Pekin Teachers Bring Up Board Micro-Management and Fear of Retaliation in Anonymous Survey

Casey Jarmes
The News-Review

PACKWOOD – Pride in Pekin, a parent-run Facebook group, sent an anonymous survey to Pekin staff, to see how they feel about how the district is managed. Forty-four staff members responded to the survey.  88% stated they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the 2023/2024 administration, while 79% stated they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the school board. The question “Over the last five years, what direction do you think the school district has headed?” received 79.5% of respondents saying “in a negative direction.” The follow-up question, asking “If it was headed in a negative direction, do you feel it was a reflection of the board, the admin, a combination, or neither?” had 74.4% say it was because of the board. The survey asked if staff members were afraid to speak out about issues due to fear of retaliation; 2% said they feared retaliation from staff, 18% said they feared retaliation from the school board, and 63% said they feared retaliation from both staff and the school board.

The full survey results, including 95 comments from staff members, has been posted on the group’s Facebook page. Some of the comments include:

“We lost many great staff members in the secondary after the sharing agreement ended with Sigourney...This led to higher workloads for some staff and a long term sub having to fill in for a position for a semester. I fear more administrative turnover will lead to more staff turnover...Pekin has a great staff, so many great students, and many supportive parents, but the district will not be able to move forward in the right direction without consistency and a school board that actually supports the superintendent and allows them to do their job without being micromanaged and constantly questioned.”

“With the constant turnover and now poor reputation, what teacher or admin wants to jump into this mess? We currently struggle to fill teacher positions and lack subs...Is this what we want for Pekin? Do we want to be forced to hire the bottom-of-the-barrel teachers just so we have a body in the room?...We have got to change the culture. We were making progress and in the last week everything we have accomplished is down the drain.”

“The morale at the school is way down. Our culture is down as well. Kids have no respect in classrooms. The classes are wild.”

“This is nothing like when I was a student here.”

“The composition of the Pekin School Board primarily consists of individuals with good intentions. Yet, their school management has been flawed, with some members motivated solely by personal gain. Their tendency to overstep their prescribed duties and excessively involve themselves in the school’s affairs suggests a desire to assume the superintendent’s responsibilities. However, lacking the authority to do so, they seek a superintendent they can easily influence and scapegoat if unfavorable outcomes arise.”

“We are drowning.”

“Students follow by example and what example are we setting? Selfishness and negativity. Another change in administration? What does that say except (if) ‘you don’t follow my exact rules you get fired.’ No person can work under those conditions It’s toxic and negative.”

“Everyone seems to be working for their own agendas, admin included.”

“The curriculum in the elementary is so old and no teachers down there want things changed. Teachers in tight with the board will complain which makes the board stop progress. Some district staff members tight with the board are absent from work and never report it...We had a sharing agreement for a high-paying superintendent position which saved us salary dollars and possibly brought in sharing dollars. That was ruined and nobody will want to share positions with us with the current board. That was a major financial hit. As a small, poor school, we need to share our superintendent.”

“The school board has also not enforced the chain of command with parents and community members, which is a major problem. Parents and community members should not be going directly to board members first with problems they have...Not following the chain of command undermines staff and administrators and emboldens parents and community members to only communicate with the board members, especially if they are friends with them or related to them...Picking and choosing only certain staff to talk to is showing favoritism and it does not allow the thoughts of the entire staff to be known/heard. It seems to me that certain board members want superintendents who will only do what they are told by the board and will not make any recommendations that the board doesn't like.”

“Do not hire us if you don't trust us to do our job and do it well.”

“They need to step back and let admin do their jobs...micromanaging isn’t healthy and is a direct correlation of them all leaving. Give the admin time to do their jobs. Stop constantly hounding them and let them work.”

“They want to be in charge but have no idea what the needs of the school are.”

“Administration has tried changing things in the school, the elementary in particular, but the board stops those changes.”

“When I had an aggressive student that had become physical, I had the support from the principal and superintendent. You do not get that in most schools.”

“It was negative but the last year and a half it has been on a positive trend. Since Derek (Philips) was removed from the building, it has spiraled.”

“Staff members who have spoken in the past about issues and concerns related to the board and their decisions have been accused of being negative and ‘creating drama.’ One board member even went and yelled at two staff members in their classrooms because they spoke at a board meeting and the board member didn't like what they said. There is definitely a feeling at Pekin, with the board and even with some staff, that if you are not from this area and/or didn’t graduate from Pekin your opinion doesn't matter and you shouldn't speak up because you’re an ‘outsider.’...I feel as if there are staff members who seem afraid to speak up out of fear that board members will find a way to go after their job or they'll get their family/friends in the community to go after them and make their life miserable.”

“Students ask questions about what is going on. I'm afraid to answer them because I don't want to put my job in jeopardy by saying the ‘wrong thing.’”

“I have spoken at the board meeting and also emailed the board before. Both times it went on deaf ears. About a month ago, I sent an email to the entire board regarding a program they were considering. I suggested another use of those funds that I thought would be better for our students. Not one board member responded or acknowledged the email in any way. What does that tell me? That tells me that you don’t care what I have to say.”

“Despite a few exceptions, a pervasive sense of disdain exists between teachers and the school board. Teachers often feel unwelcome at meetings with the board, viewing their input as unwarranted interference. The board’s focus seems solely on asserting authority rather than serving the best interests of students, teachers, staff, or administration.”

“I have been uncomfortable in classrooms when issues have been brought up. I don’t have to agree with people to get along with them, but I don’t agree with it constantly being brought up especially in front of students.”

“The evil and fear this board projects on us all is paralyzing.”

“The school board does not make us feel safe. Also, family members of the board start rumors and spread terrible comments.”

“I feel that veteran staff are afraid of change, whether it’s good or bad, and they will do almost anything to sabotage that change.”

“I have no idea who to trust. I believe I do for the most part, but if the people you think you're good with are tight with the board, they might replay your complaints...There are also rumors of board members getting after staff because they don’t agree with something or because something has happened to their student. If this shady stuff is happening, why couldn’t it happen to me for speaking out. I’m leery of filling out this survey. I never know how I sit with the board...Sometimes I worry if I’m going to get a contract to continue employment because there is a feeling of being an unwanted outsider...If you aren't from the area, you are an outsider and treated as such. One staff member described the behavior as almost cult-like.”

“I feel that speaking out for or against will not get retaliation. There (are) staff that speaks and acts negatively and loudly in front of others with no filter...Teachers should not feel afraid to speak out but teachers should also understand when talking to superiors, go through the chain of command and speak as though you would want to be spoken to. Some teachers speak to superiors extremely rude.”

“​​​​We have a few toxic teachers in the elementary. They think they know best and run to the school board to get them to make decisions that align with their own wants. These teachers are outdated, lazy or simply want to feel like they have power because they seem to get what they want. They are not good for our school. They pull other teachers’ attitudes down, run administrators into the ground, their plans are not in the best interest of the students. We need a superintendent and elementary principal that will put them in their right place and keep them there or dismiss them. Bell & Philips tried, they had excellent ideas for improvement in this area but got no support from the board because the board was only looking out for their teacher friends.”

“The board needs to do better! You are not better than any one of us, your kids don't deserve special treatment because of your role on the board, your friends within the school don't deserve special treatment because of you and you definitely need to attend management classes because it is clear you have no clue how to properly run a business. Be better people all around who care about this school and everyone in it or resign from the board and make room for someone who actually cares.”

“The school board members don't seem to know what role they play. They think they run the school and treat everyone like they are superior to them. They need a harsh reality that they only have a few duties to set the big visions for the school and need to leave the day to day running of the operations to the educated administrators that are hired to do so. The way the school board members conduct themselves just shows their arrogance, yet they prove themselves very uneducated in their actions.”

“​​Not only has there been a lack of support for admin but for coaches. We have had so many coaches come and go. I think it all stems from the support system above. If a person feels that they can't do what they think is best for athletes or students, then why do it? If parents complain at all, then they're in trouble. Why aren't we asking what the athletes and students are doing? They should be held accountable. Instead we get upset with who is in charge. This is the case for admin, teachers, and coaches. We simply need support from the top and people who are going to stand behind what decisions are made.”

“Early fall in 2022, after the district getting all new administrators, a board member brought up looking into a four-day week...Administrators and teachers got a lot of kickback from the community saying that teachers want the four-day-week, because we don't want to teach five days. It was disheartening to hear and read comments towards the administrators and staff, when someone on the school board was the one that brought it up. The board never stood up for Derek (Philips) or the teachers explaining that this was something neither the administrators of teachers brought up. They let staff members take the heat. Derek had great plans for our school, but the board inhibited him from being able to carry those plans through...During several of the meetings, I have watched adults act like children. When Derek would say something, some board members would look at each other and laugh or make inappropriate actions. They would interupt him. Question everything. It was hard to watch. Embarassing to see adults, who are supposed to be working together, act like that.”

“​​It is hard to be able to do our job well and keep morale high when we have constantly been faced with new administration who have new ideas and ways of doing things for us to learn. It is hard to build new relationships with administrators every couple of years and even harder when you have built a good relationship and then see them go because they were not supported or were treated poorly by those who hired them in the first place...If change doesn’t occur and the board continues to micromanage and mistreat administrators, the carousel of administrators and staff will continue and the Pekin students will be the ones who suffer the most.”

“Under the direction of Philips, our school was being pushed in the right direction. Since his resignation, there have been dozens of questions from students that I can’t answer because I don’t know the extent of the situation. Many staff members are afraid to speak up or ask questions because we don’t want to put our jobs in jeopardy by asking the wrong person or saying the wrong thing. Students were also coming to me in fear when they were told a lawyer was brought in to ask them questions. As a teacher, I am supposed to be a safe place. I don't feel like I can be a support for students out of fear of losing my job for saying the wrong thing to them.”

“The board’s reputation has deterred other schools from engaging in partnerships with us, as they perceive the board as toxic for various reasons. Some teachers who have left Pekin to work at other schools told me they were going to do so because there is a culture among many students that perpetuates racism and intolerance towards LGBTQ+ individuals. This negative enviorment, compounded by the adverse influence of the school board, has driven talented teachers away and may continue to do so. In an era where recruiting teachers is increasingly challenging, Pekin must recognize the well-being of its educators, staff, and administration, especially considering its geographical isolation, which is exacerbating recruitment difficulties.”

“They need to know how students are talking and treating the adults. They are very disrespectful and rude. We need support to be able to help these kids get on a better track for life. Why do we not have motivational speakers or student of the month anymore? Why do we not do anyting special to reward them for being the best humans they can be? How can we better support teachers to be able to teach when kids are throwing bananas, erasers, paper, plastic bottles in classrooms. Constant disruptions and no consequences...We also have staff using their phones during classes and sitting around while others do their work. I feel that if you work hard you are almost punished while others can throw a fit/make noise they get away with doing little to nothing.”

“They all need to go, every single one! The elementary doesn’t support the administration, they are awful to Jenny (Bell) by being incredibly disrespectful, insubordinate, and who also ride each side of the fence.”

“​​The people who hire the superintendent should support him. The people who vote unanimously on the policy and rules should also follow them.”

“If the rotten apples are not taken out, the entire basket will go bad, the basket being our school district. So many staff members are afraid to speak out due to previous threats that the board members have said to Pekin employees. Staff are leaving super fast and students are as well. This is not because the Pekin district is a stepping stone, it is because people see the injustices that go on and want to leave as fast as they possibly can. If the entire board doesn’t resign, more will leave. I’m not sure how much more obvious the students, staff and community came make it, no one likes this board. They are shady, manipulative, corrupt, and just plain evil. They all need to resign.”

“I truly am afraid this will kill our small school. We can’t afford to lose the sharing contracts, pay out existing contracts and lose any more to open enrollment.”

“Staff and administration are here because they care. They are highly trained and have dedicated their lives to the education and betterment of the students. Trust them to do their job. Trust their viewpoints and opinions. If they say that a four-day week is something that is beneficial, trust them. If they suspend/good conduct a student, trust their decision and back them. If they try to schedule more work-time, allow them to do so. Do not make decisions and act as though you know better than they do. They want what is best. A happy teacher that feels valued and trusted will provide a much better experience for students day in and day out.”

“The community needs to know what is happening, both the good and the bad. The more transparent we are, the better they will understand...If we, as staff, can’t trust the board and admin to be fully honest, who can we trust?”

“​​The ones who want to be positive leaders in the elementary feel like they can’t because they are going against the "status quo" and don't want to make those loud teachers upset. Kim Ledger didn’t do much in the elementary because of how disrespectful the teahcers are, they are used to getting to do whatever they want because it wasn’t worth the fight for Kim. They ate Jenny Bell and Mr. Philips alive. They won't like any admin who comes in and tries to do anything, unless it’s leave them alone and let them do whatever they want because they are ‘veteran teachers that deserve to be trusted.’ The amount of times I’ve heard all administration previous and current say ‘I feel like my hands are tied because of the board’ or ‘I can’t be effective because of the elementary staff and the board’ is so disheartening.”

“I feel like we need to make sure that people know we are going to do better. We are going to be unified as a whole. It won't be the elementary, junior high, and high school. It’s Pekin as a whole family. We are going to build each other up and make sure that we are doing everything that we can do to make our students successful. We are here for our students after all.”

“I support the board in decisions they have made regarding admin as I am sure there is unkowns to the public that must remain that way for legal reasons. I appreciate all you do as does my family and many staff I have talked to.”




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