The controversy surrounding Dr. Greer Miller, the tenured principal of Division Street, reached a high point in late June when over 70 parents showed up at the Board of Education meeting to complain of the school’s high staff turnover, which they believe has been caused by “bullying” and “hostile interactions” with Principal Miller.
Due to the large amount of parent complaints, the school board decided to launch an investigation of the situation by an outside firm, which conducted exit interviews with the staff members who left the school this year.
As many as 18 staffers have left Division Street in the past two years—though some simply retired (two out of the 13), most of the teachers put in requests to transfer to other schools in the district. At the June 27 school board meeting, parent Kim Foster said that number is extremely high—she has been teaching at the same school for 14 years and in that time has only seen three teachers leave or transfer.
As a result of the 13 exit interviews, Piccirillo said the district has identified four general areas that could be improved: school culture as it relates to building management and staff, communications between the Division Street school community and district officials, training with the teacher evaluation system and an examination of consistency of procedures across the district.
“We plan to be more visible as administrators,” Piccirillo said at the meeting. “We’ll be more involved in student events, Parent-Teacher Association meetings and classrooms.”
Though some parents have called for the dismissal of Miller, which would be more difficult than ordinary because of her tenure status, many parents and staffers have stayed silent during the controversy for what some have said is a fear of reprisal.
However, parent Jennifer Robbins came forward to share her own story of her child’s experience with Dr. Miller several years ago when she attended Division Street
As a toddler, Robbins’ daughter suffered a stroke. By the third grade, she was showing neurological and emotional issues related to that stroke, Robbins said.
“Dr. Miller referred to my concerns as ‘overreactions’ when I first approached her with them,” Robbins said. “As the year continued, my daughter developed an extreme separation anxiety. I worked to address this with health care professionals and teachers, but it was becoming increasingly worse.”
After her daughter began to miss increasing amounts of school due to her situation, Robbins said Miller threatened to call Child Protective Services on her.
“She refused to follow the suggestions of the outside counselor regarding treatment protocol for this issue,” Robbins said. “I went to several professionals in the district with these issues and was told on multiple occasions that the only way for my daughter to get the help she needed was to get out of Division Street Elementary.”
Robbins’ last straw with Miller came about when her daughter told the principal she was afraid to go to class because the other children would “look at her differently,” to which Miller replied, “Of course they will when you have to be pried off the door frame.”
“I knew for sure that there would never be any help or cooperation from the school and removed [my daughter] that day,” Robbins said.
Robbins homeschooled her daughter for the remainder of the year and worked intensively with her to bring her back to public school—though this time, she made sure her daughter would not be attending Division Street again and instead was quickly approved to transfer her to Lake Avenue Elementary.
“People have asked at meetings for proof of [Miller’s] bullying, but the problem is, staff is afraid of reprisal,” Robbins said. “I can tell you that I have personally talked to many who have left—I’ve seen two former staff members’ eyes well up with tears when they talk about leaving because they loved the school and the children, but the reign of terror was too much to deal with.”
“Her behavior is so well-known amongst parents, teachers and even district personnel,” Robbins continued. “This has been going on for a long, long time. I am so grateful to those parents who finally spoke up and hope that there will be former staff who will feel a little more confident in the outside agency that reviews this and speak up.”
Piccirillo said he expects the final review of Miller to be completed sometime in early September. All the vacated staff positions have now been filled, with new employees having between one and seven years of experience. The next meeting of the school board is August 29.