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Seoul school staff to undergo communication, conflict management training

SEOUL — Staff at Seoul’s three DODEA schools will undergo communication and conflict management training in response to what the top education official in the Pacific called “adult issues” which bred so much employee dissension that it affected student morale and performance.

DODEA Pacific Director Dr. Linda Curtis announced the three-day training in June to employees at the elementary, middle and high schools. She asked Seoul American High School staff in a letter to “put personality and leadership style issues aside for the sake of the students.”

“On the part of students and staff, there is a general sense of fear or unease and a lack of effective communication at every level,” the letter said. “Students report they have lost their purpose, that they are unchallenged, and that a number of staff are unapproachable or uncaring. None of this is acceptable.”

All personnel at the Yongsan elementary, middle and high schools, along with some district office staff, will attend full-day training sessions Wednesday through Friday, DODEA Pacific spokesman Charly Hoff said. DODEA turned down a request by Stars and Stripes to sit in, saying the sessions were for employees only.

He said Curtis’ statement about student performance being negatively affected by problems at the school “simply reiterated what we know from research and experience: students perform better in positive learning environments backed by caring communities.”

However, Scholastic Aptitude Test and Terra Nova test scores at the high school are on par with other high schools in the Pacific, and actually there has bene a slight rise in the past few years in some subjects.

Curtis also announced in June that DODEA would implement an “action plan” to address issues at the schools. Hoff said that while there is no formal written plan, a steering committee of parents, educators and other stakeholders was formed near the end of the last school year to oversee improvement efforts.

He said the DODEA Pacific Area Office and the Korea District Superintendent’s Office will continue monitoring the situation.

While DODEA would not go into specifics, Curtis’ decision followed months of wide-ranging complaints from parents and teachers in town hall meetings, letters, visits by DODEA leaders and anonymous comments in the military’s Interactive Customer Evaluation system.

Many seemed to focus on what some have described as heavy-handed administration at the high school. They culminated in a May visit to Seoul by three Okinawa-based DODEA officials who interviewed approximately 35 parents, teachers and students.

A survey conducted then by the officials named problems including a lack of communication in a professional manner by stakeholders, including parents and teachers; teachers who were perceived to be “collecting a paycheck” instead of providing challenging classroom instruction; low morale and school spirit; frustration and distrust; and interpretation of policies differently at each school.

“What the team learned is that the many positives of SAHS are being clouded over by adult issues that are negatively impacting students, and their performance,” Curtis’ letter said. “Those who remain focused on doing what is right for students deserve our praise and recognition. Instead, adult issues have clouded positive achievement, jumped the school walls and now involve the greater school community; thus negatively impacting both the school and DODEA mission.”

Another letter from Curtis, sent June 4 to Seoul American Middle School employees, was less negative in tone and encouraged better communication with the other schools. However, it also appeared to chide them for contributing to dissension within the Seoul education complex:

“Interpreting DODEA policy in a way that favors SAMS, but causes ill will or difficulty at the other schools is counterproductive. Not squelching rumors or gossip is the same as perpetuating it; so do unprofessional comments with parents and colleagues. I know you are above this,” the letter said.

Stars and Stripes obtained copies of the two letters though DODEA declined to provide them, saying they were meant only for internal communication. A third letter was sent to Seoul American Elementary School.

One SAHS teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of retribution, said teachers were offended by the letter because they felt it put all of the blame on them and none on the administration.

rowland.ashley@stripes.com
Twitter: @Rowland_Stripes

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