Saturday, March 28, 2009

School Administrator: Dishes It Out, but Can’t Take It

The following testimony took place between 9:59 A.M. and 3:36 P.M. on 3/26/09.

The school administrator testified in the hearing that she “might” have told the investigators from H.R. On Call, Inc that teacher John Freshwater was from a fundamental church with an extreme approach to the Bible. She never attended any services at Freshwater’s church but said that the school board received a letter from the church’s pastor a few years ago that she took negatively.

It was enough, Dr. Lynda Weston said, that she knew people who did attend there. Fundamental churches “adhere to certain philosophy and interpretations and things of that sort,” Weston said.

R. Kelly Hamilton, attorney for Freshwater, then asked Weston if she attended a “fundamental” church.

Weston objected to the question.

At this point, the hearing referee, R. Lee Shepherd, told Weston that he decided what a relevant question was—and that she did have to answer the question.

Weston muttered something.

The answer Weston ended up giving was that she belonged to a “congregational church” and that she did not think they describe themselves as fundamental.

She added that being “fundamental”, “liberal” or “conservative” determines or influences how a person teaches in the classroom. In her church, they would believe that intelligent design and creationism are religious issues—a person can have a belief in God and science as a separate entity, Weston said.

Following this exchange, a ten minute break was taken. During the break, Weston requested taking lunch break sooner than planned, which the referee agreed to.

Weston, formerly Director of Teaching and Learning at Mount Vernon City Schools, Ohio, was in administrative work with the school for ten years. Hamilton said that the report by HROC referred to Weston more than anyone else.

Mystery Student—

Hamilton asked Weston about a statement by HROC that there was allegedly a student negatively impacted on their learning by Freshwater.

Weston replied that that story was told to her by a third party—so has no names of the parents or the student. Allegedly, Freshwater asked for a show of hands from his class of those that believed in evolution; one student raised her hand and Freshwater said, “We will see about that.”

Weston has no evidence for the story but still insisted that it was true. She said that she is certain there is a girl from Freshwater’s class that felt insulted for having said she believes in evolution. Weston was not even able to remember who told her the story.

Religious Displays—

Weston defined a religious display as something that brings students’ attention to information that is religious, be that the Koran or a Christmas display.

Weston never saw any Bibles on desks at the middle school—including Freshwater’s desk.

Deciding whether it would be appropriate to post one Bible verse in a classroom would depend heavily on the purpose of having the verse there, Weston said.

Weston was shown a 4*6 photo of the Colin Powell/George Bush poster. She did not remember seeing this poster before. She said the photo was too small to read the words on it. The poster shows Colin Powell and President Bush in prayer. Written at the top of the poster is a portion of James 5:16: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Controversial Issues—

If a student asks about Easter or Good Friday, Weston said she would respond with information as to where the student could find answers on this topic, such as church resources and internet resources. She would assume that the student already knew he could ask his parents about those topics—it would be OK to suggest to the student that he talk to his parents, Weston said.

When students challenge a teacher on something, the teacher needs to respect the difference of opinion, Weston said. The teacher should then share with them what the accepted science is on the topic, if it is a science subject, Weston said.

Freshwater continued to teach science in a non scientific way, according to Weston. She said that at the eighth-grade level of Freshwater’s class, it is not appropriate to teach them controversy or critical thinking. She based this statement on her experience in elementary education and child development psychology.

In the school setting controversial issues can be taught, Weston said, if they are taught fairly and are based on established information. In such cases, she said that both or multiple sides of the issue need to be looked at.

H.R. On Call Report (HROC)—

Weston said that she has no knowledge as to why she was not called as a witness for the school board during their case-in-chief.

Weston said she was present during two different meetings with HROC—in between those two meetings she prepared a three page statement of her recollections of things related to Freshwater which she said was to make sure she had dates and information correct. She received a subpoena to turn over all documents related to the Freshwater matter to Hamilton. She understood the request, but turned the three page document in question over to the attorney for the school board, David Millstone, instead of Hamilton.

Hamilton asked Weston if she made the statement that is credited to her in the HROC report, that says, “Dr. Weston stated that she has had to deal with internal and external complaints about [Freshwater’s] failure to follow the curriculum for much of her 11 years at Mount Vernon.”

Weston said that she did make the statement—but upon reading it, when the report came out, she was frustrated with herself for having said it. It is an inaccurate statement. She notified the school in the summer of 2008 that she was adjusting that statement, Weston said.

The complaints about Freshwater, that Weston has, start in 2002. She said that the other complaints were ones she heard from other teachers, but has no personal knowledge of them.

Weston gave a list of five teachers and one family, Souhrada, who she said made complaints to her. She knows of no other people who made complaints to her.

Weston admitted that she never asked those five complaining teachers if they ever spent any time in Freshwater’s classroom. Weston said that her role was not in the supervising of teachers and that she had never been in Freshwater’s classroom.

The only documentation of those complaints were emails from two of the people and a handout that allegedly came from Freshwater’s class. She said she could not recall any further documentation of those six complaints. (Later in her testimony, she said she saw a couple more handouts—this may have been related to complaints that were not told to her by the complaining parties.)

Weston said that she thinks that the handouts create a body of evidence and that there is no need to research each one, no need to find out how they were used in the class—she knows that they were used, because they were in the students hands.

Weston said that Freshwater was being “underhanded” because of the handouts and because of having students question the textbook when the textbook did not match his philosophy. She has not talked to Freshwater about his philosophy, Weston admitted.

Hamilton reviewed Weston’s past job performance evaluations. One evaluation mentioned “importance of follow-up depending on item of information.” Weston said that she did not remember why that was in the review, but said that she does not think she has a pattern of problems with follow-up. “I believe I follow-up on things,” Weston said. She went on to add that people assume she had responsibility for things that she did not have responsibility for.

One of the evaluations of Weston mentioned “improving conflict resolution.” There was also a mention of “understanding how change impacts people.” Weston said that these evaluations are several years old. (Weston said that some or all—[note: not sure which ones she was referring to]—of the things in those evaluations did not show up again in future evaluations.)

Weston said that she did not tell HROC that Freshwater was not allowed to be teaching on evolution. She agreed that the eighth-grade content standards for science teachers include teaching evolution.

Zachary Dennis—

Weston said that she was not involved in the investigation of the alleged burn on Zachary Dennis’ arm. She said she saw the photos in the newspaper.

Weston said that she was the one who ran the child abuse prevention training for the school system. Training would be offered each year to make sure new teachers had their training. Weston said that reporting of the incident to Children’s Services would be required.

Andrew Thomson—

When Hamilton asked Weston if she knew a person by the name of Andrew Thomson, she immediately began to become emotional. She said that Thomson means a lot to her. Hamilton quickly asked Weston if she needed a ten minute break, but she responded that she thought she could keep going.

Thomson spoke at the August 4th school board meeting.

(Video of Andrew Thomson, he is the first person to speak on this video.)

Weston described Thomson as speaking in favor of Freshwater at the August 4th school board meeting. She talked with Thomson afterwards and told him that what he said took a lot of courage—she also said that during that time period Thomson was questioning whether or not he should remain a teacher, so Weston talked to him about staying in teaching, Weston said. She also said she told Thomson that there had been a lot heard on both sides in the Freshwater matter.

Freshwater’s 2003 Proposal—

Weston said that Freshwater did well with bringing his proposal in 2003 and that he handled it in the manner a teacher should. She said that the decision about that proposal made it very clear how Intelligent Design should be handled.

The curriculum committee did not approve the proposal—they decided that ID is not testable, or measurable, said they already teach critical thinking, and that ID was religious, Weston said.

Weston said that Tim Kieb—because he came from the same religious philosophy as Freshwater—told her he would talk to Freshwater and help him understand the difference between public education and religion.

After that proposal, Weston said she never asked Freshwater if he was teaching ID—she said that was not her job. What she did do was to provide opportunity of training for Freshwater. She did not talk to Freshwater about the handouts.

Weston claimed that Freshwater’s colleagues had trouble talking with him because he was so set in his ways about what science was. She offered as evidence of this that Freshwater did not attend the professional development meeting/training—but it was not required for him to attend.

Weston said that she found the handouts that she received from other people to be pretty much first hand information.

The only occasions that Weston heard Freshwater speak about ID and creationism was at meetings—she did not speak to him personally about the subject.

Weston’s “Concern”—

The HROC report contained this sentence credited to Weston: “She stated Mr. Freshwater has a lot of influence with his students that causes her concern.”

Weston said that she did make this statement. If students are taught something that is wrong they will believe it—she was concerned that Freshwater was causing his students “intellectual” harm.

Weston said that her retirement from the school district is final and that she has to be out of her office by April 1st.


gregjaye said...

MV -

Very comprehensive report of the day's events. I have been able to attend only a few of the daily hearings sessions.

It seems to me that this woman had it in for Mr. Freshwater and had some part to play in his termnination.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. It seams she only answered questions when asked. She didn't ask for the investigation.

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