UPDATE: Hillcrest teacher drops grievance, to file EEO complaint
By David Carroll
UPDATED THURSDAY JULY 8, 3:45 p.m.
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- Former Hillcrest Elementary teacher Lacey Bishop has decided to drop her grievance against the Hamilton County Department of Education and principal Katrina Overton. Hamilton County Education Association officials tell Eyewitness News that Ms. Bishop "came to the realization" that the School Board could not overturn Superintendent Jim Scales' decision to support principal Overton's non-renewal of her contract.
At the June School Board meeting Assistant Superintendent Connie Atkins, who oversees Human Resources, suggested that Ms. Bishop instead file a complaint under the federal Equal Employment Opportunity act. It was noted at the time that Ms. Bishop has a vision disability.
An attorney for the Tennessee Education Association has advised Ms. Bishop to follow up on Ms. Atkins' suggestion, and she is expected to do so in the next few weeks.
PREVIOUS STORY FROM TUESDAY JUNE 22, 12:30 p.m.
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- The Hillcrest Elementary second-grade teacher who was not recommended for tenure had good evaluations from her principal until this year, her third year as a teacher.
Lacey Bishop was showered with compliments from her principal, Katrina Overton during her first two years. However, this year, considered "the tenure year" by administrators, Ms. Overton's evaluations of Ms. Bishop took a decidedly downward turn.
In personnel files reviewed by Eyewitness News, Ms. Overton wrote that Ms. Bishop was "adaptable, receptive to new ideas" and "a wonderful first-year teacher who is dedicated to Hillcrest and her students" in 2008. In 2009, Ms. Overton again praised Ms. Bishop, writing "In her classroom, the mutual respect is apparent...she displays enthusiasm and personal charm. She is willing to receive constructive criticism, she is cooperative, harmonious...a delight to work with each day."
However by February of this year, when principals decide whether to grant tenure to third-year teachers, Ms. Overton changed her tone about Ms. Bishop, writing "Miss Bishop's classroom management plan is not consistently maintained for appropriate behavior." The principal also criticized Ms. Bishop for being "unprepared....her students seem confused." In thirteen categories for Ms. Bishop's Comprehensive Assessment, Ms. Overton rated her "Proficient" in nine areas, "Developing" in three, and "Unsatisfactory" in one. Overall, she was given an "Unsatisfactory" evaluation and was denied tenure. This means she is not eligible to work for any Hamilton County school.
Two other evaluators during Ms. Bishop's 2009-10 school year were not as harsh. Assistant Principal Debby Coplon wrote, "Very good questioning and answers. It's evident students feel comfortable. It's a conducive atmosphere for a LOT of learning."
School District Elementary Director Carol Langston also made an unannounced visit to Ms. Bishop's class in November 2009. Although her review was mixed, there were no words of warning.
Ms. Bishop's personnel file also reveals some testy exchanges between the teacher and principal Overton shortly after her denial of tenure. Ms. Bishop claims the principal began issuing "written and oral reprimands shortly after your decision not to recommend me on February 11, 2010. These are at best forms of harassment to give some credibility to not recommending me for rehire. I am not being treated fairly for some reason known only to you."
Ms. Bishop's father is Don Bishop, a retired Hamilton County principal. He said Ms. Overton's attitude toward his daughter changed during the past year "over a non-school related issue, that doesn't even involve Lacey." He declined to elaborate, saying "Lacey has good representation, and hopefully they can give her side of the story."
The principal and the teacher both began at Hillcrest in August 2007. Ms. Bishop was just beginning her teaching career, after graduating from Red Bank High School and UTC. Ms. Overton, an Ohio native, had been a teacher and administrator in Arizona and Ohio before moving to Chattanooga in 2004. She had served as principal at White Oak Elementary and CSAS Elementary before being transferred to Hillcrest.
Ms. Overton's personnel file shows her most recent evaluation was by Director Mike King in 2005. He rated her performance at White Oak as "commendable."
We attempted to call Ms. Overton for comment Monday afternoon, but there was no answer at Hillcrest. By midday Tuesday, she had not responded to our e-mails. Superintendent Dr. Jim Scales told School Board members Thursday that he stood behind Ms. Overton, saying "principals have to make tough decisions." He told Eyewitness News Tuesday morning that he could not comment on an ongoing case, "on the advice of our legal counsel."
Previous story from THURSDAY JUNE 17:
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- A Hillcrest Elementary second-grade teacher who was not granted tenure was the subject of a lengthy, but fruitless debate at Thursday's Hamilton County School Board meeting.
Hamilton County Education Association grievance chairman Jennifer Woods was prepared to present the case for keeping third-year teacher Lacey Bishop, but Board members said they were confused about the process, and tabled the matter until their July meeting.
Friday, Ms. Woods told Eyewitness News that there was "no excuse" for the Board and the superintendent being unprepared to deal with the issue. Ms. Woods said, "We sent the Board chair (Kenny Smith) and Superintendent Scales a certified letter on May 24. They received the letter and signed for it the next day. They had almost a month to contact the Board attorney Scott Bennett to figure out how to handle this. If they knew they were not going to pursue this, why didn't they contact HCEA or the Tennessee Education Association legal office?"
At Thursday's meeting, School Board attorney Scott Bennett told Board members that under newly revised state law, they had no authority to overturn Ms. Bishop's non-tenure status. HCEA representatives argued that the Board could vote to recommend that the superintendent reverse the decision, but Bennett said he did not interpret the law that way. He agreed to meet with an attorney from the Tennessee Education Association to clarify the law, and its effect on the Bishop case.
Ms. Bishop is said to have a physical disability, which was not specifically identified at Thursday's meeting. Her disability was not mentioned by HCEA representatives, but was introduced into the debate by Assistant Superintendent Connie Atkins. Ms. Atkins said she would recommend that Ms. Bishop take her case to federal EEOC officials. "If it's a discrimination complaint, it should go them," she said.
Superintendent Jim Scales said he had reviewed evaluations from Hillcrest principal Katrina Overton, and that Ms. Bishop's disability did not play a role in the principal's decision. He said, "If I make one comment, let me just say if the Board hears this employee situation, you'll be opening yourselves up to a lot of issues that shouldn't be here. Principals have to make some tough decisions. They're under a lot of pressure. We have to let them do their jobs."
Following the meeting, Hillcrest parent Gary Gamble complained about principal Overton, saying she did not have the support of the school community. "I don't understand why principals like her seem to punish teachers who try to go the extra mile. This is not the first time this has happened at Hillcrest." He said his daughter is an honor roll student, "because Ms. Bishop takes extra time with her."
Ms. Overton was not at the meeting. District 3 School Board member Everett Fairchild said he would like more information on the teacher's evaluations. He said, "We haven't been given much information. I would like to see Ms. Bishop's evaluations from her first two years of teaching. If she wasn't an effective teacher during her third year, did we give her the appropriate assistance to make her a better teacher? I would like to know the answer to that."
District 7 Board member Linda Mosley said that everyone involved did not have enough information to proceed with a vote at the meeting, and District 1 Board member Rhonda Thurman expressed confusion as well, saying, "No one seems clear on what we can do, and what we can do. Do we have ten days to call another meeting, and if we do, what do we decide at that meeting?" Ms. Mosley made the motion to table the matter, Ms. Thurman seconded, and the motion passed by an 8-0 vote. District 2 Board member Chip Baker was absent.
After the Board decided to pass the issue until their next meeting, the packed School Board meeting room emptied out, with supporters of Ms. Bishop milling in the parking lot. Her father, former Red Bank High principal Don Bishop, told Eyewitness News, "I can't really say much at this point. We'll just have to see what they do next. She's a local girl who graduated from Red Bank and UTC, and overcame a lot to become a teacher. And now because of one person's opinion, they won't let her do that, anywhere in Hamilton County. It's just not right."