Janssen responds to criticism over teacher
Pinellas Superintendent Julie Janssen submitted the following letter to the editor, which ran in Saturday's St. Petersburg Times:
I have never worked with or supervised Maria Raysses-Whipple. When my staff received a complaint against her, I authorized the pending investigation. If the investigation reveals there is probable cause to believe the employee violated board policy or applicable law, I will issue a charging letter that will set in motion an administrative proceeding in which the employee will have an opportunity for a hearing conducted before an impartial administrative law judge.
The school district is bound by law to adhere to the principles of due process in disciplining its employees. Due process precludes me from speaking about the details of employee investigations in response to media inquiries. When asked by the Times reporter about Raysses-Whipple's employment history, I should have withheld comment in light of the pending investigation. Instead, I attempted to explain the process leading up to the present investigation. As a result, a former principal whom I greatly respect was offended, and such was never my intent.
It was said that I am the only one who cannot grasp why Raysses-Whipple should have been fired long ago and never allowed to return to a classroom. We know that she was not terminated under prior administrations. We cannot be certain of the reasons, and it would be inappropriate for me to speculate since any recommendation resulting from the pending investigation could be influenced by the employee's employment and disciplinary history. In light of the pending investigation, and not knowing whether it will disclose probable cause to recommend she be disciplined, I cannot and will not join the chorus of those calling for Raysses-Whipple's termination.
Over the past 21/2 years, I have undertaken a redesign of the district's professional development program to provide support to teachers and other staff members. With board approval, I have also initiated a pilot project to implement the new teacher evaluation system. This past year, at my request, the office of general counsel and the office of professional standards published a written discipline guide for district administrators and supervisors in an effort to bring added consistency, fairness and certainty to the disciplinary process.
Hard-working and effective teachers should be recognized and rewarded. Those who fail to live up to reasonable performance expectations must not be passed on from one assignment to another. I am committed to our children and to continuous improvement in all aspects of school, classroom and district operations, whose sole purpose is to serve the best interests of our children. I measure my value as superintendent by the extent to which I improve the educational experience of our students, and I will take every opportunity to improve my performance as necessary to ensure their best interests are met.