Kravetsky Requests Public Hearing Contesting Termination
Tamaques teacher believes he can beat odds in retaining job.
Tamaques third grade teacher Matt Kravetsky has requested a public hearing contesting his termination, setting the stage for the Board of Education to potentially overturn the decision of school district administrators.
Kravetsky, who has been denied reappointment and tenure as a teacher, confirmed to Patch that he is seeking the public hearing after receiving official notification from Schools Superintendent Margaret Dolan regarding his termination from teaching in Westfield next year. Kravetsky declined to comment at the present time on what he will be saying to the board during his hearing.
In a June 3 letter to Kravetsky, obtained by Patch, Dolan said the popular third grade teacher has not been renewed because he has "failed to provide consistently effective instruction for your students." In her letter Dolan cites that this has been brought up in past evaluations of Kravetsky by school district officials. The letter does not include the evaluations.
In her letter to Kravetsky, Dolan cites a May 5, 2010 observation of Kravetsky during a math class, from Regina Kiczek, the school district's mathematics supervisor for the K-8 grade level. In a quote by Kiczek, Dolan said Kravetsky has provided a supportive classroom environment and then cites the effective instruction aspect.
"The essential reason for your non-renewal is embodied in Dr. Regina Kiczek's May 5, 2010 summary of her observation of your Mathematics class: "It is possible - and in students' best interests - to create a classroom environment that is at the same time comfortable, welcoming, productive and academically challenging." You have succeeded admirably in fostering a supportive classroom environment for your students," Dolan wrote. "Your evaluations have consistently pointed out, however, that you have failed to provide consistently effective instruction for your students."
In an interview with Patch, Kravetsky said he is not publicly commenting on Dolan's letter at this time but said he will address the issues raised in the letter publicly when the hearing occurs. Under state law, the BOE has to schedule a hearing within 30 days of Dolan's letter.
"I did write a response and did request a hearing," Kravetsky said.
Dolan's letter came at the end of a 30 day time period for her to respond to the Kravetsky's request for reasons on his termination. He was previously informed of the decision by Tamaques School Principal Michael Cullen.
Kravetsky's case has become a cause celebre in the Tamaques community, with over 300 people signing an online petition in support of the teacher. Many of the school's teachers have also endorsed the third grade teacher. During the May 25 BOE meeting, several dozen Tamaques parents and teachers waited until 11:20 p.m. to express their support of Kravetsky to the board members. BOE members and Dolan have not commented publicly about the issue, due to a state law preventing them from speaking publicly on personnel issues.
Experts on Donaldson hearings told Patch it is an uphill climb for Kravetsky to get the BOE to endorse his continuing tenure in Westfield. A veteran attorney for other Boards of Education and a representative for the New Jersey Education Association, said the Kravetsky vote can be seen a vote of confidence by the board into Dolan and her leadership. Westfield has not had a full scale public Donaldson hearing in over a decade.
"Boards of Education rarely vote to overturn administrators' decisions," said Jack Spear, a NJEA UniServ representative in Union County who has not worked on the Kravetsky case. "The don't want to publicly undermine their superintendent and administrative staff."
Marc Zitomer, a partner with Schwartz, Simon, Edelstein, Celso and Zitomer and veteran attorney for school boards, said the same thing. He noted many of his BOE clients have not overturned the superintendent in a Donaldson hearing vote.
"It is rare that the Board of Education will overrule the superintendent," Zitomer said. "Superintendents don't like to be overruled. By the board overturning the superintendent, the superintendent can see that as a vote of no confidence. The success rate is marginal."
Kravetsky said he has been advised about the low success rate in Donaldson hearings but believes he can beat the odds.
"That has not deterred me from requesting one," he said.
Spear said most of the cases he has seen a teacher winning in a Donaldson hearing has been in cases where public pressure has been shown on the board. Most of those have been for popular guidance counselors and coaches where the public turns out to talk to the board on behalf of the teacher.
"When you get a huge turnout of people and the board sees the teacher has popular support it could happen," Spear said.
In Kravetsky's case, many of the parents who have shown support for him have talked about his teaching ability and ability to relate to students. They have noted that he has been selected to have mainstreamed special education students in his classroom and has remained a popular teacher with students.
Zitomer said is not surprised that Kravetsky has requested his Donaldson hearing to be public, based on the amount of public support he has received from the Tamaques community. Zitomer is not affliated with this case.
"If it is a hotly contested non-renewal, the employee will try to do it in public to put pressure on the board," he said.