While I don’t claim to speak for all teachers, I’d like to share a few thoughts about why many of us can’t wait to break up with our current superintendent on August 30. Like any good break-up story, this one involves lying, cheating, and poor communication.
1. We have been accused of never giving Van Zant a chance. His supporters say we have been antagonistic since his first day in office. While this is an odd way to begin a relationship, this is one that many of us never wanted to be a part of in the first place. Using a (now infamous) loophole in the elections laws, Van Zant disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters in Clay County to defeat Ben Wortham in the 2012 primary. His election that November felt more like an arranged marriage than a first date. This left many teachers in Clay County very bitter. We felt like our school system was being used for the dowry that this position would bring to his political resume. Our students should not be used as a stepping stone to a higher political office.
2. Once he was in office, Van Zant did little to mend this fissure. He doesn’t even acknowledge why it is there in the first place. His supporters claim that the teachers’ union is sowing these seeds of discontent - that we are convincing teachers to dislike Van Zant. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows that if you love someone, no amount of “he’s no good for you” from your friends will change your mind. You must see it for yourself and then acknowledge that they were right all along. I have spoken with many teachers who voted for Van Zant in 2012 but now say that they wish they had not.
During our 3 1/2 year relationship with Van Zant, we have felt marginalized, mistrusted, and undervalued. The school district has made decision after decision without seeking true input from teachers. They take us out to dinner, but then order our meal for us. They have paid outside consultants instead of trusting and relying on our expertise. The recent fumbled implementation of Professional Learning Communities is a prime example.
3. The current election has only served to confirm our desire to move on. At the last superintendent debate, Van Zant ended by saying that he was sick and tired of President Obama shredding our Constitution. What does that have to do with running public schools in Clay County??? Nothing. While he is whispering these sweet nothings in the ears of conservative voters in Clay County, the rest of us are left wondering why he isn’t talking about education.
He isn’t talking about education because he’s not an educator, although he did manage to teach Kenny Leigh a thing or two about elections laws. The movement for an appointed superintendent stemmed from the desire to have actual qualifications for this position other than just residing in the county. One would think that if you lacked expertise in an area, you would seek out the advice and knowledge of those who do.
The recent bargaining impasse hearing shed some light on our rocky relationship. The public is becoming aware of just how much teachers have bent the last few years. We are now at a breaking point. We have taken the abuse, but we are now seeing the effect it is having on our students. Staying together for this children’s sake would not be healthy for anyone involved.
Mr. Van Zant, no means no.