Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Warned of job jeopardy, outspoken teacher cries foul

ST. PETERSBURG — A Meadowlawn Middle School teacher whose job is in jeopardy claims he is being punished for speaking out against a plan that would change the way children are assigned to schools.

Charles McKenzie, 51, a seventh-grade history teacher, has been told his annual contract might not be renewed and that he could be unemployed by as early as June.

McKenzie, a longtime educator and political activist, said he ruffled feathers when he criticized Pinellas County Schools' new close-to-home enrollment plan at a public meeting in October because he said it would create segregated schools.

"To terminate someone over nothing substantial is a bit confusing," said McKenzie, who has worked for Pinellas schools since fall 2006. "The timing seems odd."

School officials declined to comment on McKenzie's allegations. Twenty other teachers have also been told they might not have a job in the fall, spokeswoman Andrea Zahn wrote in an e-mail.

"The decision to offer another contract is discretionary, and the administrators do not state reasons for doing so because there is no "cause" required to support the decision," said Zahn, who declined to comment further.

Other educators said it is unlikely McKenzie's potential dismissal has anything to do with his opinions.

"I criticize the superintendent all the time," said Jade Moore, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association.

The close-to-home plan, approved in December after two years of work, returns Pinellas to a system where race no longer factors into the enrollment process. Families will be able to attend a "close-to-home" school or explore special programs including magnets and fundamental schools.

McKenzie, state coordinator of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and a recent Democratic state House candidate, is known as an outspoken diversity advocate. He was quoted in the St. Petersburg Times in October criticizing a draft of the plan.

"It is a baby that is not ready for birth," he said.

Public records show McKenzie had trouble fitting in at Meadowlawn Middle School long before then.

In April 2007, school officials met with McKenzie to discuss concerns that he allowed students to leave his classroom and roam the hallways and that he used his cell phone during class time, according to school records.

McKenzie said he allowed students to leave his classroom to use the bathroom and that he used his cellphone infrequently. But McKenzie, a teacher since 1983, said he has never been criticized as an educator and points to his successes at other school districts.

"He was quite moving when he spoke, especially during Black History Month," said Margi Nanney, spokeswoman for the School District of Manatee County, where McKenzie worked from 1994 to 2006.

According to annual evaluations, his "students were well-behaved and engaged," Nanney said.

McKenzie's personal convictions did get him into hot water once.

In 2005, he was cited for having students read a poem with religious undertones, a violation of the First Amendment, during a motivational assembly. No disciplinary action was taken.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or

Warned of job jeopardy, outspoken teacher cries foul 04/12/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 18, 2008 10:00am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Suspect arrested in fatal shooting of Virginia special agent


    RICHMOND, Va. — A Virginia State Police special agent died Saturday after being shot by a man sitting in a car in Richmond, police said. The shooting suspect fled on foot, sparking an overnight manhunt that ended with the man's arrest about an hour after the agent's death.

    This image provided by the Virginia State Police shows law enforcement investigating the scene of a shooting early Saturday in Richmond, Va.   Special Agent Michael T. Walter, a Virginia State Police special agent died Saturday after being shot by a man sitting in a car in Richmond, police said. The shooting suspect fled on foot, sparking an overnight manhunt that ended with the man's arrest about an hour after the agent's death. Virginia State Police said in an emailed statement that Travis A. Ball of Richmond is being held without bond on charges that include malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. (Virginia State Police via AP)
  2. Mayor Rick Kriseman says St. Petersburg mayoral election is about going forward, not back


    ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman christened his campaign office Friday evening by telling his supporters that the mayoral election was about moving forward, not backward.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman says mayoral election is about inclusiveness Friday at campaign office rally
  3. Forecast: Lots of sunshine, low humidity to start Memorial Day weekend


    The start of your long Memorial Day weekend is all sunshine this Saturday, according to WTSP 10Weather meteorologist Rick Kearbey.

    WTSP seven-day forecast on May 27, 2017.
  4. For starters: Rays at Twins, looking for another with Odorizzi starting


    UPDATE, 11:01: No Dickerson today as the Rays go with seven right-handers.

    Here is the lineup:

  5. Global computer outage grounds British flights


    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports Saturday as a global IT failure caused severe disruption for travelers on a busy holiday weekend.

    British Airways planes are parked at Heathrow Airport in January. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, file)