A former Haverhill Public School special needs teacher Thursday night criticized the administration of St. James School, explaining to School Committee members why he resigned.
Timothy Walsh, of Effingham, N.H., told the committee why he stepped down after three years at the Therapeutic Education Assessment Center of Haverhill—known as TEACH. He said his resignation was aimed at bringing to light what Walsh called “abuse” of elementary aged children. Walsh, whose students suffer from the autism spectrum disorder, said he believed his concerns were being ignored by the new administration.
In an earlier letter sent to the School Committee, Walsh spoke openly about his concerns with the new administration. Walsh said in the letter that without any input from TEACH staff, a new principal was hired. One that Walsh said, had limited experience with disabled children.
Walsh said Thursday he hoped his students could have the team meetings that he had asked for as his resolution.
“If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then I present to you with a clear example of some of the dysfunction the members of a small, problematic staff, all sitting here, sitting behind. Waiting for that communication to happen.”
School Committee members did not offer any response.
Here’s the text of Walsh’s letter.
Dear School Committee Member,
I recently resigned my position as a special needs teacher at the TEACH program where I had spent the last three years running a class of elementary aged students who had experienced significant trauma, neglect, or abuse. I resigned in order to be able to bring to light the abuse they had suffered at the hands of the new administration through the actions of the new program principal.
On the day I gave my notice I filed a complaint in my students’ names with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Problem Resolution System (which I have enclosed). I subsequently met with John O’Connor at Haverhill HR to discuss my reasons for leaving, and it is at his suggestion that I write this to you. I wish to make clear that he was not suggesting or advocating my contacting you, he merely (and I believe correctly) suggested that, as it was my plan to speak in front of the committee at a future hearing relative to this issue, doing so publicly would unnecessarily tarnish the perception of the entire school system for the actions of a few and erode public confidence and support.
T.S. Eliot wrote that “Between the Idea, and the Reality….Lies the Shadow.” Likewise, the idea, from what I read in the newspapers, of hiring the current administration was one of “turning” the school system around; a laudable but somewhat politically driven goal. The Reality, at least on the far outlying perimeters where the students I work with are, is that those with the highest level of needs are being given the least. Four months ago, with no parental involvement or discussion, and no firm future plan, my entire class was jettisoned; they did not fit the type of student the new TEACH administration worked with.
Over this past summer, a decision was made by the new administration to separate the TEACH and HALT programs, thereby removing the man who had run the program for the past seven years. Without discussion with, or input from any of the TEACH or HALT staff, a new principal was appointed, a principal with no experience working with the myriad disability populations we at TEACH work with. Instead of filling direct staff vacancies, she brought in a number of non-classroom staff who, likewise, had no experience working with the populations we worked with. Additionally, she rejected out-of-hand any suggestions from existing staff meant to assist her in understanding the needs of those populations. Her leadership has been notable for a dogmatic one-size-fits-all approach and an obvious favoritism shown to the few students who exhibited the types of presentations she was familiar with. One such student she regularly takes, in her private vehicle, to the store for Mountain Dew; another, to Target. Others, like my students, were marginalized, any experiential learning activities cancelled, opportunities for outside activities, such as field trips, so loaded with bureaucratic requirements as to be virtually impossible. The staff that have not left are demoralized and lacking initiative, fearful for their jobs; the union has become increasingly involved fielding complaints of a hostile workplace; students are not receiving their mandated support; parents are filing complaints to DESE, and leadership is non-existent.
Now, it has been shared at TEACH, that the “plan” is to “return” TEACH to its routes as the district’s Autism Spectrum Disorder school (apparently what it began as), which goes a long way towards explaining why the only hires have been from private ASD programs. The corollary to this being that the “other” students, those not on the Spectrum will be somehow moved (to HALT perhaps). But this is little more than a rumour mentioned as an aside by the new principal. But if it is indeed the case, then, like the events of this past summer, no one has actually had any discussion or sought input from the TECH staff, parents, or collaterals. I would argue that the administration owes it to the staff, parents, and students to be more forthcoming and transparent about their intent. If students are being moved to satisfy the caprices of some organizational dictum, then not only their well-being, but the well-being and jobs of many staff will be impacted
I have spent the last three months helping the remnants of my class, those four students transferred to HALT, deal with the retraumatizing effects of that summary disposal. So far, I have witnessed two of them attempt to jump from a second-floor window, multiple crisis calls and attempts at self-harm, a CBAT placement, and an explosion of aggression, property destruction, and other regressive behaviours that I have not witnessed from them in the three years I have been their teacher. They have suffered, and will continue to suffer, because they do not “fit” in the new administration’s plans. I am appalled that those who call themselves educators can do these things to those in the most dire need. This feeling, and the freedom that resignation affords me to advocate for my students, are the reasons I am no longer a Haverhill teacher. I fear that the district will suffer further departures of caring and motivated staff in the future, especially if the plans to divide the TEACH program are indeed true.
Thank you for allowing me this forum to address my concerns,
Tim Walsh M.Ed. CAGS