Teachers, parents unhappy after teacher loses job

Mary Etta Thomsen, far right, addresses the Lawrence school board Monday, May 11, 2015.

Almost 20 members of the public spoke in defense of, shed tears over and hugged Mary Etta Thomsen during Monday’s Lawrence school board meeting, where she lost her job as an elementary school teacher.

The board voted 6-0 not to renew the contract for Thomsen, who is in her third year at Langston Hughes Elementary, where she teaches first grade. Board members declined to discuss why, saying they cannot discuss personnel matters.

Thomsen said her teacher evaluation flagged her for a lack of “classroom management.” She and Langston Hughes physical education teacher Reenie Stogsdill said Thomsen’s class was particularly “challenging.”

The Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, had given Thomsen advice in the lead-up to Monday’s meeting and sent a representative to watch. Thomsen did not say what, if any, action she would take following the board’s decision.

Before receiving her teaching license, Thomsen said she spent her career working as a paraeducator, reading specialist and an adult educator.

Nine members of the public, including fellow teachers, parents of Thomsen’s students and a former student, asked the board to renew her contract. She was described several times as well-prepared, creative and a role model.

“She is a wonderful teacher for our daughter,” said Matt Smith, the associate director of bands at Kansas University.

School Board President Shannon Kimball, who has two children attending Langston Hughes, recused herself from the discussion and vote.

Last year, the Lawrence school board implemented its own due process standards for teachers after the state decided not to require them anymore. Before the meeting, Kimball said teachers with five years of experience qualify for them. Thomsen is in her third year.

After nearly a half-hour of public testimony, the board convened for an executive session for 15 minutes before announcing its decision. Thomsen and her supporters then quietly filed out of the room.

“Disgusting,” Kathy Rathbun, a retired Langston Hughes second-grade teacher, was heard saying as she rose from her seat.

With several people in tears, they met Thomsen in the hallway. Someone said “We love you, Mary,” and the crowd launched into applause while Thomsen thanked everyone for coming.

In other business Monday, the board approved a partnership with Neosho County Community College that will provide career and technical education lessons for the district’s Adult Education Services. Rick Henry, the director of the Adult Education Services, said the partnership would allow adult students to receive industry-recognized certificates in addition to a GED.