Chapter Seventeen / The Final Year
Faith and I were hoping the new school year at Laura Wilder would bring a rest to the request that Mrs. Posegate asked of me the previous year ... to help her fire my wife. It became quickly evident that Lorene was still holding true to her desire to fire Faith. Our first indication that all was not well was when Faith and I entered the building. We found Lorene standing in the entrance with a notepad marking down what we could only imagine, and what evaluations would prove later, were our arrival times. Thankfully, we were always a little early. Faith asked me, "Is she trying to intimidate us by looking as though she's going to take notes on every single thing we do?"
"I'm not sure," I said. "I think anything is possible, but we'll see how these days play out."
My teaching schedule had changed from the year before. I found myself in a very difficult situation first teaching kindergarten then having recess duty which immediately was followed with a group of 31 first graders. There was no time to clean up after my first young class of active artists and then no time to prepare for the full class of combined first graders. It was soon discovered by a parent that the situation was quite unusual and he offered to help with the first grade classroom as a parent assistant. After some discussion it seemed evident this was Lorene's "special schedule" to make my year a little difficult and my evaluations less exalting. Todd's help was extremely valuable and appreciated. It was unknown at that time that God's plan included Todd's faithfulness in a remarkable way months ahead. "God's Got This" held true as we trusted in advance which now absolutely makes sense in reverse.
Several months into the school year Faith and I watched as another teacher was moved to a different location after a disagreement between herself and Lorene. Sadly, we also observed an educational assistant was terminated resulting from a health issue and her difficulties with having outside duty in very cold weather. Connie was a friend of Faith's. Faith wanted very much to help her get her job back. Through a number of meetings with the Sioux Falls Educational Association, and its new president, Connie was finally reinstated. That did not give any additional favor points from Lorene to say the least.
Faith and I planned to have a Good News Club that year as an after-school activity. The Good News Club was a ministry of CEF, Child Evangelisim Fellowship. Teachers would with children and present the Bible similar to a Sunday school class. We were advised from a few friends this might not be a great idea, since we were already not in good standing with Lorene. The Good News Club went through a lawsuit which in 2001 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Good News Clubs could meet in public schools. I informed Lorene it would be very helpful to have the club in my own classroom, since I had a large size area and it would be convenient to remain in my own room. She instead put us in a very small area within the band room which was inconvenient and very difficult. We understood conflict with Mrs. Posegate was evident between ourselves, a good number of teachers, and a variety of parents. We simply said, "Thank you."
It was a difficult year. Our evaluations began to indicate we were no longer "The Rock" as Lorene had initially described. Previous to Lorene's "Let's eliminate your wife" request, my evaluations all received the letter "H" which represented "Demonstrates High Level of Mastery" and is the best letter obtainable on the evaluation. When I refused to help Lorene fire my wife and after the Sioux Falls Educational Association interview, I noticed my evaluations were no longer as highly marked as previous. Where I had received great praise, I now received criticism for the very same thing. Previous to our fallout, Lorene stated my room was decorated with amazing and interesting items for the students to be inspired by and this created a magical environment. Now those same "magical" decorations were considered a detriment. The many "cool" things, as she called them, were appealing to children, but also may be a distraction for some students and could result in over-stimulation. It was also determined that I was not using student names frequently which was never an issue previously under the classroom management criteria.
The issue of "Dr. Treague" also became an opportunity for lowering my evaluation status. Initially, Lorene considered the name "cute" since it was assigned by a student. Many teachers and parents also found it an endearment and appropriate since I wore a white smock. It was never in doubt that I was not an actual doctor. However, Lorene decided that this should no longer be a name ascribed to me and indicated it needed to stop. I felt it would be difficult to get students to no longer use that name in addition to parents who only saw me occasionally, but I would definitely make an attempt to change the name and get a different smock that did not say, "Dr. Treague."
Students continued to say "Dr. Treague" in the hallway and I would correct them, but Lorene found this as something negative to be placed in my evaluation. She sent me to the assistant superintendent, Dr. Scala, at the instructional Planning Center who was to deal with this situation. He started our meeting with Lorene's letter describing my classroom as a place of difficulty for the students, because I would not help them unless they called me "Dr. Treague." I very adamantly made it clear that this was not true. He believed me. He did not find any problem with it and was confused why she thought it was necessary for me to meet with him.
The final determination was that students could call me "Doc" instead of "Doctor," since this would lessen the concept that I had a doctorate degree. I agreed to this. Lorene was still not pleased and continued to lower my evaluations if she ever heard anyone call me "Dr. Treague" which was a title she earlier thought was "cute" and "fun" with her suggestion of having it embroidered on my smock. In an evaluation meeting she said she would love to have had a doctorate degree, but did not obtain it, so it was certainly not something she wanted to hear someone call me. She said, "This must stop!"
With a tremendous decrease in evaluations from positive to negative I knew this would be my last year. Her retaliation for my refusal in helping her fire Faith, was my dismissal. Many teachers also struggled and were concerned over what was happening within the school. Fred Aderhold was the new assistant superintendent of the Sioux Falls School System. He became involved in a number of meetings between Lorene, Faith and myself, and a number of staff in order to make an attempt at trying to solve the polarity within our school building. Fred Aderhold would often mention, "No one is going to get fired." I had my doubts.
My doubts were realized the day I received my non-renewal in March of 2006. I met with Lorene in her office. She reviewed the evaluations from the last year and commented how they were very low. I did mention the very same things which were praised earlier were now a problem. I wondered if she could address this. She stated she did not need to address anything and that I was was not being renewed. There was nothing more to be said. I did make one final comment to her, "Are you sure you really want to do this?" She indicated that it was done and I left her office.
That evening we were scheduled to work with the children at our church, but we called the supervisor with our news. We said it would not be possible to help out this evening and explained our difficult circumstance. She said we should come even more than ever to be surrounded and supported. She was right. We returned home knowing "God's Got This" but still had a feeling of unfairness and uncertainty in our hearts. Faith and I couldn't sleep. We were still awake at two in the morning. Faith grabbed the Bible and just opened it randomly to Joel 1:3 "Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation." This story should not be forever silent.
Todd, my parent assistant who was very supportive throughout this year, was enraged. At one point he met with Lorene to encourage her to rescind her non-renewal of my teaching position. Lorene was not willing to do this. Todd informed that he would go to the media with this problem. Indeed he did.
Todd wore a "Save Mr. Treague" t-shirt for his highly promoted signature day. Three media television stations and the Argus Leader newspaper of Sioux Falls came out to report on the protest outside our building. Faith and I watched from her kindergarten classroom. Todd received over 300 signatures from parents who were appalled and upset by this decision. The media described me as a favorite art teacher and mentioned the parents were going to make a statement of appeal at the school board meeting. At this meeting the parents were delayed and then the School Board said it was too late for them to meet. The new SFEA president, Ann Tornberg, filed a letter of grievance April 4, 2006. I received a formal letter from Fred Aderhold, cc: Dr. Pam Homan, Superintendent, and Lorene Posegate, Principal which read: "You are 'not recommended' for reemployment for the 2006-2007 school year. On March 27, 2006, School Board acted on the recommendation, non-renewing your contract for the 2006-07 school year. The reason for non-renewal include unprofessional conduct, poor performance, incompetency, and failure to follow District policy."
I followed this letter with a 50 page demurral as a response to my non-renewal. I clearly noted the unusual statements and request of Mrs. Posegate the day she walked into my room: "Mrs. Posegate entered my room after school on Monday, 12.13.04. My wife was gone that day. Mrs. Posegate stated a few friendly comments initially. Then Mrs. Posegate asked if I had noticed Mrs. Treague cycling up on her demeanor. I indicated I had not noticed anything unusual. She then mentioned her concern of what happens in Mrs. Treague's room when the door is closed and that she is concerned for the children. Mrs. Posegate mentioned that Mrs. Treague might need psychological help and maybe some time off. She referred to her conversation with Mrs. Treague previously and thought Mrs. Treague was over protective of her students. Mrs. Posegate said this particular child was a bad boy in contrast to Mrs. Treague's opinion that children are good but make wrong choices. She said we would talk about this later and wanted me to not speak to Mrs. Treague regarding these issues we discussed. Mrs. Posegate mentioned that she and I had a special relationship and she wanted me to help fire Faith."
In my demurral I also mentioned to the School Board, "At least five other teachers left on their own who have personally expressed to myself and Mrs. Treague they could not deal with the unfair treatment and unprofessionalism of Mrs. Posegate." Before the date of 12.13.04 Mrs. Treague and I were in Mrs. Posegate's words, 'Her Rock.' She described us as a gifted team. She had stated Laura Wilder was so fortunate to have the two of us. After this date, my wife's observations and my observations have gone down and we have been unfairly treated with many site file notes over things as minor as Mrs. Treague calling the sub line for me on a day I was very ill. Mrs. Posegate had stated this was an "unprofessional act."
The remaining 49 pages of the demurral clearly gave evidence to the School Board of my claims. Page after page of evaluation comparisons from positive to negative clearly revealed a level of animosity after "the event." Samples of detailed lesson plans proved, without doubt, I was following the curriculum. Also included were names, phone numbers, and detailed evidence of people who suffered as victims and others who became hostile to those who were suffering. Two sides of the persecuted and the persecuting were clearly defined.
Stated in the demurral: " Christine / Saw the pattern of abuse in Lorene from the office. Observed discrepancy in staff treatment. Targeted one secretary against the other."
Stated in the demurral: "Connie / Fired on the same day Lorene asked Steve to help her fire Faith. Sought help from her 'EA' union. Three months of 'legal effort' got her back at Laura Wilder. Judge found Lorene to be falsifying facts."
Stated in the demurral: "Ann / Art Elementary teacher / Gave her signature verifying Steve was following the Sioux Falls Art Curriculum which was a fraudulent criticism on Steve's non-renewal notice. She has been an art teacher over twenty years."
Stated in the demurral: "Cynthia / Cyndi was targeted by Lorene. Cyndi took a year leave of absence resulting from Lorene's abuse, and did not return to Laura Wilder. Lorene told Cyndi a resource teacher should never take a lunch break. Cyndi wrote a letter of detailed abuse which is filed at the SFEA office."
Stated in the demurral: "Deb / Pulled daughter and put her at Christ the King. Serious history with Mrs. Posegate."
Stated in the demurral: "Darla / Was thinking of filing assault charges against Mrs. Posegate. She was a heart doctor in Sioux Falls. She said she would do anything to hep us."
Stated in the demurral: "Mary / Parent and former educational assistant. Observed Lorene's unfair treatment of the children and realized she could not share her opinion or discuss issues with Lorene. She quit working at Laura Wilder because of Lorene."
Stated in the demurral: "Roger / Had issues with Lorene. He stated Steve was the best teacher Laura Wilder School ever had in the Argus Leader. He was the PTA president."
Stated in the demurral: "Sue / Sue had lots of trouble with Lorene in the beginning. Sue and Faith were friends. Lorene got Sue against Faith with lots of favors. Sue traveled with Lorene to a conference. Lorene asked Sue about every staff member. After this tip, Sue broke her friendship with Faith and would not even give eye contact with Steve and Faith from that time on. Sue had mentioned to Steve that as long as Lorene was happy she would keep her job and that is all that mattered to her. Stated to Steve she was glad he lost his job.“
Stated in the demurral: "LaVonne / Very hostile co-worker of Faith. Said to Faith, 'You make me sick.' She received many favors from Lorene. Spent many hours after school talking to Lorene."
Started in the demurral: "Heidi / Initially friends with Steve and Faith. She had many conversations with Lorene. She said the entire 'media blitz' made her want to throw up."
Many more examples were given of our polarized staff and encouraging parents. A signed letter from ten brave teachers read:
"As educators at Laura Wilder, we strive not only to teach the six pillars of character, but to model them to our students as well. No one had done a finer job of this than Mr. Steve Treague. He truly exemplifies caring, responsibility, trustworthiness, citizenship, fairness, and respect in his everyday life. Mr. Treague takes a genuine interest in his students, and cares about each one individually. He is well liked by students, parents, and staff. He is a team player, and makes decisions in both his professional and personal life with the welfare of others forefront in his mind. Mr. Treague has restored the integrity of the art department in our building. He teaches his students to see and to appreciate art in their everyday lives. He brings art to life and makes it relevant and exciting to each student at every level. Mr. Treague is a valued staff member and a true friend. Our students and staff benefit greatly form his knowledge, his humor, and his presence. The dismissal of Mr. Treague would be a devastating loss for us all."
The demurral never received a response.
Faith and I were very quiet during these remaining months regarding the exact details of the situation, since we heard there might be a lawyer involved to assist on our behalf. Ann Tornberg advised on 3/22/06: "You should actually NOT respond to your students. This could be misconstrued as affecting the 'learning environment' or the 'working evnironment.' You may say (if asked) that their parents may contact Dr. Homan. It is CRITICAL that during this time you stay on task (be the great teacher I know you are,) dodge conversation on the issue within the building, and avoid making any media contact. If the media contacts you, let me know immediately and do NOT respond. We must be careful" The lawyer for our side met with us several times, but he said we were in a "right to work state" so even though it was unjust, there was nothing he could do. "She could have just dismissed you for wearing green shoes. It doesn't matter why you were dismissed. She had a right to let you go for no reason."
Susan Simmons, a member of a group of lawyers known as "The Firm" sent a letter to our lawyer which read, "First and foremost, you are incorrect in asserting that Mr. Treague's employment was terminated. The fact is that Mr. Treague's contract was not renewed. While you may want to claim that this is a distinction without a difference, that is not the case. The South Dakota legislature has made it a point to distinguish between the termination of the teacher and the non-renewal of a non-tenured teacher: see SD CL 13 - 43 - 6. 1 and 13 - 43 - 6. 3.
The South Dakota Supreme Court has recognize that "it is within the exclusive province of the legislature to determine terms under which employment may be terminated" In this case in regards to teachers who are not in or beyond their fourth consecutive terms of employment with a district the legislature has determined that these teachers have no contractual or property rights to continued employment and may be non- renewed without process or reason."
So that was it. That was my last year and we wondered, "How does God have this?" We lost.
During the remaining several months of that year it was difficult to go to school everyday and keep a smile on my face for my students. Several doors down in her office was a victorious person who had me dismissed as an art teacher simply because I would not help her fire my wife. She couldn't retaliate against Faith because Faith had her tenure. I was one year away from receiving mine so I did not have that safety net.
The students were unhappy. The parents were unhappy. Many of the unfavored teachers were also unhappy and insisted on having a survey taken within the school. The survey was done and it was clearly a polarized building. Lorene made several unusual comments regarding the conflict in the school in an email to the teachers. Then, an unexpected announcement was made on the National Day of Prayer, the first Thursday of May when people are asked "to turn to God in prayer and meditation." Television was interrupted by our local news stations to state that Lorene Posegate resigned from Laura Wilder School. In Lorene's statement she resigned, but in our minds we feel the Sioux Falls system just could not hang on to her any longer and they are the ones who said, "Goodbye."
That, at least, was a feeling of victory. She would no longer do harm to students, parents, or teachers. But now what road would lie ahead for us?
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