After more than 30 years of teaching the fourth-grade at Hillsborough’s South Elementary School, Sandy Feinn was moved to transitional kindergarten, or TK, much to the dismay of many community members who say she is a better fit for older children.
When parents found out last week that Principal Elizabeth Veal had made the change, a Change.org petition called “Use Our School District Assets Wisely — Take a stand against moving Sandy Feinn to Transitional Kindergarten” began to circulate with many parents feeling like the decision was either not wise or was in retaliation for voicing opposition to the district administration. Feinn has filed a formal grievance with the teachers union about the decision to move her.
“What we’re struggling with is the accountability of the administration and board of how our funds are being allocated,” said parent Margo Smith, who had four kids in the district. “Why is a fourth-grade teacher with 31 years of experience going to be transitioned to a TK program? There’s a whole group of parents who are just saying ‘look, we pay a lot of money for our schools, we want to invest in them wisely.’”
Superintendent Anthony Ranii said the decision to move Feinn from teaching 10-year-olds to 4-year-olds was well thought out though and the principal ultimately made the best choice based on her sound judgment.
“Involuntary placements happen each and every year; it’s a common occurrence,” he said at a community meeting Tuesday evening. “I’m not abdicating any responsibly. I could have said, ‘Elizabeth, you’re crazy.’ I could have made a different decision. … The creation of the TK program is a vital thing we need to do and we need to do well.”
Given feedback from parents, former students and community members at the meeting, Veal, who said the decision was final last week, said with further consideration, she’s going to come to a final decision on Monday, May 12 given that she heard a greater variety of voices on the topic. Veal began at the school less than a year ago.
One parent named Valerie asked at the meeting if there’s any regard for seniority in the district and said it sounded like the district is trying to get rid of her.
“No one’s trying to get rid of Mrs. Feinn,” Ranii said. “It’s about how to best utilize and rejuvenate careers. I do not believe because someone’s done something successfully, they couldn’t be successful with a change.”
Ranii noted that if parents and community members feel like they’re not hearing the whole story, it’s because they can’t hear the whole story since it’s a personnel issue. He shared a letter from seven South School teachers who were too scared to come to the meeting for fear of defending Veal’s decision. He explained they were distressed and disappointed by protests being made on misinformation. Veal did explain the decision was made to change team dynamics on campus and the quality she appreciates about Feinn is her ability to connect with kids, but that that can span ages.
“I don’t disagree the best thing would be having someone who is wanting to be in this position,” she said. “I completely respect and understand change is hard and scary. ... What didn’t surprise me was the passion people have about our teachers. What does surprise me has been some of the communication — some of it has not been as respectful as what I’ve experienced up until this point.”
Others like former board member Mary Huser said every time there is a change in the district there is anxiety from parents. The district needs to do what’s the best fit for the needs of the school, she said.
“These teachers, each and every one of them, is gifted and cares deeply about these kids,” she said. “Sandy is a wonderful teacher, but so are all the other teachers. Sandy Feinn will do an extraordinary job doing all the things she was gifted doing in the fourth-grade. Someone has to teach the class and we don’t have the budgets to go out and hire.”
At the same time, Feinn’s husband and daughter attended the meeting and shared that the teacher spoke to Veal and was never given the reason for the reassignment.
“That’s surprising to me given the conversations we’ve had all year you would state that,” Veal said. “I’ve been very clear with Sandy.”
Still, parents and former students are unhappy with Feinn’s move.
“If the school can’t explain why a drastic measure like this is being taken, this simply shouldn’t be taken,” said Todd Emanuel, whose daughter was in Feinn’s class. “You can say ‘with the best intentions, I got this thing wrong,’ It’s not a show of weakness, it’s a show of leadership and strength. We spent a lot of dough to live here, and the theme over and over again is we came here for public safety and education.”
A former student of Feinn’s named Joey Hassid spoke about how Feinn helped him discover his purpose in life was to write after the teacher showed a piece he wrote on jellyfish to her fourth-grade class when he was in third-grade. This was the biggest moment in his school career, he said. He then was in Feinn’s class and called her the best teacher he ever had.
“I don’t honestly remember first- and second-grade so well — I wasn’t really a person yet,” he said. “But in fourth-grade, I was a very small person. I remember thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. … She single-handedly ignited this fire in me. I’m not alone. This isn’t some unique story. She is magic at fourth-grade.”
Meanwhile, Trustee Kaarin Hardy also attended the meeting and said it was a very good dialogue.
“This is my ninth year at South [as a parent],” she said. “I do have faith in our system — the system we have for following up when we disagree has been in place. … I do have faith she can be a great TK teacher.”
The petition in support of Feinn can be found at change.org/petitions/anthony-ranii-use-our-school-district-assets-wisely-take-a-stand-against-moving-sandy-feinn-to-transitional-kindergarten.
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