While few would consider a school open house an emotional ordeal, that’s just how Veterans High School world history teacher Genevieve Dahle describes the event that took place at the school Aug. 5.
Dahle, who came to Veterans from Houston County High School, was laid off from her job in May as a result of budget cuts. She didn’t find out she would be back in the classroom until the Monday prior to the open house, after a call from Principal Lionel Brown.
That evening, students came to visit her classroom who didn’t know she would be returning as a teacher, according to Dahle.
“A lot came flying through the door,” she said. “Sometimes they interrupted conversations with other people.”
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Dahle, too, had her own share of emotions that day.
“When I walked in, it was like I was back home,” she said in a previous interview.
Dahle is one of 22 teachers who have been rehired by Houston County schools from among the 53 who were laid off in May due to budget reductions. With millions of dollars in cuts to the system’s funds for the 2011 fiscal year, the school board approved eliminating almost 200 jobs across the system in April and May through layoffs and attrition.
Houston officials conducted the job cuts using a rubric based on employee performance and qualifications first, and seniority in the system as a secondary consideration.
Superintendent Robin Hines has repeatedly said the affected employees performed their jobs well, and because of this, many of those laid off tended to be newer teachers rather than more experienced faculty.
Later, the system sent a letter to employees announcing job openings in areas that were deemed understaffed from vacancies that arose from subsequent retirements and resignations.
Though about 40 percent of the laid off teachers have returned, all of them had to undergo the same competitive process for any job opening within the school system, Hines said.
While a significant number of those laid off employees have been able to return to Houston, Hines said that it would not have been possible to keep more people on the payrolls initially, based on their projections at the time.
“There’s no way to predict who will leave,” he said. “You can’t do the (reduction in force) based on conjecture. You’ve got to go with the staff you have,” he said.
Those rehired by the system before or at the very beginning of the school year will not be considered to have a break in service for retirement and other purposes, he said.
“I certainly think it’s positive to get our teachers and employees back,” he said. “I look at it as a good thing.”
Other former Houston teachers have found work in Bibb County and at The Westfield School, among other places. Currently, 14 classified personnel and six certified personnel affected by reduction in force cuts are on Houston’s substitute teacher list. Of 72 classified staff members who lost their jobs in the reduction in force cuts, 32 of them have been rehired by the system so far.
Both Dahle and Kim Kreis, another Veterans teacher affected by the reduction in force cuts, were relatively new to the teaching profession. Dahle was wrapping up her third year as a teacher at Houston County High. Kreis had been teaching science at Houston County High since January 2009. She had just finished her Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program certification in March after spending 12 years in the Air Force.
While Kreis anticipated being among those laid off based on her time with the system, she said finding out her job would be affected by reduction in force cuts was still difficult to hear at first.
She and other teachers thought those with broad certification in their fields, like Kreis, would be less vulnerable to cuts than those with certification in a more specialized subject, such as biology.
“That first instant when you get (the news), it still feels like I was fired,” said Kreis. “I’ve never been fired for anything.”
Kreis said she received support from both her colleagues and her students, who threw her a party at the end of the year.
Dahle was also surprised at the news, since she has broad field certification in social studies, as well as honors certification and Advanced Placement training.
Social studies teacher Luther Lucas, the 2010-11 teacher of the year for the Houston County Crossroads Center, had been teaching for a little more than three years when he was laid off.
After being laid off, Lucas had to decide whether he would pursue a new job, or continue his course work toward a master’s degree full-time.
Lucas said he received support from his colleagues in the form of letters, e-mails and offers for job recommendations after receiving the news about the reduction in force cuts.
Ultimately, he signed a contract in June to return to Crossroads.
“It was a scary few weeks, but it turned out OK,” he said.
During the summer, Kreis looked for other teaching jobs, but didn’t want to leave the county, with her husband going to Afghanistan for a year.
“It was a rough summer. There were some awful parts,” she said. “What it made me realize the most was how much I wanted to teach.”
Kreis ended up receiving certification to teach in other areas in addition to her science certification.
Dahle also spent the summer looking for jobs at private schools, as a tutor and in other child service capacities with no luck.
She found herself having to adjust from her “24-7 job” as a teacher, not spending summer days making lesson plans and buying items for her classroom on vacations.
“This is a job you wake up in the morning thinking about ... and when you go to sleep at night,” Dahle said.
Eventually, Dahle made peace with the circumstances and began to focus her time on preparing for the birth of her first child in January.
However, just as Dahle did begin making arrangements, such as setting up her baby’s bedroom, she was asked if she would like to come on board at Veterans — two days before teachers were to report to work Aug. 4, and one week before students were to return to school, she said.
“This is my life. It has always been my life,” she said. “I’ve known since high school. I’ve been away and now I get to come back. It’s exciting.”
After the system’s annual employee opening session the same day, Lucas said he received words of encouragement from Hines and several school board members.
“It made me feel good they knew who I was,” he said. “We’re not faceless names let go. They took the time to know the people that were going through this.”
Kreis was asked to come on board as a teacher at Veterans the week before the opening session.
“I got the best of all worlds,” she said. “I was let go, rehired and I get to go to a brand-new high school. It’s just phenomenal.”