Teacher transfers lead to outcry

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published July 29, 2019

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The transfer of two elementary school teachers from one building to another has led to an outcry from staff and parents in South Lake Schools.

Superintendent Ted Von Hiltmayer said that the changes were sparked by a retirement at Elmwood Elementary and the fact that another teacher needed to be added at Avalon Elementary. From there, two teachers at Koepsell Elementary, who had been previously transferred from Elmwood and Avalon, requested to return to their former buildings. 

That would have left two open positions at Koepsell.

“The concern was that we would have two open positions in our smallest building with the fewest number of staff,” Von Hiltmayer explained. “There’s one other relatively younger staff member there. There was some concern about having so many new staff members in one place.”

That led to the district deciding to transfer first grade teacher Amy Pace and second grade teacher Joelle Gallagher, who had been teaching in the district since 1993 and 1990, respectively, from Elmwood to Koepsell.

“Other than that change in a building, nothing else changed in ... their employment in South Lake. The teachers will even be teaching the same grade level next year, as it stands right now,” Von Hiltmayer said July 23. 

But notification of those transfers for the 2019-20 school year caused an outcry among the Elmwood community. About 50 people, including parents and other staff members, turned out to protest at the June Board of Education meeting, and another two dozen turned out again for the July meeting.

Timothy Allen, a South Lake High School teacher of journalism, psychology and social studies, who is also the president of the teacher’s union, said that they were upset because the district forced the transfer of “highly effective” teachers.

“They are moving two teachers who are successful in their building to this other building,” he said. “It’s not unusual to transfer people. What’s the unusual part is moving people who are highly effective in where they are into a new situation and disrupting two buildings.”

Although the transfer is allowed by law, Allen said that they feel it is not being “done in a way that’s what we feel is equitable or for a good reason.”

Carrie Dimmer, who spoke to the Board of Education in June and July, said that her son expressed sadness at the transfers. She said that he was afraid that none of his favorite teachers would still be at the school after he leaves for middle school.

“Not every child has a home where they have stability and they have the same people in their lives, and sometimes they look to the school for that,” Dimmer said. “I just wanted you to consider it from a child’s point of view ... when they lose stable people who they’ve known all their lives.”

Other families called the transfers a “mistake” and called for South Lake administrators to change their minds.

Von Hiltmayer said that the district has transferred teachers before, but never with this strong of a response. Teachers have the opportunity to request a transfer every year, he said, but the district does not grant all requests. The two teachers whose transfer requests were honored had previously requested the transfer, as well, he said.

He said that South Lake is still planning to move forward with the transfers, which were made with input from district and school administrators, but that they are taking parents’ concerns into consideration.

“Certainly, we will consider everything at this point. Consider the concerns of the parents that were there and make a decision as to whether this is best for the district, going forward,” he said. “Of course we want to listen to what our community has to say, as well. We’re not going to disregard (that).”

Pace did not return a call for comment and Gallagher said she did not want to comment on the situation.

Call Staff Writer Kristyne E. Demske at (586) 498-1041.