After seven years at the helm and months of asking for a contract extension, Coffee County Director of Schools LaDonna McFall has announced she no longer seeks to extend her contract with Coffee County Schools, according to Board of Education Chairman Brett Henley.
McFall’s decision came as welcome news to some of the district’s faculty members, who sent a letter to the County Board of Education urging members to let the school director’s contract lapse.
McFall’s decision comes less than two weeks after the Coffee County Board of Education agreed on March 14 to enter into negotiations with her. Negotiations were set to begin during the board’s 4:30 p.m. work session on April 1.
McFall has applied for the director of schools position in Roane County. For a time, former Motlow College President Anthony Kinkel was among the front-runners for that position; but, according to the March 25 edition of Roane County News, when Kinkel suddenly withdrew his name from contention, McFall became a finalist for the position, in contention with the superintendent of Limestone County Schools, Thomas Sisk.
Sisk and McFall will enter the second round of interviews on Wednesday, April 3.
McFall’s contract with Coffee County does not expire until June 2020.
CCEA against McFall
McFall had not responded to questions about the decision not to seek an extension of that contract by press time, but that decision came after the school board received a letter that stated 71 percent of teachers in the Coffee County Education Association (CCEA) were against the extension.
CCEA President Mike Stein sent the letter on Sunday, March 24, urging the county school board not to extend McFall’s contract.
Stein explained this was not a personal attack on McFall.
“Let me begin by saying that I have received a few statements in support for her remaining as our director of schools,” Stein wrote. “Those members cited the county’s increased test scores and her frugal handling of money as reasons why her contract should be extended. Indeed, one could argue that, as a whole, our school system is better off than it was when she was hired.”
However, a majority of the teachers Stein represents do not feel that is true. According to Stein’s letter, many veteran teachers reached out to him and urged him to come forward to ask the school board to reconsider any extension of McFall’s contract.
The names of those teachers were not released in the letter.
“The fact that mostly veteran teachers have reached out to me makes sense on multiple levels,” Stein wrote. “In addition to their experienced viewpoints, they have tenure and are less fearful of retribution that may come their way in case word got out that they talked to me. That term – retribution – couldn’t be more fitting in this particular circumstance.
“Teachers are scared for their livelihoods and their careers if they speak out against her. I don’t intend for that to be a salacious statement but, rather, one of fact, and it is supported by evidence.”
Stein cited Leslie Davis, a former teacher assistant and intervention aide at Deerfield Elementary School. Davis was hired August 2010 and terminated on Jan. 4, 2017. She sued the school system for wrongful termination accepted a settlement that included a non-disclosure agreement.
A lawsuit for the wrongful termination of former Coffee County Schools Director of Health Services Janet Thornton is pending. Thorton had been employed for more than 23 years when her contract was not renewed for the 2017-2018 school year. Thornton sued in 2017, claiming she was disciplined for and wrongly terminated after speaking with an elected public official. Thornton had served as the director of health since 1999.
“I know of two others who were pressured into resigning not long (within a year) after getting hired,” Stein wrote. “When things like this happen in a small school system, it sends shock waves to the rest of us. The culture in most of our schools is toxic, and it’s all too easy to follow the breadcrumbs from the experienced teachers who have left us for higher paying, lower-stress jobs in surrounding counties.
“Many of you at the school board have reached out to these teachers over the years to find out why they left. I have reached out to many of them myself, and they each, independently of one another, say that the unhealthy culture of the schools is ultimately why they chose to leave. While surrounding school systems are attracting teachers, we are losing ours,” Stein wrote.
Stein concluded his letter by saying fewer issues were more important than ensuring the correct person is leading the school district – one who is good for the culture of the district and who is dedicated to Coffee County Schools and not seeking other employment as McFall is.
“If you decide to offer her a contract extension, with or without a raise, you will also be sending a clear message to our employees that their voices don’t matter, which will exacerbate the toxic atmosphere that is prevalent in so many of our schools,” he said.
“On behalf of the members of the Coffee County Education Association, I implore you to allow Dr. McFall to finish her contract, if she so chooses, and seek employment elsewhere.”
Casey Watts can be reached by email a firstname.lastname@example.org.