Let’s say you got a job offer. Maybe you quit your current job, made some changes to get ready for the new job, or even just told friends and family. It’s a big deal to get hired. Then the employer rescinds the offer. You’re angry and confused. Apparently, you also have very little you can do about it. Since employment “at will” is the rule of most states, you’re kind of stuck without a job, unless maybe you quit your last job and moved across the country for the new one (then you could sue and lose). Maybe. However, you can warn others about similar practices so that they don’t suffer through the same humiliation and financial hardships. This story is about River City Science Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, but it’s also about the potential dishonesty and evil in charter schools in general. To some degree, the story is also about Islam.
I AM going to mention the potential employer because there’s no chance I would work there after what happened to me, but mostly because my experience might represent a general practice at this or other charter schools. Someone searching for information about River City Science Academy Middle and High School should know what happened to someone else who was hired and then not hired. RCSA is kind of a public school, and it’s our tax money that pays for this school to operate in a way that you can judge for yourself, ethically and morally. In fact, the emails might even be public record. If not, they probably should be. And the test scores. And other accountability measures, especially finances, especially when the school is begging for Duval sales tax money.
Instead of me just complaining about how it all went down, I feel it’s important to let other job seekers, parents, students, and career politicians who claim to hate career politicians know what was (and was not) said so that they can decide for themselves if RCSA is a school that can be trusted. And whether or not it’s an entity to which our tax dollars should be sent.
River City Science Academy posted a job for an English and reading teacher for the upcoming school year (August) at another location with a middle school, which I responded to, even though the job wanted a reading endorsement. It was also advertised as a “Language Art” rather than Language Arts, but I did not correct the school in my application. I did not get a response from that school, but I did get an email from the RCSA Middle and High School just as its Language Arts Teacher position was posted to Indeed.
My name is REDACTED I am reaching out to you from River City Science Academy in Jacksonville Florida in regard to your resume. We are currently looking to interview for our Middle/High School location and your resume appears to match our needs. We would be very interested in speaking with you further about our school and available positions. Please reach back out to us at your earliest convenience, we look forward to hearing from you soon.
Again, I did not criticize the poor grammar. I just responded and later received a phone call. I was told the school wanted to have me in for an interview a week later, on March 25th. It was just me and the principal (we’ll call him Mr. Wizard). I nailed the interview, and I felt like it was a good match for my talents. I was told there would be a middle school and high school position open. When Mr. Wizard asked about my job search, I said it had just begun, but that it’s a lot of work to get all the resumes and letters out there. That’s when he said that I should just go ahead and stop sending more out because RCSA was going to offer me a position.
That was easy! One interview and one job. Later that day (March 25th), I received this message from Mr. Wizard:
Good afternoon Mr. REDACTED
We have discussed your employment status and decided to offer you LA teacher position for the 19-20 school year.
If you would like to be a teacher here at RCSA we will be happy to accept you. Please simply reply to this email so that we can secure the position for you.
Wow, “secure” sounds so official and contract-like. And something I wouldn’t have to worry about. I replied that I would accept, and I got this reply back:
Wonderful, welcome to RCSA!
Please do not waste any time to submit your paper work to FLDOE to get your certification and let us know about the progress so that we can start your hiring process with the district. Our account manager, REDACTED will contact you for the necessary paperwork for the school.
We are excited to have you here at RCSA.
Awesome! That’s a job offer if I ever saw one. I texted my parents and emailed my wife. Hooray for me! That same day, I received this from Ms. Ballerina:
This is the Business Specialist of the school, Welcome aboard.
Please prepare the following items:
Social security card
One VOID check
Original College Transcript (a copy is fine) if cannot get the original right away .
Are you available tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM to submit all the documents and finalize the other paper works.
We met the next Tuesday for me to turn in all the forms. Then I was a little confused about the next steps as I awaited my Florida Teaching License, so I asked about fingerprinting a couple of weeks later. My license was supposed to take 90 days, but I wanted to have the fingerprints into the state in case that could speed things up. Another two weeks went by, so I emailed again. Maybe this irritated someone. Here’s Mr. Wizard’s response to Ms. Ballerina that she forwarded to me:
We can not send the candidate information form to the county and request them to invite him for fingerprinting if we don’t have his FLDOE number, this is a must to be hired as a teacher. So, he can’t be hired without a FL teaching certificate. We may have to cancel his assignment if he can’t provide it before the hiring process.
Holy smokes! That turned kind of negative in a hurry. I decided I needed to get on the license thing immediately, so I contacted everyone I could think of. I had my FLDOE number in a couple of days after my local representative helped me out. I figured that was cause for celebration again. On May 1st, I sent my FLDOE number so that I could get fingerprinted and move things along. The response from Ms. Ballerina was:
Thank you for providing this one.
All of these emails were under the title “Subject: RCSA Job Offer,” not “Potential Job Offer” or Job Offer Contingent on Something Else.”
Later that day, I received a phone call from an English teacher. We’ll call her Ms. Maserati. She said that she wanted me to come in so that she and another English teacher could meet me and have me teach a lesson. Here’s her follow up email:
It was a pleasure speaking with you this afternoon, and I look forward to meeting with you next week Thursday, May 9th, at 9:00am and then observe your lesson from 9:48-10:40.
I have included REDACTED’s email address so that you could communicate with him about the details of his 3rd period class.
I figured I’d get a chance to meet a couple of staff members so that I would know what I’d be teaching, or at least so that they could decide whether I was a better fit for their high school or middle school at River City Science Academy. Both positions were supposed to be open.
I reached out to the other teacher (we’ll call him George Bernard) so that I could plan a lesson that related to what he was teaching in class. I figured that was the least I could do for a teacher giving up an hour of his time to watch me give a lesson. Here’s the reply from George Bernard:
Thank you for reaching out to me. Students have been doing FSA test prep reading passages for the past month or so, as they just completed the first part today and will finish on Monday. We will begin reading Othello in class next week. We plan to be around the end of Act 1 by Thursday. If you would like to do something with the play you can or you are more than welcome to do some other reading lesson on a different text and topic. There are nine students in the class. I gave them a heads up that you will be a teaching a lesson on that date.
OK, nine students learning Shakespeare. No big deal. I planned a lesson that talked about language and how it has changed over time. Not a spectacular lesson, but it was sure to be a decent discussion with only nine kids who were trying to wade through a difficult text.
Should it bother me that the kids had been doing test prep for a month? Yes, and it should bother you, too. But that’s a different issue. If schools want to do test prep instead of real teaching, that’s up to administrators, school boards, parents, and (lastly) teachers. It’s not good teaching or learning, unless “test prep” is code for skills learning. But it’s not.
Thursday arrived, and I went to the school to meet with the two teachers. They sat me down in George Bernard’s room and started asking me INTERVIEW questions. At one point, George Bernard said that I was INTERVIEWING for the middle school position, and I said that there was also a high school position. Ms. Maserati seemed to agree with me, but the fact that they did not know for sure and called it an interview kind of angered me.
And then, near the end of the interview, I was asked why I would be better than the other candidates they’d be interviewing. I’d tried to keep my cool because I still half-believed they were just trying to figure out where the new hire would fit in, but this seemed to be saying there was a chance I was one of several candidates suddenly. I totally blew that question, thinking I had make a bold statement about why I was better than others. The truth is that I’m not better than others, since someone was fresh out of college with all the latest techniques, and someone else probably had 20 years of teaching. Really, I was only better because I already had the damn job, but I couldn’t say that, right? So I beat my chest (metaphorically), proclaiming that I could teach any subject, design classes, be creative, work with technology, and generally make (quite possibly) inferior teachers conducting interviews have to admit to their own deficiencies. Yes, my resume showed that I could DO as well as teach, and that’s intimidating to many English teachers.
Anyhow, it was a real downer to have to teach a lesson after an interview that felt like I was getting ambushed by teachers with master’s degrees in Nothing In Particular. Then, I found out the kids were reading the dumbed-down version of Othello, so that even made my lesson look less relevant. Plus, I had a cute little intro that talked about the word “audition” and how my lesson was a sort of an audition. It was kind of a meta-lesson, discussing some methods I might use as I used other ones. Perfect for someone who already has a job, really, but not perfect for one of many candidates who just finished a lackluster interview.
Oh, and they brought in 15 students from another class so that I could teach to a full class, so only about five of the kids in the class were really reading the simplified Othello, and it was a little tough to get the other 15 excited about a discussion worksheet about something they were not even reading. And I’d only made 15 copies because I was told there’d be 9 Shakespeare scholars. Yes, I know a great teacher would have made it all work. But all those teachers are college professors writing about their two years in the classroom a decade ago.
I actually looked up the legal ramifications of rescinding a job offer as soon as I got home. I knew it was probably coming. I can light up a room (like I did with Mr. Wizard) or I can be just some regular old teacher who can’t give a good reason why he’s trying to get back into teaching, especially when the listeners seem non-receptive. Unfortunately, I can read a room better than just about anyone (as a writer, I watch for non-verbal and verbal cues), and I knew something was rotten in the state of River City Science. I knew it as soon as my second “interview”/ambush began.
The email came later that day. Mr. Wizard did not man-up and call me. I’m kind of glad he didn’t, since I’d already worked myself up about how I’d been wronged. Here’s the final word from Mr. Wizard of River City Science Academy:
Good afternoon Mr. REDACTED,
Thank you for your time and interest in a position at River City Science Academy. At this time, we do not see you as a good fit for our school. All of the best in your future endeavors.
That’s rich, since my future endeavors include writing about my experiences.
I had to tell my wife. She was angry. I explained how it went down, and she assumed (as did I) that the English Department rebelled when the teachers learned someone had been hired without their input. She started to ask her typical questions about why I didn’t do or say something, but she also realized that it was futile. Even if I had tried to play my hand, I wasn’t wanted. It was possibly as much a political statement to the administration as it was anything about me.
My daughter was the most distraught. I’d spent the better part of a month telling her about the school and how it would fit into her plans for the future. I said it was a STEM-type school that would now improve its English offerings with me there. I said she’d have plenty of opportunities in the classroom and as part of smallish sports teams. I said that I wanted to be there, teaching at her high school, and believing in the school that she would attend for four years. She had friends who were also planning on attending the school, so she was ready for high school, and excited about the opportunities. She cried a lot.
I had been promised a spot for both of my kids by the principal. In fact, he was ready to transfer them over after the interview, as well as hire me to substitute for the remainder of the year. Perhaps the fact that I’d taken another temporary job and my kids were fine at their current school played a role in my having to re-prove my value to the English Department.
Friends and family felt bad, but what could anyone do? Someone from church had warned my wife that the leadership at RCSA was flawed and run by Muslims and this and that. I had ignored it. Now I started to wonder if this was a religious thing, but I can’t see that. Mr. Wizard had hired me (quite definitively), and it was really the middle-aged, white, possibly Christian English Department folks who seemed to make the change. Besides, the Quran says, “Surely Allah does not guide him aright who is a liar, ungrateful.” (Surah az-Zumar 39:3)
And Islamic tradition calls lying the Seventeenth Greater Sin:
Beware I inform you regarding the greatest of the mortal sins: Associating anything with Allah, disobeying parents and lying! (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
All the evils have been locked in a room and its key is lying. (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
When a believer utters a lie without a valid excuse, he is cursed by seventy thousand angels. Such a stench emanates from his heart that it reaches the sky and because of this single lie Allah writes for him a sin equivalent to that of committing seventy fornications. Such fornications that the least of which is fornication with ones mother. (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
Therefore avoid the uncleanness of the idols and avoid false words. (Surah Hajj 22:30)
Falsehood is absolutely an evil and a sin. (Hazrat Muhammad al-Baqir)
Lying destroys Faith (al-Kāfi)
You get the picture. The very fact that River City Science Academy is run by Muslims from Turkey should mean that my job offer was real and valid, not some game that was being played.
If you read some Google reviews of RCSA, you will see a picture of a revolving door of principals, most of whom are probably related to one another (it's kind of a family business, it seems). I was also disturbed by some reference to a student who threatened the school and was dealt with quietly as to not alert the press. Red flags, I suppose.
I think it IS important to mention that River City Science Academy, a school in the most conservative large city in the country, is run by a group of people from Turkey who are part of a larger, controversial group that the Turkish government has called terrorists. I don’t agree with that assessment, based on my own research, but I do feel that River City Science Academy did blow me up, metaphorically. The school teaches Turkish as a World Language along with Spanish. Again, if you’re cool with your tax money going there, that’s fine by me. However, I’ve seen the Duval public school curriculum, and our real public school district uses taxpayer money to teach skills rather than test prep and languages most conservative Americans appreciate. And it probably honors offers of employment.
Maybe I am wrong, and maybe businesses and schools do play a game because of the protections of “at will” employment. I was shutting down my business, getting lessons ready, looking into books for my classroom collection, and generally becoming a teacher again for a month. I’d been given the benefits handout, and I’d already confirmed which doctors I’d have, how many years I’d have to teach to be vested in the retirement, and all the extras that I might be able to enjoy with a little extra cash. I even scheduled an MRI for my knee that will cost me $1,500 out of pocket because I wanted to get a surgery done before I changed insurance. And I made a list of the different clubs I could choose from to sponsor: web design, French, Urban Planning, green tech, etc. If it was a game, stringing me and several other “hired” teachers along while we did not apply elsewhere, then it’s probably illegal. If it was just me, it’s at least immoral and unethical. And it hurts.
In the end, I suppose it’s better this way, especially if the department was always going to dislike me because I was hired in spite of them. I can’t even imagine what people go through who lawyer up and then actually force the employer to give them the job. Back at my first job in teaching, I interviewed with the English Department only (the principal was on vacation), and he flat-out told me that he didn’t really like me as much as the teachers he’d hired. Luckily, he retired soon after, but I never attained Old Boys’ Club status. I assume the River City Science English Department had someone else in mind (like my former principal apparently had), and if Mr. Wizard had told them to go hug a tree instead of interview me, I probably would have endured uncomfortable staff meetings, at least until they also became believers. The fact that I talked about reading skills without teaching to the test, making connections between subjects, and my own business experiences likely made sense to the principal, but an English Department can see similar statements as sacrilege.
The Long and Short
It’s wrong for any business to string someone along. If it was a common occurrence, I am sure enough of the job seekers would rise up and force a change. I have to assume this is not a common practice among businesses and schools, and I was simply targeted. If I had failed to get my Florida license approved or had a background check issue, fine. If I’d been told when I was “hired” that it was conditional on teaching a specific lesson, fine. Even if I’d been told that I was still in the running but would have to meet with the department before a final job offer would be sent, that would also have been OK.
I don’t know exactly what to tell other teachers who get hired in March for the next year. Especially by a charter school, and specifically by River City Science Academy. I guess if you’re currently teaching somewhere, don’t let anyone know you’re leaving until you actually sign a contract. Don’t tell your kids if their future is tied to the job. Don’t tell your family back home. If you’re moving to town from elsewhere, don’t move until you sign a contract. A job offer, even with the wording in the emails I received, is not as official as a written contract. A good lawyer could probably prove that my job offer was basically a contract, based on the wording in the emails and the fact that I’d been given all the new employee materials.
I'd also like to take this opportunity challenge current teachers of River City Science Academy to create a real-world article in defense of the school. I am sure your English Department is full of talented writers, and Duval needs to know why you love working for RCSA. In fact, you should be writing five-paragraph essays defending your somewhat suspicious employer from Bernie Sanders and other detractors. Maybe you're just one that lov'd not wisely but too well.
If you’ve been hired by River City Science Academy in Jacksonville, don’t expect the employer to be honorable until you’ve started getting paychecks. If you’ve been hired by this school or any other charter school that uses taxpayer money, only to have your job offer rescinded, I’d love to hear from you. I am inclined to believe that I am mostly alone here, but I no longer trust charter schools, so maybe that’s what they do. If you do a little research, you’ll find plenty of greed in the charter school world. Lots of nepotism. It’s a good lesson in how allowing schools to be run like a business will sometimes bring business (lack of) ethics into the education world. I suppose I should be glad I’m not working for a business lacking ethics. As teachers, most of us never thought we’d have to deal with unscrupulous bosses, but those of you working for charter schools probably should be ready for business as usual.