she goes, our whole science program goes,' says parent upset at CMS classroom cuts.
By Ann Doss Helms
Posted: Friday, Jun. 12, 2009

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On one level, Lucinda Dyer's farewell to Sharon Elementary is a story that's become achingly familiar: a beloved instructor losing her job over the outcry of parents and students.

On another, it's a worrisome glimpse of how budget cuts may play out when classes resume in August.

Dyer is only one of about 1,300 CMS employees scheduled to lose their jobs. But parents worry that her departure will cripple a science program that has captured their kids' imagination. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' science chief has similar fears, and not just at Sharon.

Dyer worked with a strong principal and PTA to create a program that has children doing hands-on investigations starting in kindergarten.

Everything from a nest of baby rabbits to the goose droppings on school grounds became a real-life lesson. Kids brought snake skins and dead bugs to Dyer's lab.

“If she goes, our whole science program goes,” said PTA parent Meredith Ritchie. “It's just amazing that she can make science come to life for kids.”

CMS has encouraged schools to dedicate teachers and space to science. At the end of this school year, about 25 of the district's 100 elementary schools had faculty specializing in science, said math/science director Cindy Moss. At least 15, including Dyer, have lost their jobs.

“My sense is the majority of them will be gone,” Moss said. “It's just breaking my heart.”

Hearts are breaking at Sharon, too. Parents are barraging CMS with pleas to save Dyer's job.

There's some irony to Dyer falling victim to cost-cutting. She landed on the layoff list because she's a “curriculum associate,” not a licensed teacher. But that also means she's working for just under $27,000 – almost $8,000 a year less than a rookie teacher.

Dyer, who has 15 years with CMS, says she offered to work as a teacher assistant, taking a pay cut, if she could stay. But she learned late last week that wouldn't happen.

“I want my kids at Sharon,” she said Wednesday, before going to clean out her room.

Principal power

Sharon's science program is a case study in the way Superintendent Peter Gorman wants schools to work.

He's given good principals leeway to be creative in serving their kids. At Sharon, then-Principal Steve Hall created a science position.

While many schools tap teachers for such jobs, Hall turned to Dyer, an assistant. Her mother, grandmother and sister are teachers, but she got her degree in art, then worked in a series of jobs outside education. When her son was at Beverly Woods Elementary 15 years ago, she got a job as an after-school assistant, later moving into Sharon's classrooms.

She didn't have science expertise when Hall promoted her, she says. But she had a love of nature born during her childhood as a West Virginia farm girl.

Sharon's PTA raised $20,000 for lab tables, microscopes and other lab supplies.

In most elementary schools, classroom teachers do science lessons. At Sharon, Dyer would load up a cart with supplies and go room-to-room with activities.

Parent Laura Love says Dyer's lessons became part of what distinguished the southeast Charlotte school: “So many people have chosen Sharon Elementary over private schools because of her.”

The ax falls

Because Dyer's science job was a special position, it had to be renewed yearly.

Last year, when Gorman tapped his top principals to turn around weak schools, Hall was one of the first he called. Hall moved to Bruns Avenue Elementary, and it fell to first-year principal Catherine Phelan to deal with this year's budget cuts.

Neither Hall nor Phelan would comment on the science program or Dyer's job, citing the sensitivity of layoffs. But the outcry from parents was such that the school's “Eagle Eye Mail” sent a note from Phelan and a district official: “Due to budget constraints, the ability to create a science associate position for 2009-2010 has been impacted,” it says. “Sharon Elementary School certified teachers will continue to teach the science curriculum next year.”

Associate Superintendent Ann Clark said it's too early to tell how many elementary schools will lose science teachers, but “that doesn't mean science instruction goes away.” At the least, classroom teachers will continue to work science into their lesson plans.

Very little wiggle room

Moss, the math/science director, worries about any scaleback: “If I could do something to stop science being cut I would.”

She said her own staff who help schools improve their science and math programs will go from 10 people to four.

Some high-poverty elementary schools that get federal Title I money are using it to keep an extra science teacher, Moss said.

In lower-poverty schools, she says, “there's very little wiggle room.”
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