Dysfunction at Waterloo Elementary: Community members up in arms about teacher transfer

By Matthew McCully
Local Journalism Initiative

Tensions flared during the opening question period of Tuesday evening’s Eastern Townships School Board (ETSB) council of commissioners meeting as a group of parents, staff and students from Waterloo Elementary School confronted the board about the transfer of teacher Timothy Croteau out of the school.
Zooming into the meeting from Waterloo legion, a group opposed to Croteau’s transfer said a petition had been signed by most staff members at the school, and suggested removing a teacher mid-year would create instability and cause undue stress.
According to the board, Croteau is being transferred in an attempt to improve the atmosphere in the school in general, not because of anything that he is specifically accused of. “This is in fact in no way related to his competence as a teacher, or as an individual,” ETSB Chairman Michael Murray said during the meeting.
The group opposed to Croteau’s transfer was combative, and their arguments were emotional.
The first to speak was a Handicapped Student Attendant (HAS) at Waterloo, who described being beaten by a 12-year-old, and while other staff ran away to get help or watched in shock, it was Croteau who diffused the situation.
“Timmy is respected by the kids; the kids love him. I feel safer with him there,” she said, asking how the board could ensure the safety of staff at the school with one man missing.
“It’s a very complicated answer,” Murray said, “I’ll try and do my best. We all want the same thing,” the chairman said.
For the last year, we have been trying to implement a new approach to discipline that does not involve punishment and consequences. It involves trying to understand the motivation of the student, trying to create an environment in which they feel safe, and therefore they do not need to lash out,” he said. “Adriana Lyons, your principal, is familiar with this approach and I know, believes strongly that building a rapport with the students is essential to long term solutions to the violence and bullying problem, which has plagued Waterloo for many years.”
Murray said that according to the latest figures, there are 31 staff members in the school for approximately 143 students. “That’s one staff member for fewer than six students. It’s important to understand that that ratio means that adults have an opportunity to get to know the students as individuals, not just as students, to relate to them, to know their background, to try and develop a degree of empathy with them. Not all children respond well to this, and it takes time.”
Murray added it does, however, mean that a discipline problem that relies on an individual, be it a man or a woman, is not constructive. “We can only work on improving the situation by implementing the policy consistently, and that’s what we are trying to do,” the chairman explained.
“Moving Mr. Croteau is part of a broader issue that has implications for more than simply the ability to discipline a single child.”
The next question was garbled by tech issues, but alluded to the procedures in place for investigations of sensitive interpersonal incidents.
“We all fear that this is only political, and that we could be next,” they said. “What is the master plan? Why is this happening? Why is Mr. C being moved?”
Murray offered up a sports analogy, but before beginning, audience members interrupted saying he should use the truth, not an analogy.
Murray continued, “Sometimes our teams perform less well. When we think a group is not performing well, we start to make changes. One of the first changes is to change the coach.”
In a school, the coach and principal have the same role, Murray said.
“In this case we have changed the principal three times. The atmosphere, the working environment, the tension in the school have not improved. So, to continue to do so seems to us to be not the best approach,” commented the chairman.
The second approach, Murray said, is to begin to change the personnel.
“Mr. Croteau is being changed in order to improve the general atmosphere on the staff level at the school.”
“Why would you change your all-star?” an audience member replied.
“You don’t change your all-star because you can’t deal with your principal. You change the principal because she can’t deal with the students,” he added.
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