Portsmouth School Board to discuss morale concerns after teacher speaks up

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - All eyes were on an elementary school teacher at a May 25 school board meeting as she gave an emotional speech about her current mentality as a teacher.

"I come before you today because I am broken and I am tired," said Dominica Serafine. "I can't tell you how many times I've driven to school crying because I don't want to go, because I feel helpless, because I can't help my kids as much as I want to."

Serfaine told school board members she was talking about the morale at schools across the district, specifically elementary schools where she has been in touch with her colleagues.

Statement from anonymous Portsmouth Public Schools teacher

News 3 since obtained anonymous statements from other teachers going in to detail about how they don't feel valued, how they are treated unfairly, and how they have been disregarded by school and division leaders.

One teacher said, "It's very disheartening to come to work fearful, unappreciated, and overwhelmed."

During the school board meeting, LaKeesha Atkinson specifically asked Serafine about what her needs were.

Chairman Claude Parent, who applauded Serafine for her bravery, stepped in and ended the conversation to say that the Superintendent would contact her for ideas.

"Can she not say it right now?" Atkinson asked.

"It's personnel issue," Parent said.

However, the conversation still continued, and board member Ted Lamb, also a teacher, said Serafine's comments were right on the money.

"Part of the problem is we're overworked, part of it is the paperwork, part of it is the stress that goes on each and every day," he said.

News 3 reached out to Portsmouth Public Schools on Tuesday to see how the school addressed the concerns, since the superintendent was instructed to follow-up.

In a statement, Public Information Officer, Cherise Newsome, said:

"Yes, a teacher did speak before the School Board last Thursday. Her comments, like all others, are welcome during the public comment period. In fact, she wasn’t signed up to speak as required, but the Chairman granted her special permission to speak. The teacher’s speech is like several others the School Board heard during the budget season. Teachers asked for various types of support, and that’s one reason we fought so hard for staff raises and additional needs during the budget season. Due to a lack of additional funding from the city, the School Board was forced to make cuts in order to give teachers a much-needed raise.

State law prohibits staff and School Board members from addressing personnel matters in public sessions. Therefore, our practice is similar to other local school divisions. Yes, the Superintendent did follow-up with the teacher via his designee who is our Assistant Superintendent Dr. Anita Taylor. Dr. Taylor spoke with the teacher immediately after the public comment period on Thursday as well as on Friday after the meeting. Dr. Taylor also communicated with the teacher Monday. The School Board will receive an update on the matter in a closed session on June 15th due to state laws regarding personnel matters. Dr. Bracy is still open to meeting with her if she wants.

Teachers have multiple opportunities to express their ideas, suggestions, and concerns with the School Board and division administration. Annually, the School Board invites teachers and other staff groups to a meeting in the fall in order to discuss school needs and concerns. Dr. Bracy established a Teacher Advisory Committee when he became Superintendent two years ago. He meets with the committee throughout the year and provides updates to the School Board. Teachers from each school can participate. He also visits with the Portsmouth Education Association (which is much like a teachers and staff association), among other groups. Dr. Bracy also is partnering with the business community to host a “Celebrate PPS Teachers” event on June 16."

During the May 25 meeting, it was announced that teachers will get a 2% raise.

However, through the statements sent to News 3, teachers are saying it is not about the money.

School board member Ted Lamb told News 3 over the phone on Tuesday that he is sure the Superintendent will investigate what the morale concerns are and they will move forward.

"That's what I would like to see," he says.