Teachers Speak Out on SJSD Controversies

Teachers Speak Out on SJSD Controversies

Teachers have remained mostly quiet during the swirling controversies playing out in the St. Joseph School District. However, despite fear of reprisal, they speak to us.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Throughout recent news coming out of the St. Joseph School District regarding stipends, investigations, audits and lawsuits, we've heard from about everyone but teachers.

KQ2 sat down with several teachers, representing more than 50 years of experience. They talked candidly with us on the condition of anonymity.

They say part of the reason they've been laying low is fear.

"What you're told as a teacher is, listen, nod your head and close your door." said one teacher. "We teach our students to ask questions," said another. "But as a teacher we're told, don't ask questions. Asking a question is pure defiance."

"Gotta' stay off of radar," said another. "Don't show up on radar. Don't get anywhere where they can see you. If you show up on radar you're doomed."

Superintendent Fred Czerwonka got off on the wrong foot with many school staff, according to these teachers. He did so by bringing in consultant Flip Flippen to town for convocation.

"We felt so insulted that we had a guy in a business suit who's never been an educator come in and tell us how to capture kids," said an elementary school teacher.

"You take that $165,000 that's been paid on the Flippen group, divide it up among the schools and you can have some real good incentive programs," said another.

The way the district spends money upsets many teachers, especially the educator we talked to who spent $7,000 of her own money last year on items for school.

"I spend it on classroom library books," she said. "I spend it on classroom supplies. I spend it on buying lunch for them."

"When we spend money that we don't have a lot of, like a lot of people in town, and hear about the amounts of money spent on frivolous things, it's very frustrating."

As talk continues on illegal stipends, a state audit, an FBI investigation and now a civil lawsuit against the schools, teachers say administration has tried to reach out more to staff. However, they say it's a hallow gesture.

"The timing of it was not very good, not at all," said a teacher. "I know there is a thought there is a conspiracy out to make them look bad, but it's the actions."

"You can tell when someone's genuine by how they act most days," he continued. "When people are changing all the sudden and they're all the nicest people in the world now that used to never look at you when you passed them in a hallway, it's not genuine."

"He (Czerwonka) wouldn't come to our school the first half of the year," said a teacher. "When he gets in trouble, all the sudden, he's showing up in school. We didn't see him for six months, now, all the sudden, he's showing up at school."

Teachers say they are trying to understand what the administration is trying to accomplish with some of the changes, but it's tough.

"What's best for the kids? Is Opaa best for the kids? Is the Flippen Group best for the kids? Is the stipends best for the kids? Is the hiring of family members best for kids? Those are hard to answer with a yes."

The teachers we talked to stressed not all administrators act so oppressively. However, they added it might not be a bad idea to clean house with most of them.

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