Decision on Elliott expected March 15
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Feb 01, 2013 | 1817 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Hopewell Elementary School teacher Susan Elliott’s two-day hearing to appeal her dismissal from Bradley County Schools ended Thursday without a decision.

Hearing officer Dale Conder Jr., an attorney from Jackson, will give lawyers from both sides until March 5 to submit final documentation and transcripts from this week’s hearing.

“My decision will be within 10 days of that,” Conder said, meaning a decision on Elliott’s appeal is expected no later than March 15.

Attorney Virginia McCoy, representing Elliott, called her remaining witnesses during Thursday’s leg of the appeal. Some who were named on the initial list, including Hopewell Elementary School Principal Tim Riggs, were not called to the stand for testimony.

Parents of students who had gone to Hopewell said Elliott had been a highly requested teacher.

Parent Greg Hooper said he had wanted his child to be in her class, but during the 2002-03 school year parents were not permitted to request a specific teacher.

Retired Special Services teacher Phyllis Potter said she worked in Elliott’s classroom during her time at Hopewell. Potter said she worked in Elliott’s class as an inclusion teacher for the last time from 2010 to 2012. After that, Potter retired.

Potter described Elliott’s classroom as “wonderful.” She added, “The students were her main focus.”

Potter said she wanted her special education students in Elliott’s classroom because she made an effort to help each student understand and retain the material.

Parent Lori Hutchinson said Elliott was helpful to her son when he was in her class.

“From third grade on [my son] had his mind set that he was going to get Ms. Elliott ... she was just the teacher of choice; all the kids wanted to get in her class,” Hutchinson said. “He has just blossomed in her class.”

She said her son was a special education student.

“She was very instrumental in helping him cope with certain things,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson’s son had Elliott for fourth grade during the 2011-12 school year. The parent said she was often in the classroom for meetings. Elliott’s class was the first time he enjoyed school, Hutchinson said.

After initial concerns were raised, the school system conducted an investigation into Elliott’s work.

Hopewell Elementary fourth-grade teacher Kristi Emendorfer was one of the teachers interviewed during the investigation. She said she was called to the office, but not told what the meeting was about. While talking with supervisor for elementary education Sheena Newman and Riggs, Elliott was only one topic of conversation, Emendorfer testified.

Emendorfer was a fifth-grade teacher during the 2011-12 school year. She said she never taught fourth grade at the same time as Elliott.

During Thursday’s hearing, McCoy questioned Emendorfer on comments she made during the school’s investigation. In a document outlining teachers’ concerns about Elliott, Emendorfer said she saw Elliott dozing off during a teacher training.

McCoy inquired whether Emendorfer had asked Elliott if she was all right. Emendorfer said she had not.

Emendorfer said she had parents of her fifth-graders, who had Elliott for fourth grade, who commented that Elliott did not always teach social studies.

During her testimony, Elliott said she alternates a week of social studies with a week of science. Elliott said she developed lesson plans for, and taught, social studies. She also developed a social studies study guide for her students for end-of-year tests. These guides were shared with other fourth-grade teachers, Elliott testified.

Emendorfer said she had to review concepts in math and events in social studies that students should have covered in fourth grade with Elliott.

Hopewell Elementary teacher Kellie Freytag taught fourth grade and was in a grade group team with Elliott. Freytag said Elliott often did not follow the plans the teachers had agreed to follow to ensure students were learning similar materials. During her testimony, Elliott said she followed the plan except for one year when Riggs let her simply follow the Bradley County pacing guide. Elliott made this request because she felt her students could work at a faster pace than the other fourth-grade classes were going. Elliott said she worked on her lesson plans each Sunday. Elliott said she wrote them out in her lesson plan book then posted them on her school website.

In 2010-11, when Riggs had her keep pace with the other teachers, there was a decline in her students’ end-of-year test scores, Elliott said.

Freytag also testified that Elliott rarely ate lunch in the teachers’ lounge. Elliott said she often spent her lunchtime tutoring students who needed extra help.

“I never ate lunch in the teachers’ lounge because I was in there (classroom) tutoring my students, and I didn’t want to get caught up in their (other teachers’) gossip,” Elliott said.

Although Elliott taught fifth grade in 2009, she was assigned to be a mentor teacher for Freytag. Freytag said during the time Elliott was her mentor she saw Elliott post answers to classwork on the board. Elliott said this was not true.

Elliott said she always models how to solve new math problems by working the first few problems on the board and then having students do the problems. Elliott said she had been recommended to be a mentor teacher because her areas for individualized learning (centers) were well organized.

At one point, Riggs had told the fourth-grade teachers one of them would be moved to another grade, Elliott recalled. Elliott said this created competition among the fourth-grade students to keep their spots.

“It was a horrible situation,” Elliott said. During this time, Elliott said she felt the other teachers ignored her and did not want to hear her ideas.

Elliott taught for 16 years at Hopewell Elementary School.

Attorney Chris McCarty, who represented Bradley County Schools, asked (Phyllis) Potter if she got along with other teachers at Hopewell and if she respected them. Potter said yes.

When McCarty questioned Elliott about other teachers at Hopewell, she said that most of them were being only partially truthful in their testimony. However, she said Potter had been totally honest.

Regarding the domestic incident that led to the school system’s internal investigation, Elliott said her record has been expunged. She said Greg Grammer, who had originally charged her with assault, had been charged with filing a false report and found guilty.