30 June, 2011

My Favourite Psychopaths

I wrote this letter to one of the higher-ups in the Victorian Education Department late last year.

Dear Phillip,

I have an issue I would like to discuss with you concerning Solar Hills PS, where I was Leading Teacher (ICT-Middle Years) between January 2004 and May 2005.

I left SHPS to go on WorkCover after suffering a stress-related illness due to workplace bullying by the Principal Min Worland and then acting A-P Gavroula Parageorgiou. My subsequent WorkCover claim detailed the harassment I had been subjected to and was accepted by the insurer CGU without proceeding to a Conciliation Hearing. I have been led to believe that claims must have an uncommonly strong basis for this to occur. I learned at around this time that I had become the fifth Leading Teacher or above to leave Solar Hills PS in six years. Two of these senior staff had transferred out, one had re-graded to speed his exit and one had, like myself, gone onto WorkCover, never to return.

The formal complaint I made against Gavroula was upheld and the investigator, then acting Western Metropolitan Region Director Noel Downs informed me that she had been given a warning. The claims I made against Min could not be substantiated as some incidents I described in the complaint had occurred while no-one else was present. I also believe there was a reluctance on the part of SHPS staff members who had witnessed Min’s harassment to put themselves in a situation where they might become the next target. I have the letters from WMR on file.

Having maintained semi-regular contact with a couple of staff members from SHPS I have been very disheartened to learn that there has been no leavening of the situation. I have heard that WorkCover claims for stress-related illnesses by SHPS staff members have continued and compassionate transfers have been granted to some teachers. Others have managed to transfer or find employment elsewhere via fortuitous natural attrition. Still others remain at SHPS.

Some weeks ago, I visited a staff member, Desi Simonidis, in the Mercy Mental Health Unit. Desi is an Education Support Officer of some 30 years standing at SHPS and is much-loved by the whole community. That wasn’t enough to protect her from being targeted by Min & Gavroula. She’s home now, but very unwell. Seeing Desi brought it home to me that something needs to be done.

Min & Gavroula habitually create conflict where none is necessary, construct adversaries out of thin air and simply must have a target. I wonder as I write this exactly who among the current staff has found themselves in Min and Gavroula’s cross-hairs because they: came up with a good idea before Min & Gavroula did; asked a question thought innocuous by everyone except those two; received praise from a staff-member that Min or Gavroula don’t like; noticed that the staff consultation provisions fall well short of those in the Agreement; or shown interest in AEU involvement. Or for no particular reason that anyone can discern.

These people have subjected teachers and ESOs to some terrible treatment over the past ten years. Unfortunately, many staff have not felt confident enough to make a formal complaint, so to be fair, neither WMR nor DEECD may have seen the accumulation of evidence necessary for them to be in a position to take firm action.

When I put it to the acting WMR Director at a 2006 interview that the school deserved better and could WMR not see a pattern in WorkCover claims emanating from SHPS, he told me that WMR were well aware of the situation. I don’t know if it’s a case of just waiting for the 60+years-old Min to retire and hope that the situation is resolved that way but Gavroula recently became the successful applicant for the A-P position and if anything, she has been a baleful influence on the gullible Min. The point being that no improvement should be expected while Gavroula is A-P, let alone if she was to become Prin.

When I left SHPS I felt that I had to forge ahead. I’d made a formal complaint after all, so I’d done my bit and to pursue the matter further might have appeared vexatious. I am satisfied with the way WMR investigated and acted upon my complaint back in 2005. But I had hoped that the warning to Gavroula might bring about some change. That is not the case. I want to emphasize that I am not seeking to have that matter re-opened, unless as part of an accumulation of evidence against Min and Gavroula.

The problem is that once clear of that very toxic work environment most people don’t want to be reminded of it, despite feeling greatly aggrieved and concerned for those who remain. I feel a bit guilty about not having followed things up and wish to see something tangible done about these very real threats to the health and well-being of hard-working, committed staff-members in a good school. One that is long overdue for some positive leadership.

I would appreciate any opportunity to discuss this matter with you and be grateful for any advice you could give me as to how to proceed with this.



Ann ODyne said...

gosh you are brave to post all that. if it is any consolation, there are other Min & Gavs in the system, causing stress leading to illness in excellent teachers.
Thomas Hobbes famous quote about life seems apt here - brutish etc.

so what happened when the information was received?

Lad Litter said...

There are plenty of them out there but it's very unlucky to find the two leadership positions in a school occupied by psychopaths. Usually it's just one or t'other.

The Prin was retired (not just because of my missive, there's been a build-up) and the Asst-Prin was denied the opportunity toact in the Prin role.

Kath Lockett said...

Oh Lad, this is awful. I was in a similar situation (at uni, not school) and had a similar outcome. It seems that academics who bring in grants are allowed to behave appallingly but research assistants (or teachers, in your case) are expendable.

I do understand, however, that when you've been through something so soul-destroying, all you want to do is get away and it's a big ask to return and 'fight the fight' on behalf of others. I keep telling myself that karma is real and they'll get their just desserts somehow, even if their victims are not there to witness it.

Thanks for sharing this with us.

Lad Litter said...

Thanks for the sympathetic comment. Hopefully, the deprtment will sort out the remaining problem child and the school can achieve its potential.