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Project Challenge teachers lose jobs

February 06, 2001|By TARA REILLY

Project Challenge teachers lose jobs



Washington County's 16 Project Challenge teachers were told Friday afternoon that their positions were being eliminated, but that they could reapply for other job vacancies for next school year, according to a Project Challenge teacher.

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Project Challenge is a county-funded program that focuses on elementary gifted and talented students identified through test scores and grades. It teaches logic, problem solving, creative thinking, critical thinking and research.

Since last summer, board administrators had been working on a new advanced program that would reach pre-kindergarten to 12th grade students. The model, which is now being called Quest, was approved in November. It includes development of thinking and feeling, career awareness, acceleration and enrichment in school studies and independent study.

The Board of Education on Monday posted a notice that it was planning to hire 16 enrichment teachers to teach the Quest program. There is no guarantee that Project Challenge teachers would be hired as enrichment teachers, teachers said.

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Linda Fernandez, the board's director of curriculum, said enrichment teachers have different job descriptions than the Project Challenge teachers, which is why it was necessary to post the new jobs.

"It's a different job," she said. "It is substantially different."

Fernandez said the enrichment teachers will be working with a range of gifted, highly able and talented students, whereas Project Challenge teachers focused more on gifted students.

She, however, did say that most of the Project Challenge teachers would probably qualify as enrichment teachers. She encouraged them to reapply for the new positions, as well as any other interested teachers.

"We're counting on that," she said. "But there may be some Project Challenge teachers who don't want to be Quest teachers because the jobs are so different."

Sharon Chirgott, president of the Washington County Teachers Association, said teachers weren't expecting the news. She thought that when the new advanced program was approved that the same staff would be carried over to the new program.

"I had no idea there was anything else in the works," Chirgott said. "And then, boom. All of a sudden these people were told they would need to reapply for their jobs. We were really blind-sided on this."

"We were surprised," said Suanne Woodring, a Project Challenge teacher. Woodring, who won't be affected by the board decision because she's retiring at the end of the school year, said the Project Challenge teachers would be the best candidates for the new positions.

Some parents said they were disappointed to hear that the Project Challenge positions were eliminated.

A group of parents, and some students, had attended meetings to voice their displeasure with plans to replace Project Challenge.

Parents expressed concern that the new model wouldn't be as effective as Project Challenge, the school system wouldn't be able to fund a pre-K through 12 advanced program and that the 16 Project Challenge teachers would be stretched throughout all grade levels, decreasing effectiveness.

"We tried as hard as we could to let the Board of Education know we were unhappy with the decision," said Paramount PTA President Suzanne Mazzei. "I knew that the new model was coming, but I didn't know they were looking for new employees."

Parent Rick Baldasarre said he also thought that the jobs of the Project Challenge teachers would not be affected.

"I don't think they really cared about anybody's input," Baldasarre said. "They're going to do what they're going to do. I don't think there's anything left that parents can do. It's pretty much a done deal."

Baldasarre has third- and fifth-grade children in the Project Challenge program at Greenbrier Elementary School.

He said that after attending a few of the meetings on the new program, he was confused and frustrated.

"They like to try to baffle people with jargon," Baldasarre said. "They think we're nothing but a bunch of idiots."

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