We Have a Problem

Filthy bathrooms, dirty pictures, teachers fleeing in droves -- sounds like Apollo Middle School is adrift

Both Broward schools superintendent Frank Till and area superintendent Samuel Gregg admit that an uncommonly large number of teachers have left the school. Till explains that, while the high numbers merit an examination of the school, he hesitates to make assumptions about why teachers are leaving. He points out that teachers move for many reasons.

"I can say that quite a few people have left," Gregg says. "I don't know why so many teachers left."

Clearly, though, Gregg has had ample opportunity to learn about the problem. In late July 2000, about 15 Apollo Middle School teachers filed into a conference room inside the South Area Office on SW 90th Avenue in Cooper City. With Gregg and South Area Director Jackie Box presiding, the teachers and staff members went around the room and read from written statements. Their stories concerned false accusations, threats, and worries about a steep decline in school discipline. But one common vein ran through all the testimony: a deep resentment -- sometimes even a hatred -- for Aimee Zekofsky.

At least 48 Apollo employees have left since principal Aimee Zekofsky came to the school in 1998
At least 48 Apollo employees have left since principal Aimee Zekofsky came to the school in 1998

"We are a group of teachers who are dedicated to Apollo Middle School and its students. I have worked at Apollo for 15 years and I am incredibly saddened by what has taken place recently," Lesa Parnham read -- from the same letter quoted earlier in this article. "I know the concerns that other people are going to be bringing to you are professional as they should be. Unfortunately mine are of a personal nature because Mrs. Zekofsky chose to involve herself in a very personal part of my life. I was too shocked and intimidated at the time to keep her out of it, as she is the principal and has a reputation for being vindictful [sic]."

Physical education teacher and union steward Sue Haight organized the meeting with Gregg and Box because "these teachers needed to voice their concerns of personal treatment. Many more wanted to be there but were afraid to attend," she explains. "The main focus was to voice personal and school concerns and to find a solution to work together as a faculty for the benefit of the children of Apollo. Mr. Gregg and Ms. Box were sincerely interested and receptive."

Gregg says that Apollo is now on the upswing: "It appears that the principal is trying to straighten out a lot of things at that school. The things I have looked into have been corrected." Till adds that he has not heard any teacher complaint during the 2000-2001 school year.

Teachers interviewed for this story, both those who have left and those still at the school, say Zekofsky's third year there is quieter simply because so many of the teachers are new and don't know how a school is actually supposed to function.

In just the past few weeks, at least two parents have pulled their children out of Apollo because they do not think the school is safe.

Sharon Willover, who now home-schools her daughter Amanda, says she took the girl out of Apollo because three boys -- one of whom recently broke into the Willovers' home while they were on vacation -- were stalking Amanda, an eighth grader. Willover says she complained about the problem to administrators, but the harassment continued.

When Willover continued to complain, administrators' solution, she says, was to find ways to have Amanda go out of her way to avoid the boys: For example they gave Amanda a pass to leave each class five minutes early.

"She's the one being punished for something she never did," Willover declares. "There is not enough disciplinary action. It's disorganized. The whole school has changed." She adds that she has observed the teacher exodus. "I just notice there are a lot of teachers leaving who were good teachers," she says. "All the teachers started leaving when [Zekofsky] got there."

Another parent, Yvette Smith, says she withdrew her son, sixth grader Joseph, and her daughter, eighth grader Sugar, from Apollo because she was so concerned for their safety that she would spend all day at work consumed by worry.

According to Smith, a fellow student started picking on Joseph about sixth months ago. For the first three months of the problem, Smith told Joseph to tell his teacher. When the harassment continued, Smith says, she met with a guidance counselor, who vowed to solve the problem.

Smith worried that the two boys would fight, and she wasn't being overly protective. Joseph has a hole in his heart; even minor cuts and scrapes can lead to serious infections. Smith insists the school knew about the medical problem. When the school suspended both boys for fighting a month later, Smith again met with administrators, who assured her they would put the boys in separate classes -- but that never happened. Then, a few days later, Smith received a letter stating that Joseph had been arrested the day of the fight. Angry that no one had told her about the arrest sooner, Smith went back to the school again and demanded answers from administrators. Again, she says, no one responded to her.

When the other boy shoved a pencil up Joseph's nose a week later, Yvette lost all patience with Apollo administrators. On that day Smith withdrew her children, who now attend McNicol Middle School in Hollywood.

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