Some parents at George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academy have been upset this school year because of issues related to staff accountability and poor communication from leadership.
The school took disciplinary action against three staff members and has added three new positions to help support principal Troy Lane, whom the two parents interviewed for this story blamed for the problems.
Annekia Mitchell and Whitney, both of whom have two children at the K-7 school, told stories of inappropriate behavior from teachers and said they feel ignored when trying to talk to school leadership.
The Recorder is not using Whitney’s last name because she is worried about how her children might be treated.
Whitney said a gym teacher cursed at students, and a music teacher yelled at students. According to Whitney, the music teacher told students a story about disobedient children who had their feet put in boiling water, in an apparent attempt to intimidate students into better behavior.
Both of those teachers, along with a classroom teacher who no longer works at the school, were disciplined, according to Nicole Fama, Phalen Leadership Academy’s regional director.
Fama, who is also the principal at Phalen Leadership Academy’s high school, said she could not go into detail about the disciplinary action because it was a human resources matter.
“I hear what the parents are saying,” Fama said. “When you’re running a school, you try to make sure you’re meeting everyone’s needs. … If a teacher is not performing to standard, we have no problem removing them. We hear what people are saying.”
Mitchell said her daughter was harassed on Instagram and reported it to the school, but school leadership didn’t do anything about it. Lane then asked her daughter to text him screenshots of what happened, according to Mitchell.
Lane did not respond to a request for comment.
Fama said the school learned it was a case of “teasing in both directions,” not targeted bullying.
Asked if it was appropriate for an administrator to ask a student to text screenshots, Fama said she hadn’t heard anyone complain about that before.
Mitchell also said a student tried to sell her son marijuana on the bus, but Fama said the school talked with witnesses who said the student was showing Mitchell’s son marijuana and not trying to sell it. Fama said the student was disciplined.
Both parents said Lane is not responsive to their complaints, and Whitney added Lane, who is white, “would not be able to do this in Carmel” since that is a mostly white school. (George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academy is 93% Black, according to state data.)
Both parents said they have heard from other parents with similar complaints, but the Recorder was not able to learn who those parents are.
The school has since added three positions — an assistant principal, climate and culture person and behavior specialist — in order to lighten the load on Lane.
The new staff members were added over a period starting shortly before winter break and ending Jan. 27, according to Fama.
Lane faced some unique challenges as a first-year principal. Originally a K-6 school, George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academy added seventh grade class this school year, but Lane didn’t have the necessary staff around him from the start for such an expansion.
The school had 216 students for the 2018-19 school year, according to state data, but added 151 students for the current school year.
Whitney said she will “most definitely” pull her children out of the school at the end of the school year unless Lane leaves.
Mitchell said she’s considered pulling her children out.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.