Chapter Sixteen / The Beginning of the End
During the last few years of teaching at Tri-Valley, and later substitute teaching in the Sioux Falls school system, two projects became my major focus; radio and television. The radio program, "Precious In His Sight," was developed from the tremendous response to the puppet character BURNNIE. Each program took BURNNIE through an event in his week which became an important life lesson by the end of the episode. Additional characters included Faith and myself, Top Hat The Dog, Gonzo the Gorilla, our daughter Mandy, the "Precious In His Sight Children's Choir," and special guests.
Each 30 minute radio program required the writing of the script and the songs which would be incorporated throughout the storyline. I wrote the songs which were creatively inserted through the development of the fictitious "THTD Radio Station" managed and operated by Top Hat The Dog. The episodes were professionally recorded at the Creative Communications studio in Sioux Falls. Don, our program director, would then find all of the sound effects to be added to the program and would add these during the edit at a later time. Our editor's amazing work and the efforts of all of our cast developed a series which received the Covenant Award, with host Angela Lansbury, for excellence in radio communication. The show aired locally on KNWC and was also broadcast world-wide.
Faith and I were invited to create a television series for children to be aired on KSCB in Sioux Falls. The show featured "Riddles The Clown" performing a Bible story and "Illusions with a Message." Faith would conduct an interview with a special guest, and we also went on location for a content segment. The songs from the radio program were animated for television using the latest software offered at the time. Hundreds of hours were spent creating and filming.
Working in radio, television, and both Faith and I teaching full time while raising two children was a massive undertaking. There was a consistently high stress level with so many deadlines and responsibilities. I spent much time doing substitute teaching work at Laura Wilder where Faith was employed as a kindergarten teacher. As the radio and television projects came to a close, there opened an opportunity to become the art teacher at Laura Wilder. I developed a strong approval from Mrs. Posegate, the principal, as she observed my efforts as a substitute teacher in many grade levels within her school. The art position became available, and even though I did not have my art endorsement, I still put in an application for this position.
To my surprise I was called in for an interview. I developed a portfolio of the artwork I created for the marketing material of flyers and posters from our radio and television programs. Also included were several original paintings and drawings. Previous to entering the room of five committee members, Mrs. Posegate gave me a quick thumbs up of encouragement.
My many years of teaching experience were very helpful in answering the questions regarding educational philosophies and strategies. Mrs. Posegate offered strong support with her evaluations of my work as a substitute teacher and my ability to work with all grade levels. It was later determined I would work as a long term substitute at Laura Wilder while going to school in the evening for the one year it would take to earn my art endorsement. The position was mine.
My first difficulty was not having a teaching curriculum to follow. There were the state standards for each grade level, but nothing available to match an art project to the standard. Art teachers developed their own projects. As always, "God's Got This" gave comfort in knowing this would all work out. Faith remembered a previous art teacher who was no longer working in the system. A phone call was made and a miracle discovered. This teacher had saved all of her art samples from kindergarten through grade 5 and was planning to go to the dump and throw it all out this very week. She had been saving it for many years because it's hard to toss out so much creativity and effort, but she did not have a use for it and no one ever seemed to want or need it previous to our request. Knowing the hours of time and years of experience put into all of these projects we offered several hundred dollars which was what we could afford. This was only a fraction of what she deserved for giving me everything she had created over the course of her career. My nervous anticipation in this new endeavor as an art teacher immediately turned into tremendous excitement as I went through all of the files and discovered how carefully planned, prepared, and in sync with the state standards her samples were.
Previously, as a substitute teacher, I had worked in a number of art classrooms within the Sioux Falls School District. Every classroom was filled from counter to counter with bottles of paint, brushes, paper, and other odds and ends for all the projects that would be completed that year. I wanted my art room to look inviting and to be somewhat inspirational. I didn't want to see all of the work in the tools, but instead I wanted to see the end results of creativity displayed throughout the room. I used paintings, art projects, and interesting decorations to be the main focus when students first entered the classroom. The tools of the trade were always hidden away in the various cupboards. Thankfully, my classroom had much room for storage. I was often finding different ways to make the room look fun and inviting. In an early evaluation Mrs. Posegate stated, "I applaud you for all the fun things in your classroom. I personally had so much fun looking at the things on your desk - the puzzles, the candy glasses holder, a tiger head staple remover, the tiny pumpkin carving on a tiny newspaper, the borrowing bowls and directions across the room. I appreciate the magic atmosphere you have created in this wonderful room!"
The first year was very busy preparing and teaching the classes for kindergarten through fifth grade for the first time as a new art teacher. To receive my art endorsement, I was taking classes in the evening and studying with the need to additionally complete projects the various classes required on the weekend. It was a very busy and exhausting year. The art endorsement was finally received, and I started my second year as a full-time art teacher. My first year teaching was not considered as a full-time art teacher, since I was instead given the title of a long-term substitute teacher. It took four years to receive tenure and as a long-term substitute teacher I did not receive credit toward tenure status.
Having a theater background, I enjoyed the notion that everything I wore was a costume. I had my house costume, outside costume, and then I also had my teaching costume. I purchased a white smock that looked like a doctor's jacket and I thought that would protect whatever was underneath from splashes of paint. It also gave the look of an artist. Since Faith was also in the building and some of the kindergarteners had her as their teacher, a few of them would call me, Mrs. Treague. I recall one of the children saying, "He isn't Mrs. Treague, he's Dr. Treague." The white smock must have given him that idea. It then became a bit of a "thing" that the children, the parents, and even some of the teachers began calling me "Dr. Treague." It was a term of endearment, but it was clear I was not a doctor and I did not have a doctorate degree. It was just a nickname. The principal, Mrs. Posegate, thought I should have "Dr. Treague" embroidered on the white smock which I thought was a fun idea. Our local mall offered this service and the smock soon received that special addition.
I enjoyed teaching art very much. I was able to be extremely creative. The materials received from the the art teacher, who was in this same school some years earlier, relieved a great amount of stress. There was no art curriculum for an art teacher in this school system. There were only the state standards that were to be followed. I knew I was in line with those standards, because I had all of the activities that a previous teacher utilized within her classroom.
My evaluations with Mrs. Posegate were encouraging and very positive. Teaching strategies such as "planning for instruction," "implementing instructions," "evaluating instruction," and "classroom management," were all evaluated and given a "High Level of Mastery" rating. For example, to creatively enhance my classroom management, I used 3 cups, red, yellow, and green like stop light colors to indicate progress of the need for my assistance. In an earlier evaluation Mrs. Posegate stated, "Mr. Treague was able to easily see how students were doing and move to those in need quickly." I was encouraged by a closing statement she made on an evaluation which said, "... you provide an engaged atmosphere of active artists who are thrilled to be in your classroom. You hold your students to high artistic achievement. What a wonderful gift you provide to Laura Wilder! Thank you for being on staff! You are a treasure!"
I continued to enjoy teaching art content to elementary school children with high marks from Mrs. Posegate's evaluations until one day, December 9th 2004, when my wife, Faith, disagreed with her. Faith had been out on recess duty and handled a situation between two boys who were fighting. Later in the afternoon Mrs. Posegate questioned Faith regarding the incident and thought one of the boys should have an in-school suspension. Faith mentioned the particular boy which Mrs. Posegate was stating as being the most in fault, in fact, was not the perpetrator, but rather the victim.
The protected child's parent was present when Mrs. Posegate approached Faith regarding this dispute of who was at fault. The parent wrote Faith a letter and said,"I wanted to apologize if Friday caused you any grief between you and Mrs. Posegate. I noticed her disposition when she came into your classroom on Friday insisting on a meeting with her and her tone. My heart went out to you. Please know that Caleb says he loves his teacher and school. You are a blessing to me and my child and your efforts are not going unnoticed. Thank you. And if you need me for anything that may arise from Friday please don't hesitate to call or forward this letter if needed. Thank you again."
I was concerned when Faith mentioned her disagreement with Mrs. Posegate, since previous encounters from parents and teachers in opposition to her opinion resulted in unfavorable consequences. Many parents, teachers, and children within the school were beginning to feel an environment of tension. Teachers were being forced to leave, remaining staff was complaining about what they were observing, and a number of parents took their children out of the school. Faith mentioned to me, "Just watch. She will be coming after me next, because I disagreed with her." Certainly I could not believe this would be true. Mrs. Posegate gave us such high praise in evaluations. She stated in a 10.18.04 evaluation: "...you provide a congenial, working, engaged atmosphere of active artists who are thrilled to be in your classroom. You hold your students to high artistic achievement. What a wonderful gift you provide to Laura Wilder! Thank you for being on staff! You are a treasure!" Another evaluation on during the month of January, 18, 2005 stated, "You turned the art department into what I envisioned: a place where children delight and grow as artists. Thank you for your talents and creative energy! You are able to make wonderful art memories for our students because your students know that first, you care about them."
Several days later Faith was not feeling well and called in for a substitute so she could stay home. Later in that day Mrs. Postgate came into my room and seemed very friendly. She said, "Steve, you and I have had a very special relationship and I would like you to do a favor for me. I would like you to help me fire your wife." Obviously, I thought she was joking. I love my wife very much. But even if I didn't, why would I get rid of half my income? Without giving time to respond Mrs. Posegate said as she turned around and walked out toward the door, "Just let me know when you can come into my office and talk to me about this, because we need to get this done right away."
I gave Faith a call the very moment I had an opportunity. She reminded me that she knew she would be next on the list. But I said, "This is crazy. Why would Mrs. Posegate ever think I or any husband would help her fire his wife? It just doesn't make any sense. I can see she might not be happy with someone not agreeing with her, but to come into my room and ask me to help her fire you is absolutely insane!"
Faith said, "With what has been going on in our school how can you be surprised?"
"What should we do now,?" I asked.
"We need to get the union involved," Faith responded. Being home for the day she had time to immediately give the Sioux Falls Education Association a call.
Sometimes in the shock of a moment it feels like God is very far away. But I would often say, "Our feelings aren't always right." Faith and I base our belief in faith....and.... the numerous experiences we encountered including the Vacation Bible School and Camp Adventures throughout the many summers of our teaching years. God was always there and leading in ways we could not know in advance. The stories of the early ministry success and struggles could be a book in and of itself. From our own personal history, Faith and I would trust that this new journey would lead to His glorification. We knew "God's Got This" would hold true in this situation as it had in all the others. The reality of faith is believing in advance what only makes sense in reverse. We needed to believe in advance that this situation would all work out for God's glory and that He would see us through it in a way which would honor Him. We both felt a peace in what the future held, but stress was still evident in the steps that were necessary for us to take in order to prepare for this battle.
Faith's call to the association president, Gail Swenson, lead to a private meeting between the president and Mrs. Posegate. After the meeting, the association president simply stated to Faith, "This lady should not be working with children." This meeting lead to ten teachers meeting with the SFEA office who additionally were having difficulties with Mrs. Posegate. The assistant superintendent, Dr. Scala, with Lorene Posegate, and four Laura Wilder staff members met with Gail Swenson and presented a list of concerns. There was no change from Mrs. Posegate after this meeting and the following concerns remained a problem in the months ahead.
1. People are afraid to go to Lorene with concerns or problems because it "labels" them.
2. Lorene would change the words of what someone said in order to make that person appear in a negative light.
3. Some staff mentioned the polarity of the building, caused by Lorene's threat of being written up, made them afraid to come to work.
4. Lorene would make comments about personal matters of a staff person in front of the full staff in meetings.
5. Some staff members expressed their concern that Lorene had "spies" who could do whatever they wanted based on privileges given to them.
6. Staff was worried the climate survey would be coded so that Lorene would know who answered.
7. Lorene often sent "blanket" reprimands to staff.
8. Lorene made comments that stereotyped students.
After this meeting, even though we were informed Gail Swenson would be, "in touch," days went by and then months all the way to the end of the school year with our phone calls not answered. We did learn Gail was given a promotion at the Instructional Planning Center which is our district's administrative site. Later, when we called and asked about this particular situation and her meeting with Mrs Posegate, Faith and I were informed there was nothing on file and no information was available to share with us.
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