Residents challenge board’s district terminations

Joseph Metz/The Sun.

A number of residents at the Deptford board of education meeting on May 21 took issue with the termination of a special education teacher and two school bus drivers.

The teacher in question is Oak Valley Elementary School’s Gerald Patrick, whose departure was described on the board’s meeting agenda as a resignation effective June 30, the result of his contract not being renewed.

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“I felt that is very devastating to our special needs students in the district,” said Karen Pino. “I’m asking you to please reconsider and renew Mr. Patrick’s contract so the special needs children in the school district can continue to grow with consistency, since it’s critical to creating a space of effective learning environment.”

Patrick himself was at the meeting to offer reasons why he believes he should keep his job. A native of the township who was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome as a child, Patrick vowed to become a special ed teacher after what he described as “awful” experiences with his own instructors.

“From that point on, I vowed to become a teacher, a special-education teacher, because I wanted teachers that understood me and weren’t like what I had,” he recalled. “What I do for these kids, I don’t know if it’s seen. I have my flaws. I am not good at writing lesson plans, I’m not good with the clerical stuff that goes on with teaching and I’m working on it.

“But I am a good teacher.”

Patrick cited as evidence district administrators who told him more than once he was a “great teacher,” including Oak Valley Principal Robert Rambo, Deptford Middle School Principal John Schilling, Central Early Childhood Center Principal Johanna Vicchairelli and district Director of Special Education Michael Nicely.

“I can work on the other stuff,” Patrick noted. “But it’s hard for me to believe that a teacher who has five bd (basic disability) kids pushing out to gen (general) ed now, five who are getting As and Bs in a gen ed classroom who were in restraints last year because of how physical they were. It’s hard for me to believe that teacher is not an asset to a school district.”

Residents at the meeting also wanted to know why several bus drivers are being terminated, even as the district seeks new ones. Two of the drivers – Latasha Thornton and Carleen Wilson – addressed the board at the session.

“We know how the busing system has been going and there has been a great need for bus drivers,” Thornton noted. “Bus drivers are being let go. And then I come out my house and go down to the end of the corner and see they’re hiring drivers for Deptford Township. Why are there advertisements and you’re letting bus drivers go?”

“I’ve been in the district for 15 years,” Wilson said, “and I don’t know why I’ve been terminated.”

The board did not respond to the drivers’ remarks – since the meeting’s public comment is not meant as a Q-and-A session – but is expected to take the issue under advisement, according to its policy.

The next board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday and is the last for this school year.

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