Saturday, June 26, 2010

Just a Letter in the Mail

For several years, Retha’s office was next to my classroom, and we popped in to talk to each other daily. In addition to being an organized and efficient secretary to an assistant principal, Retha served as school mother to hundreds of high school kids. When they were excited, she listened to their stories. When they were upset or concerned about something, she always found time to listen patiently and offer support. When they misbehaved or acted irresponsibly, she gently exerted her mom authority.

For many years, Retha was involved in organizing and supervising scores of school activities. From school dances to monthly character education lessons to honors assemblies, Retha worked behind the scenes tirelessly for weeks to help arrange events and then stayed on the sidelines during the affair in order to allow other students and faculty members to shine in the spotlight. She always deflected the credit to other faculty members although all of us knew that many school activities would have collapsed or failed without Retha’s hard work and heart.

Schools need teachers and administrators, but secretaries and aides who help to create a family atmosphere are priceless. Retha was invaluable and irreplaceable, and students and teachers loved her. In recognition of her contribution to the school, a couple of years ago Retha was selected Cobb County Support Person of the Year in a district of over 100,000 students!

A couple of weeks ago Retha and her husband packed their car and set off on a family trip at the end of a very long school year. After several hours of driving, Retha started going through the stack of mail they had brought with them and opened a letter from the school district. Shockingly, the letter contained the sentence, “We regret that your job has been eliminated.”

Yes, Retha, found out in a letter from an individual she had never met and whose name she did not know.

No one from the school called Retha to prepare her for the possibility that her job might be cut.

No one from the school contacted her to tell her personally the life-changing news.

No one!

Just a letter in the mail

Severe economic problems forced my school district to cut over 700 jobs at the end of the school year. In such a bad economy, what choice did they have? These aren’t evil people. They are good people doing the best that they can do to educate students in a suburban community with climbing unemployment and shrinking tax dollars.

Good people!

That’s why it is so hard to understand how good people could have been so heartless to inform Retha by mail. I have no doubt that school administrators were upset about losing Retha. They know how much time and love she devoted to the school and know how much the school will suffer because of Retha’s loss. I also suspect that they were uncomfortable and didn’t want to have to tell Retha personally. Oh, what difference it would have made if school officials had remembered and practiced the Golden Rule.

Retha is angry and hurt because she has lost a job she loves and also because school officials relied on bureaucracy instead of compassion. Retha, however, is resolute and optimistic. “God has a plan for me,” she told me. “I just have to be patient until He reveals his plan.”

Retha’s story is heartbreaking and illustrates only one of the stories of thousands of teachers and school personnel who have lost their jobs across the country in the last couple of months.

When will this end?


  1. I hope you forward this to our school board. So sad . . .

  2. It's like Death of a Salesman when Biff tells Willie, "Pop, I'm a dime a dozen and so are you." I never let myself forget this. I'm sorry for your friend and I hope she gets something even better. Even though the district didn't value her, she can hold her head up knowing that she changed the lives of many, many people.

  3. Teri, oh how things have changed! Unfortunately, few Cobb officials seem to care anymore. Amy, I hadn't thought about Death of a Salesman until your post, but it is so true! Depressing!

  4. Thanks Edie for the great blog. I am a personal friend of Retha's. I know her work ethics and KMHS has lost a "one of a kind" employee. I have stood by Retha for years saying,"leave school, they don't pay you enough to stay there that long". She is the kind of person to get the job done, as close to perfection as possible--if time allows. It is so sad to be so disappointed in an institution one has loved so much; no "goodbye time", no closure, just gone. Please keep Retha in your thoughts and prayers, it is so hard to "start-over" in your late 50's. I know there is a plan, and hopefully it will be awesome and start to heal the hurt.

  5. Amen, Edie.

    Thanks for putting this so eloquently ---- :(