Behind closed doors, Nashville teachers air complaints about superintendent

Nashville District 99 school board members agreed to meet privately Monday with Nashville High School teachers about their concerns with Superintendent Ernie Fowler.

The two groups disagreed last month in separate public statements about the effectiveness of the district official. Now, they’ve met in person, but leaders of the board and the union declined to comment about the outcome of Monday’s meeting.

The first to make a statement back in May was the teachers union. The teachers approved a no-confidence vote on Fowler on May 9 and issued a news release listing their grievances against him May 22.

“Superintendent Fowler has not displayed the honest, effective leadership that students and staff at Nashville Community High School deserve,” the union stated.

School board members responded with a news release of their own in support of Fowler the next day, May 23.

“We, the NCHS School Board, believe that the students and families of District 99 are in good hands under the direction of Mr. Fowler, and we, the NCHS School Board, believe that the recent vote of ‘no confidence’ by the (union) is baseless and without merit,” they stated.

Fowler also responded to teachers’ complaints in a May 24 column for The Nashville News that he provided to the News-Democrat.

“I think I’m a pretty lovable guy.....(sic) apparently a few people don’t think so. That is the life of a superintendent,” Fowler wrote.

Board members listened to teachers’ complaints against Fowler in closed session during the board’s June 26 meeting. The board was able to close that portion of the meeting to the public under the Illinois Open Meetings Act, which states:

“A public body may hold closed meetings to consider...the appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal of specific employees of the public body ... including hearing testimony on a complaint lodged against an employee of the public body ... for the public body to determine its validity.”

The complaints that teachers listed in their public statement are that they don’t feel supported by Fowler or involved in decisions he makes, and that he doesn’t justify how he chooses to spend district money.

The board remained in closed session for nearly four hours to hear from the teachers and discuss other district issues, including professional negotiations and matters of student discipline, according to the agenda.

The union’s co-president declined to comment Tuesday morning. However, two weeks prior to the meeting, the teachers released a follow-up to their previous statement on Fowler.

“We are encouraged by the board’s willingness to open a dialogue that enables us to give them a complete understanding of our concerns and to take appropriate measures to resolve the leadership issues NCHS is currently facing,” they stated.

Before the teachers and board members spoke in closed session on Monday, Palma Stiegman read a statement from the Nashville Retired Teacher’s Association praising the teachers and offering a suggestion to improve moral at the high school.

“We hope you might consider what we had when we were teaching here,” said Stiegman, who serves as president of the association. “We had a committee of teachers, board members, parents, community, students and administration, and we met regularly to share school issues from each person’s perspective.”

Stiegman said anyone on the committee who wanted to make a complaint also had to offer a solution.

“The goal was to listen and respect each other’s views to find a solution and make a decision together,” she said. “Many of us retirees were part of that committee as acting teachers at NCHS. We thought this was a mutually beneficial approach to issues that arise within any school and that can be a win-win for everyone and build moral here at Nashville High School.”

Stiegman taught at Nashville High School for 39 before retiring and continues to work as a substitute teacher today, she said.

The District 99 school board oversees the high school, while another board and superintendent lead the grade school in Nashville. More than 400 students were enrolled at the high school in 2016, the latest demographics available from the state, and the district employed about 27 teachers.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

Related stories from Belleville News-Democrat