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Published: Tuesday, 6/15/2010

Changes at St. John's Jesuit ignite concern

BY SARAH MERVOSH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Eight teachers will not return to their positions at St. John's Jesuit High School and Academy next year, sparking angry Facebook groups, student activism, and a letter to the editor published in The Blade calling for parents to "speak out."

With concern mounting, administrators worked to respond yesterday.

Principal Brad Bonham said that for various reasons, contracts of four full-time teachers and one part-time teacher were not renewed. "They were all good people," Mr. Bonham said. "We just thought it wasn't a good match or a good fit."

Two of the teachers who did not receive contract renewals were at retirement age, Mr. Bonham said, adding that the school offered them buyouts and the teachers "took advantage of it." Three more teachers chose to leave on their own accord, he said.

None of the school's approximately 70 teachers retired at the end of the school year.

Administrators said the letter to the editor printed in The Blade Monday - which alleged "almost all" teachers would be moved to part-time positions and nearly 80 percent would not have health insurance - contained errors.

The faculty changes were not met without some resistance, even though St. John's officials said full-time faculty have a complete benefit package, the school will fill all but one of the vacated teaching jobs, and the school and academy's total enrollment will remain the same next year, 925.

Recent graduate Brian Scott, 17, said students were upset because

"big name" teachers allegedly would not return. He said students spoke out via angry Facebook groups and organized a day to wear black shirts to show they were "mourning" the loss of their teachers.

Mr. Bonham said the number of unrenewed contracts was not unusually large. He attributed much of the opposition surrounding the teachers' departures to Facebook.

But young Scott said students considered their teachers the school's anchor and were concerned about what would change in their absence.

"What's going to happen now? Is our school going to change?" he asked. "Is it going to be a completely different St. John's?"

He also said there was a lack of communication between the administration and students.

"No one really knew why teachers were getting laid off," he said. "We didn't really know who was in charge of making the layoffs."

Mr. Bonham said he and the school's president, the Rev. Joaquin Martinez, generally worked together to make personnel decisions. But Mr. Bonham said they were "caught in the balance" of addressing the situation while maintaining the teachers' privacy.

Patrick Reed, 17, who will be a senior at St. John's in the fall, said students were particularly upset because the teachers whose contracts were not renewed were well liked.

"A couple of the teachers being let go were the ones that students had the strong relationships with," young Reed said. "They were the ones that the students wanted to get to know and to become friends."

Although students are upset, young Reed said they recognize change is inevitable. "We just have to trust that the administration only acts upon the best interest of the school and the students," he said.

Contact Sarah Mervosh at:

smervosh@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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