When in school, teachers often tell students that completing homework on time is a valuable lesson to learn and that there are consequences of a lower or failing grade for not doing so. For one teacher, a delay on getting his recertification has cost him his job as the Lancaster Community School District Board voted the night before the first day of school last Wednesday to terminate instrumental music teacher Rob Shepherd.
“Basically what happened is this, I had not renewed my certification,” Shepherd said of the problem. “It was an oversight on my part.”
Shepherd, who has been with the district for the past 14 years and has spent 34 years in education, had been slated to be the district’s middle school instrumental music teacher this year after being in the high school. In order to be a full-time teacher in the state of Wisconsin, an individual must be certified by the state’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Teachers are certified for five-year terms, and are required to take continuing education courses, earning a certain number of credits to renew their certification.
In Shepherd’s case, this meant obtaining six credits before his license had expired, which actually took place at the end of last school year. Seeing his certification running out, Shepherd received an extension in March 2010 with the intent of taking the required classes to get full certification. That extension expired at the end of June.
In late August Shepherd remembered that he still needed to get those six credits in order to get recertified as a teacher, and on Aug. 22 he enrolled in two online courses. By last Wednesday, he had already completed one of the courses, but knew he would be unable to get the other completed, and file all the necessary paperwork with the DPI before the start of school.
Shepherd went before the board last week to see if there was a resolution to allow him to teach while he completed his coursework. Shepherd said he offered to the board the idea of becoming a long-term sub, receiving no benefits, and filling the position until he was properly recertified.
“I would be able to substitute for myself,” Shepherd said.
This would have put the district in a difficult situation, however. Substitute teachers have limitations as far as the number of days in a row they can work, and there could even be a challenge to state aid this fall, as well as the summer school hours Shepherd oversaw in July and August after his license ran out, as both federal and state requirements include having a fully certified instructor in a given post.
With school attorney Eileen Brownlee at the meeting, the board voted to terminate Shepherd’s contract with the district, and issued the following statement, “On Wednesday evening, the Lancaster School Board decided to terminate the employment of Mr. Robert Shepherd due to the fact that Mr. Shepherd’s regular teaching license expired in June.”
The release continues, “Wisconsin law and federal regulations require that the district employ highly qualified teachers who are fully licensed except in unusual circumstance, none of which existed here. Because Mr. Shepherd would have been unable to obtain a regular teaching license until late September at the earliest, the board determined that it was in the best interest of the Lancaster School District and the students to employ a music teacher who currently meets these state and federal standards.”
District Administrator Rob Wagner said that the district brought retired middle school instrumental music teacher Monte Muller in to cover courses Thursday and Friday, while hiring a long-term substitute Friday to fill the post until a new teacher is selected. That substitute was one of the finalists for the high school music teacher position - the one Shepherd vacated to move to the middle school - worked with Muller on Friday to get brought up to speed on the lesson plan.
Shepherd had been working with Muller the previous few months preparing his transition to the middle school, handling the open house for students wanting to start instrumental music. “I was looking forward to it,” Shepherd said of moving to the middle school. “I was excited about the prospect.”
While he saw a number of his colleagues decide to retire this past school year, including peer and community band mate Muller, Shepherd said he had always intended to continue teaching, and was excited about the new year. “I still want to teach. It’s an important thing to do.”
Now, for the first time in 34 years, the first day of school Shepherd spent at home. He spent that time sending emails to friends, parents, and former students telling them what had taken place, as well as posting information on Facebook. Shepherd said that he did so because when a teacher disappears so close to the start of the school year, rumors are bound to circulate and he just wanted people to know what happened.
He said that he has received a number of replies. “I have heard ‘what can we do, let us know what we can do to help,” Shepherd noted.
“It’s an unfortunate situation for everyone,” Wagner said of what happened, but stated the district’s figurative back was against the wall on the issue. He said that every year, the district contacts teachers in January who have their certification running out, and checks in to see how things are progressing. In something Wagner said he has never seen in his time in education, that certification was not renewed in time for the start of classes. “We as a school are required to have certified teachers.”
Wagner said that in this case he tells anyone who asks that the necessary work was not completed for certification renewal. A one-year extension was given, and the work was still not completed.
Both Wagner and Shepherd stated the case of how important the music program is in the district. With this, the program has seen a massive change since last school year with a reduction from five to four instructors, the retirement of two long-time music teachers, and both remaining instructors David Murphy and Bev Mattingly handling different duties than they did a year ago.
“Instrumental music and music in general in this district has been very important and I would hope that would continue,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd has thought about reapplying for the post. Because his previous contract was terminated, he would not have any sort of seniority or callback rights for the post.