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Students question teacher transfers

By Rose Laudicina
Staff Writer

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School district administrators believe that Chapel Hill High School currently possesses a “toxic culture,” and are taking measures to correct the situation.

However, some Chapel Hill High students feel otherwise and think what the district is doing to try to rectify this “toxic culture” is unnecessary.

“It all seems like it is going on behind closed doors,” said Morrow Toomey, a 2012 CHHS graduate. “I don’t know the whole reason why everything is being hidden, but I don’t think the school board is dealing with it in the best way.”

On May 16, district administrators told teachers at CHHS that the culture at the school was concerning, referring to it as “toxic,” and that they would be transferring five to eight teachers involuntarily in order to deal with the problems before a new principal is hired.

Then on June 13, Superintendent Tom Forcella told AP Biology teacher Bert Wartski that because of his role as the informal faculty leader, he was being put up for transfer, Wartski said.

“I have been at Chapel Hill High School for 19 years. I pleaded my case,” Wartski said. “I promised them I would be positive to the new principal and if they wanted to they could put me on probation or an action plan.”

Once some of Wartski’s students and their parents heard about his and AP English teacher Anne Thompson’s involuntary transfers, they started a Facebook group to express their discontent.

“A lot of us are really, really mad,” said Leah Zavaleta, a 2012 CHHS graduate who took classes with both teachers her senior year.

“Mr. Wartski is an amazing teacher. I understand how he can be a little intimidating on the first day of school, but he really knows how to teach the subject,” Zavaleta said. “And Ms. Thompson is really good at her job. She is the one who kind of influenced me to major in English.”

Wartski wasn’t given a clear reason for his transfer, and he has never been reprimanded for his teaching style or put on probation, he said.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education Chair Mia Burroughs said she is unable to comment on the issue because of state law regarding personnel matters, and Forcella did not return calls for comment.

“We have had a rough couple of years and I think that our previous administration wasn’t the best fit for the school,” Wartski said. “Morale was a little low.”

CHHS Principal Jesse Dingle left this year after three years at the helm. The school has had four full-time principals and one interim principal since 2000.

After receiving a copy of his employee file, Wartski said he couldn’t find anything showing him as perpetuating the problems.

“There is nothing to stipulate that I am the cause of the toxic culture,” he said.

Zavaleta said she doesn’t believe Wartski or Thompson are the cause of the “toxic” environment at CHHS, which she has seen escalate in the past few years.

“We have had incidents of a gun going off on the bus and more lockdowns because of fights, so I can see what they are getting at,” she said. “But moving teachers from one school to another is not the best way to deal with the environment.”

“Every school is going to have the same sort of issues; it just depend on how people deal with it,” she continued.

If transferred to East Chapel Hill High School, Wartski would be teaching a subject he has never taught before at a school where, as he said he was told by the head of the biology department, he would be ostracized by the faculty.

Wartski and Thompson will be appealing to the school board in a closed session before their meeting on Thursday. If the board upholds the superintendent’s decision to transfer him, Wartski will have the opportunity to appeal to superior court.

“I want to prove myself as a positive force for change,” he said.

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