Faculty and student parents met with College of Education Dean Colleen Kennedy on Monday night at USF’s Preschool for Creative Learning for the second round of discussions about administrators’ decision not to renew the contract of Donita Franklin, a 13-year employee of the school.
Parents’ questions about the decision not to renew Franklin’s contract have received few hard answers from administrators, who cannot comment about specific personnel decisions for legal reasons. Tonight’s meeting, along with another meeting held last week, have left a community of parents upset, confused and contemplating their next move.
“It’s been very stressful on everyone,” said Lovelynn Jensen, head of the Parents’ Association. “Some people are just tired of it and want it to be over with, but some of us still think that this is something worth fighting for.”
On Nov. 1, Preschool Director Magda Santos made public the decision not to renew Franklin’s contract with a letter to parents and teachers congratulating another teacher on her promotion to Franklin’s former position. The letter raised concern among some parents, who questioned the decision not to renew the contract of a long-serving and well-liked teacher as well as the handling of the situation. Franklin was removed in the middle of the school year and the children did not get the opportunity for a formal goodbye, although they did send Franklin a goodbye card.
“The feeling among parents is that you don’t remove one of the most important people in children’s lives halfway through the semester and not allow them to say goodbye,” said one parent, who wished to remain anonymous.
On Nov. 6 Santos met with concerned parents, telling them that the specifics of Franklin’s contract non-renewal could not be discussed for legal reasons, but that she made the decision because of a desire to move the preschool in a new direction. It is the stated policy of the University not to discuss personnel decisions.
During Monday’s meeting, Kennedy also said that specifics of the decision could not be revealed, but that she approved of Santos’ decision and that it was made in the best interests of the preschool and the children.
“I made that decision after very careful reflection and contemplation,” said Kennedy. “I did so out of the care and concern for the children and the desire to support the continued success of the school.”
For an hour Kennedy fielded questions from parents in attendance, responding with concern but also leaving many of them still unsatisfied about the decision.
“Can you just give us a straight, unembellished answer?” said a man in attendance.
Many parents voiced their concerns about the decision as well as the effect it was having on the child-parent community and the trust between parents and administrators, which they felt had been violated. There were others, however, who spoke up for Santos and her decision and questioned whether some of the parents’ responses were appropriate.
“I’m just trying to understand why everyone is so upset about this. The school has lost teachers in the past,” said another attendee.
Santos also had her supporters among some of the preschool employees.
“I do have sympathy for the parents that loved Danita and are frustrated about what they are being told,” said Beverly Rothman, an office manager at the preschool who was hired by Santos. “But Magda is an awesome director. It’s just hard to please everyone.”
Afterward, 30 of the parents met to discuss their feelings about the meeting and how to proceed further. During the meeting, a few of the parents, some former teachers and board members wondered whether the benefits of continuing to press administrators for answers would outweigh the potential adverse effects on the children.
“If you go home angry, then you are going to teach your children to be angry,” said one woman. “I think that we need to respond to this with a positive attitude and move forward.”
Many of the parents still felt further action needed to be taken, and that the decision was wrong and needed to somehow be rectified.
“I’m not satisfied with the answers we’ve been getting,” said Scott Ickes, an assistant professor in the history department. “But my hope is that through these meetings the preschool administration has realized that it is unacceptable to make cavalier decisions when children’s growth, development and well-being is at stake.”
Jensen said that those parents will meet to discuss their next step shortly.