The Liberty County Board of Education on Wednesday upheld a recommendation by school administrators and former Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer to not renew a 26-year middle-school teacher’s contract for the current school year.
The fair-dismissal hearing for former Snelson-Golden Middle School teacher Krista Ramlo lasted nearly 16 hours, during which more than 18 witnesses were called to testify.
Ramlo and her lawyer, Savannah-based attorney S. Wesley Woolf, tried to disprove the four charges on Ramlo’s dismissal letter.
The charge letter stated Ramlo was guilty of insubordination, incompetency, willful neglect of duties and other good and sufficient cause. Ramlo taught social studies most of her career and had taught remedial math at the middle school. She also had coached the boys’ track team at SGMS.
Woolf asserted his client did not begin receiving unsatisfactory evaluations until four years ago, when Katrina Byers and Dr. Bernadette Crow became principal and assistant principal at SGMS. Byers now is principal at Taylors Creek Elementary School.
Attorney Phil Hartley of Gainesville-based Harben, Hartley & Hawkins, representing the school system, introduced as evidence documents that included performance evaluations by school administrators and outside evaluators and professional-development plans to show Ramlo consistently had trouble managing her classroom and was an ineffective teacher.
Byers and Crow testified they also were concerned about the number of parental complaints they had received regarding Ramlo. Some of these complaints alleged Ramlo had called children names and at times would not allow students to use the bathroom, the administrators said.
Ramlo said the district’s charges against her were "absolutely false," and, through her attorney, attempted to show a pattern of harassment by the middle-school principal and assistant principal. Woolf also argued Ramlo’s Criterion Referenced Competency Test scores were higher than the school’s scores.
Crow recalled having to investigate a parent’s complaint that alleged Ramlo had called her child "stupid" and "pervert." Ramlo denied the accusations, and her attorney called a number of witnesses who testified the child in question sometimes called other children names.
Crow and a number of SGMS teachers also testified Ramlo’s students often were noisy and unruly, and that administrators frequently had to check on Ramlo’s class. Crow described these alleged instances as constant chaos in the classroom. Crow claimed there was one instance when she popped into Ramlo’s class and had to pull one child out of the room for rubbing up against a girl in the back of the room.
Crow related another alleged instance of two boys in Ramlo’s class who called each other racially derogatory names. Ramlo should have sent the boys to the counselor, she said.
A.C. Wood, a paraprofessional who was overseeing the in-school suspension room next to Ramlo’s classroom, said she saw two boys begin an argument in the hallway outside Ramlo’s class and continue their altercation inside the classroom, pushing and shoving one other. Wood said she asked Ramlo if she needed assistance, and Ramlo had responded that she could handle the situation.
Two other paraprofessionals who had worked with Ramlo testified that the students in Ramlo’s class behaved no worse than in other teachers’ classrooms. They also said Ramlo appeared to be knowledgeable in her subject matter of social studies.
Byers testified that Ramlo had disobeyed school rules in her role as boys’ track team coach.
Byers said Ramlo was told not to stop the school bus for dinner on the way home from a track meet in Metter. Byers said she was driving her daughter home that evening and saw the bus stop at two fast-food restaurants. Byers said that because the track meet was held during the school week, the bus was not supposed to make a stop.
The principal added that from what she saw, students were not properly supervised during the stop. She said she saw the adults and a few students go into Zaxby’s while most of the students went into McDonald’s.
Ramlo responded that one of the coaches did accompany students into McDonald’s. Her attorney also indicated the school should have allowed students a dinner break, commenting the school only provided students water and "24 granola bars."
Other system educators, including the former superintendent, testified there were times when Ramlo left the practice area before all the students had been picked up by parents.
Scherer said due to these issues, Ramlo was not allowed to finish out the track season, although only one meet was left.
Scherer said Ramlo was given multiple chances to improve her teaching strategies, classroom management and interaction with students through professional development and support.
Much of the back and forth between Ramlo and her attorney, and the school system during the lengthy hearing revolved around one particular professional-development plan that Ramlo initially had refused to sign.
The plan originally was marked as required, meaning a plan given to a teacher after he or she receives an unsatisfactory evaluation. Ramlo had at that time received a satisfactory evaluation and sent Scherer a letter in protest. Scherer agreed that a required plan was not justified and changed the PDP to optional.
Byers, Crow and Scherer all asserted that a teacher can be placed on a PDP, even after receiving a satisfactory evaluation, if administrators determine a teacher is deficient in certain areas and these weaknesses need to be addressed.
A teacher must complete a PDP "even if it’s marked optional," Scherer said.
Crow said the PDPs given Ramlo were not meant as a punishment.
"This was not to get her fired. This was to help her with growth," Crow said.
Woolf previously represented Lisa T. Jackson, former general manager at Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, in a lawsuit against celebrity chef Paula Deen and her brother, Earl W. "Bubba" Hiers.
Sid Cottingham, a Douglas education attorney, presided over the hearing.