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Teachers linked to principal’s critics say they face retaliation

Teachers at Bracken STEAM Academy say they’re facing a tense school environment and retaliation after communicating with a group of parents who criticized the school’s principal at a recent Clark County School Board meeting.

In one case, a letter provided to the Review-Journal bearing Principal Stanica Sretenovic’s name informed a staff member at the Las Vegas magnet school that he or she would be subjected to an investigatory interview with the district’s director of pupil personnel services, John Schleifer, over allegations of sabotaging the school. The letter is dated the week after parents expressed their concerns to the board on Dec. 12.

The Review-Journal was able to view the letter but could not reach the person other sources identified as the recipient on Monday, and has elected not to publish it.

Sretenovic, who this year joined the school, 1200 N. 27th St., did not return multiple requests for comment from the Review-Journal.

A statement from the school district said it cannot comment on individual investigations, but that they’re conducted in line with the “Negotiated Agreements with the bargaining units of employees involved.”

District officials said a much-anticipated confidential reporting tool known as EthicsPoint is expected to roll out in the first quarter of 2020.

The district employee Right-to-Know handbook does not define sabotage but includes a general statement on employee expectations:

“In addition to other job expectancies, it is essential to every job that each employee come to work regularly and on time; follow directions; take criticism constructively; get along with coworkers and supervisors; treat coworkers, supervisors, students and the public with respect; refrain from abusive, insubordinate or violent behavior; and deliver the best ‘customer’ service possible,” the handbook says.

Parent perspective

Diana Ramirez, a representative on Bracken’s School Organizational Team, said she’s aware that a couple of teachers have reported to the parent group that they’ve been written up for sharing concerns about the school’s leadership. Ramirez said she believes one other teacher may have received a similar investigatory letter.

“They’re scared to talk to us now,” Ramirez said. “It’s even uncomfortable to speak to my daughter’s teacher.”

Ramirez said that the district has not approached parents to find a resolution since the group addressed the board and presented a list of concerns about Sretenovic, including what they described as unilateral changes to popular school features including an after-school computer lab and planned group counseling sessions.

Parents said that changes to these programs have not been properly communicated. They also said that their children have noticed teacher morale drop, particularly after staff and one-on-one meetings with Sretenovic.

Another letter sent to the district and signed by “Staff at Walter Bracken STEAM Academy” says teachers feel demeaned and dismissed in staff meetings and have taken to keeping their heads down to avoid further conflict. The letter says the tension stems from changes instituted after the formerly five-star school lost two of its stars.

Ramirez said parents hoped that Region 3 Superintendent Karla Loria would call for an investigation at the school after an informal survey suggested that a number of teachers wished to leave, but that so far has not happened.

“It seems to be getting brushed under the rug,” Ramirez said.

Bracken’s last SOT meeting was attended by Trustees Linda Cavazos and Irene Cepeda, the latter of whom represents the area. Cavazos deferred comment to Cepeda, who did not respond to an interview request.

Past concerns

The situation at Bracken also has gotten the attention of teachers and parents who say they’ve had similar issues with Sretenovic at other schools. And some say that apart from the situation at Bracken, retaliation worries are rampant throughout the district.

Wendy Broder-Stock, a former special education facilitator at Gehring Elementary, said she had at least two run-ins with then-Assistant Principal Sretenovic during her time at the school, being accused on one occasion of being insubordinate and of not being a team player on another. She said she left the district shortly after the second interaction.

Broder-Stock said that after she raised concerns about another school’s inclusion policies, she struggled to find a new position within the school district.

“I could not even get a single interview. It was as if a red flag was placed next to my name,” Broder-Stock said in a letter to Trustee Danielle Ford sent in support of Bracken teachers.

Broder-Stock said the district’s issues with retaliation are systemic, and that while some administrators are excellent at their jobs, others are notorious for retaliatory practices. She added that it’s critical for teachers to have someone higher up than the principal to handle their concerns.

Now running an advocacy company for special education students known as NEAT Services, Broder-Stock said she spoke up out of worry for current teachers who fear that they’ll be blacklisted or otherwise punished for bringing issues to light.

“Maybe they’re not told in as many words, but the implication is there,” Broder-Stock said. “They don’t want people to speak up.”

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at 702-383-0218 or aappleton@reviewjournal.com. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.

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