Layoffs steer teachers to new posts in district
For the five years he taught at Westerville North High School, Chris Poynter lived and breathed physical education and health.
In addition to his regular classes, he was part of a district committee that examined the physical-education curriculum and recommended changes, and he's part of a 10-teacher Ohio Department of Education committee that's looking to do the same statewide this year.
Poynter said he was passionate about working to address the childhood obesity problem -- in Westerville, statistics show 30 percent of students are overweight, he said -- while pushing students to improve their character as well as their health.
As the new school year began, Poynter found himself in an entirely different type of classroom.
He's now part of the English as a Second Language teaching staff at Hawthorne Elementary School.
Poynter's position at Westerville North was one of 32 eliminated through a reduction in force enacted by the Board of Education in April to balance the district budget.
"I am definitely on the other side of the spectrum," Poynter said.
When the district makes a reduction in force, teachers whose positions are cut are eligible to apply for any position they are certified to teach.
Poynter was in the process of getting his ESL certification at Otterbein University after a colleague impressed by his travels as a Marine encouraged him to do so.
"He said, 'You need to look at getting your (ESL) certification,' " Poynter said.
"Someone who has been to all these countries and witnessed these cultures first hand can really bring something to the table," the colleague told him.
Poynter said as he prepared for his new position this summer, he sought advice from anyone who was willing to give it.
"I asked just about everyone and anyone who would answer questions," he said.
Kim Niles found herself in a similar position.
After a career in another field, Niles began volunteering in Upper Arlington at her children's schools, helping to integrate technology.
She earned her master's degree in education and began teaching part-time before accepting a full-time job in Westerville schools three years ago. Since then, she's taught business technology at the high schools.
When her position was cut through the RIF, she found a new position as a technology integration specialist.
For that, Niles will split her time among some of the district's elementary schools, training teachers on new technologies and working with their classes on projects that use technology.
"I get to teach teachers how to use technology instead of high-schoolers," Niles said.
Niles took classes over the summer to help her prepare for the new position.
She said she's already created some partnerships with teachers to work on classroom projects.
The district just conducted a study of elementary school teachers to see what sorts of professional development they need in regards to technology.
From that survey, and other requests from teachers, Niles will develop her program to fill the need, she said.
"I can support the teachers in a lot of different ways," she said. "Technology-wise, I can do a lot for them, and they are so appreciative."
After the difficulties of being laid off, Niles said she's now optimistic about her new post.
"I had been (laid off) three times," she said.
"They tell you in November, then in April, then in May," Niles said. "When I saw they created this position, I went for it."
Leaving the district was never an option, she said.
"Once you're in a district three of four years, you get to know all the kids, and your heart's really in it," Niles said. "I'm ingrained in Westerville, the good times and the bad times."
Poynter said he felt the same way when his position was terminated.
He said he also plans to stick with teaching ESL, even though the district offered him his former position back after the new teachers' contract allowed the board to restore some physical-education positions last week.
He said the staff, and the kids, at Hawthorne already have made him want to stay.
"This Hawthorne staff is amazing; I couldn't see going back," Poynter said.
"These kids know they have a deficiency, and they want to work on it, and they are just so appreciative of every minute you spend with them," he said. "It's refreshing."