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Anonymous letters spark plans for a meeting

The Baltimore Sun

The head of the Howard County Education Association plans to meet with Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin after several Howard County High School teachers complained that they received anonymous letters urging them to leave the school if they are dissatisfied.

The letters, which were put in teachers' school mailboxes, came after a May 27 Sun article reported that a union survey showed Howard High School had one of the highest percentages of dissatisfied staff members in the school system.

The article quoted several employees at the school who said they feel intimidated and not respected by the administration led by Principal Regina Massella.

"Enough already!" the third paragraph of the three-paragraph letter begins. "If you don't want to be here -- Get Out! Miss Massella is not a dragon; she cares about the students and makes her decisions based on what is best for the students, not the faculty or staff. Be responsible and do your job. If you don't have anything nice to say -- don't say anything! Join the rest of us and become proactive, not reactive!"

The letters reflect the environment at the school, said Ann DeLacy, president of the HCEA, the union representing the majority of the employees in the school system.

"We have had people who have said to us that they are afraid to have conversations in the building because of the cameras," DeLacy said. "There is an element of fear in that building that is unbelievable."

Massella held a faculty meeting Monday to address the letters, said system spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

"She is going to be talking about professionalism, and how they are going to end the year on a positive note," Caplan said.

Massella was not aware of the letters until the end of last week, Caplan said.

The 2006-2007 job climate survey, conducted by the HCEA, was completed by 72 of the 142 employees at Howard High School. The school system's overall results were shared with the public last month.

Fifty-six percent of Howard High employees who responded to the survey said they had witnessed or experienced harassment by a supervisor, the highest percentage of any school in the county; 64 percent who responded disagreed that morale was good; and 79 percent who responded disagreed that the school's atmosphere was open to communication.

Howard High ranked in the bottom 10 schools in the 2006-2007 survey, and ranked in the bottom 20 schools the year before.

Massella has held two staff meetings since she learned of the union's survey results.

In February, Cousin met with the union to discuss the job climate survey and some of the concerns at the school. As a result of those talks, Cousin said, the concerns were turned over to the Office of School Administration.

Since Massella arrived at Howard High in 2004, the school's test scores have steadily improved. Many parents and some employees at the school say Massella is the main reason for the turnaround.

Despite the academic success, some school staff members have complained to the union about the working conditions there.

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