Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Unanswered Questions—Paula Barone and Personnel Policy

Paula Barone’s son Joseph testified at the John Freshwater hearing—in the spring of 2002 he said he informed his parents of concerns he had with his eighth-grade science class taught by Freshwater. His parents did nothing until the teacher made the news in the spring of 2008.

Joseph Barone, a student at Ohio State University, testified that he received a phone call from his dad asking about notes taken in Freshwater’s class. “I told him I think [the notes are] in a box in the basement,” Barone said. “He went through and said, I found some stuff.”

Those notes were later given by his mother to investigators. Thomas Herlevi, co-owner of H.R. On Call, spent 15 to 30 minutes interviewing her. (Joseph Barone was not interviewed by HROC—possibly due to his being away at college at the time.)

(Paula Barone, at right, listens to questions at “Meet the Candidates Night.”)

Paula Barone, who is running for the Mount Vernon Board of Education, declined to comment on her involvement with the investigation of Freshwater. She also declined to explain her views on personnel policy—specifically, the following questions:

Do you think teachers should be given performance evaluations?

If a teacher falls short of expectations, should that teacher be given instruction and opportunity to measure up?

Regarding complaints made against a teacher: What is your position on the appropriateness of using previously unreported complaints, from prior school years, as a means to support a complaint from the most recent school year?

The questions have been left unanswered by Barone—but her involvement in the HROC investigation may reflect a portion of her views on personnel policy.

On her campaign website, Barone, who is a retired teacher, does not articulate any concerns she has with how the school system currently treats personnel. She does make a broad statement in regards to upholding the law:

“I will promote implementation of best practices, and insist upon compliance with applicable state and federal laws in every Mount Vernon classroom, administrative office and support service”

Testimony of Joseph Barone

The school’s attorney, David Millstone, primarily focused on student witnesses that were not from Freshwater’s most recent class. (The HROC investigation itself did interview a few current students.) Student witnesses called by Millstone during the 2008/2009 school year: Zachary Dennis (recent student), Simon Souhrada (high school jr.), James Hoeffgen (high school sr.), Katie Button (college) and Joseph Barone (college).

After seven years Barone still had handouts from Freshwater’s class—he stated that he was pretty sure Freshwater allowed students to take the handouts home. Two of his fill-in-the-blank worksheets were on the topic of evolution. The papers, which discussed obstacles on the evolutionary path of a couple animals, ended with the phrase “Is there an I.D. involved?”

Referencing a page of his notes from class, Barone said that three theories about the development of species were discussed “probably from a lecture or a transparency.” He said that they were “Darwin, natural selection, Wallace, and intelligent design.”

After “intelligent design,” in Barone’s class notes, was the phrase “strictly religious.” The statement may have been made by Freshwater. “I would think that it was probably something that he said, but not necessarily with regards to it being invalid,” Barone said.

The topic of evolution wasn’t covered until near the end of the year. Barone said that Freshwater allowed the class to debate the topic—leading to some heated discussions. “I felt that [the students] said some things about my beliefs that were persecution in nature and that they weren't really mediated very well by our teacher,” Barone said.

Barone acknowledged that Freshwater never made any statements that were denigrating to him or his religion. Despite being offended by the statements of his classmates, Barone never talked with Freshwater about the problem. His parents also did nothing about the alleged problem in the classroom (from hearing transcript):

Q. “Could you have gone and talked to your mom about your concerns?”

A. “I did talk to my parents about my concerns when I got home at dinner.”


Q. “Ultimately, your mom nor dad did anything during that school year, correct?”
A. “Not that school year.”

Q. “They file any complaints on your behalf?”

A. “No, they did not.”

Barone gave several reasons for why he did not talk to his teacher about the problems in the classroom: Occasional negative comments were a part of going to school and interacting with his friends. He felt embarrassed going to someone with the problem. And he thought it wouldn’t do any good to talk with Freshwater—he thought he understood what his teacher’s views were and that they were too different from his own.

“Maybe he wasn’t aware of how out of control it was, but in my opinion, it was pretty out of control,” Barone said.

Although Barone described that year as being hard, he also said that it was a good year. “I loved my eighth grade year,” Barone said. “I was always looking forward to having Mr. Freshwater as a teacher. He had a great reputation as the kind of teacher you could feel comfortable with and friendly with. I still -- I maintain that friendship.”

Barone said that he probably received an “A” in Freshwater’s class.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tesla Coil Matter Was Officially Resolved January 2008

The claim that John Freshwater “branded” a cross onto the arm of a student was item number one of the June 20, 2008 resolution of the Mount Vernon Board of Education. Problem is the school had already signed off on the matter in January of that year.

It wasn’t until after Freshwater refused to remove a Bible off his desk that the allegation was resurrected.

The allegation of the burn has yet to be collaborated, during the administrative hearing, by any source outside of the Dennis family. Freshwater denies that anyone was burned in the classroom demonstration. Other teachers at the school also allowed students to touch the spark from the Tesla coil, including: Steven Farmer, Donald Newcomer and Lori Miller.

The letter to Freshwater setting the matter to rest was signed by Principal William White and Assistant Principal Brad Ritchey. “Subject to follow through on the above issues and no further incidences whereas anyone is being shocked with the machines this letter will not become part of your permanent record,” the letter states. (Click here to view copy of letter.)

White testified at Freshwater’s administrative hearing that the language of the letter, referenced above, was included at the direction of Steve Short, who at the time was interim superintendent.

Jennifer Dennis—mother of the student allegedly burned—testified that she spoke with Short about the incident and told him she did not want to see Freshwater fired over this. “I just felt this was not a good situation, and I was concerned,” Dennis said.

The allegation, although already resolved, was included in the report by H.R. On Call and was included in a lawsuit filed by the Dennis family against Freshwater and the school.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Meet the Candidates Tuesday (October 27)

The third opportunity to meet the candidates for the Mount Vernon Board of Education will be held on October 27 at the Mount Vernon Middle School. The following announcement is from the Mount Vernon News:

“Mount Vernon City Schools Local 470 and MVEA have invited the candidates for the Mount Vernon City School Board to participate in a meet the candidates night on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Mount Vernon Middle School commons. Candidates will be given an opportunity to give a brief introduction; each candidate will then be asked a series of questions from the classified staff and the teaching staff. There will be no questions from the audience, but anyone is welcome.”