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Education

Teacher who’s critical of Hillsborough board now on hot seat

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Published:   |   Updated: April 4, 2013 at 05:49 PM
TAMPA -

It was near the end of a Hillsborough County school board meeting, where members had discussed protecting the privacy of teachers accused of misconduct.

Candy Olson, who with other board members has often been criticized by Freedom High math teacher Michael Weston, went on the offensive.

Olson read a critical, anonymous letter sent to Superintendent MaryEllen Elia and school board members about Weston, who has filed to run in 2014 for the District 2 school board seat Olson holds.

“I think it’s time to stop sitting up here and being attacked and being polite,” she said Tuesday before reading the letter to other board members, the audience and anyone watching the meeting on television or online. Weston, who speaks before the board at many of its meetings, was in the back of the room.

The letter, written Feb. 16, accused Weston of creating a “hostile and stressful work environment.” It said he is aggressive with his students, belittles them and puts them down in class.

Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, took Olson to task for reading the letter aloud.

“I was so appalled,” Baxter-Jenkins said. “I could not even believe it.

“I think that given the fact the board, including Miss Olson, had just discussed how much they cared about the employees and their privacy, it was among the most hypocritical things I have ever seen someone do.”

Olson, who has not decided if she will run for re-election, said Thursday she has no regrets.

“I think people need to know what kind of people are standing up and making charges,” she said.

Not mentioned at the meeting was that the district already had completed an internal investigation into the allegations against Weston.

There was no substantiation by other teachers of the claims Weston created a hostile or stressful work environment with the exception of one teacher.

The investigation did reveal, though, that parents and students made several requests through the guidance office to be removed from Mr. Weston’s classes.

“Not all of the requests were honored by the administration because it would have left Mr. Weston with too few students in comparison to the other teachers,” reads a letter from Linda Kipley, general manager of the school district’s Office of Professional Standards.

The letter from Kipley also says students and parents consistently labeled Weston sarcastic and condescending.

“All but one student described Mr. Weston as ‘not a good teacher’ or the ‘worst teacher they have ever had,’ ” the letter said. “Further, the investigation substantiated that most students felt his negative comments towards their classmates were inappropriate and described them as ‘putdowns.’ ”

Asked if he was aggressive with students, Weston told an investigator, “I work aggressively for my students.”

Asked if he was sarcastic or belittling to his students, he said, “I have no response to that,” records show.

The internal probe was closed with a recommendation that the findings be included in Weston’s spring evaluation.

Weston is a third-year teacher whose contract was not renewed recently by the district, Baxter-Jenkins said. He has requested a hearing, but if he loses that, he will not be a teacher in Hillsborough County public schools next year, she added.

Weston declined comment Thursday, referring all questions to Baxter-Jenkins.


rshaw@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7999

Twitter: @rshawTBO

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