CCCOE Superintendent Joe Ovick did not return calls to the Press this week regarding the status of Barbara Berman, who has come under fire in recent weeks for her handling of staff in the wake of a pair of incidents at the school. Peggy Marshburn, the county’s communications director, also declined to confirm or deny the reports.
“We do not comment on personnel issues,” Marshburn wrote in a one-sentence e-mail.
“Dr. Berman is on leave; that’s all I know,” a Turner staff member who requested anonymity said this week. “She was gone as of Friday and we haven’t heard anything since.”
Berman’s reported leave is the latest in a series of incidents stemming from an Oct. 19 Press article regarding the closure of the special-education playground and locking up of classroom tricycles at Turner Elementary. Teachers and parents – speaking anonymously for fear of retaliation – said Berman’s actions were intended to punish teachers, and that Berman’s handling of staff is hampering student’s education. They describe a deteriorating relationship with Berman, who has served with the County Office of Education since 2001.
Berman’s reported leave came as a relief to at least one parent, who described a long and rocky relationship with the principal. “I’ve had a lot of experiences with her, but the big one was last year when my son was injured while out on the playground – he chipped his tooth – and I could never get a straight answer from Barbara about what happened,” said Charles Blum.
“I was told several different things by her and it got kind of hairy with her after that … when he got hurt she told me she couldn’t discuss confidentiality issues with me about my own son. We didn’t get along too well after that.”
Blum’s son, who is autistic, left Turner this year for Bristow Middle School, where the sixth-grader will continue in the county program on campus. Blum praised the teachers who have worked with his son, and felt empathy for them in light of the apparent lack of support they were getting from county administrative staff.
“My son did really well during his time at Turner,” said Blum. “The teachers all worked really hard with him and went above and beyond for him, so it’s frustrating when I see them deflated and not happy. I just never saw the support for them coming from her (Berman) … there are a lot of things that need to be fixed over there. I just hope it gets taken care of.”
But how the situation gets resolved remains to be seen. Fran Curtis, who teaches at-risk students for the County Office of Education at the Joseph A. Ovick Golden Gate Community School in Martinez, said Ovick has a history of moving teachers and principals from campus to campus in response to poor test scores or other situations, including personality conflicts.
Blum believes Curtis’ comments are consistent with the county’s history of transferring, rather than dismissing, troubled staff. He worries about what will happen next.
“My fear is: where will she be transferred?” said Blum. “I hope it’s not Bristow School.”