Bad Apple Bullies

Bad Apple school principals and departmental officers bully classroom teachers into ill health and out of work.

Eltham Primary School : Dr Mark Thompson's story.

Dr Mark Thompson was the respected principal of Eltham Primary School.

He worked up to seven days a week.

He was suffering from workplace stress.

Anyone who works in the education system knows how the pressure builds up over years.

Principals and teachers are dealing with parents and students with mental health issues, drug problems and complicated family lives.

Principals say they are crushed by the volume of administrative tasks that were previously handled by the Education Department.

 

Towards the end of the 2014 school year, a mother marched into the Eltham Primary School and thrust a white envelope at Mark Thompson.

No, she didn't want to sit down and chat.

Fifteen months earlier the mother had contacted the school about enrolling her disabled child.

She was asked to provide evidence that she lived in the school's zone.

A few weeks later she wrote to say she had found a more suitable school.

Dr Thompson presumed that was the end of it.

But inside the mother's white envelope was a Christmas card.

And in the Christmas card was the mother's handwritten message : "I hope 2015 is a year in which you can learn to open your minds and expand your pedagogical knowledge enough not to be afraid of children with a disablility".

There was another letter in the envelope.

It was a legal letter to the Education Department deputy secretary, the Education Minister and the Ombudsman in which the mother accused Mark Thompson of discriminating against her child.

 

"That was the straw that broke the camel's back," said Meadowglen Primary School principal Dr Loretta Piazza.

 

After receiving the Christmas card and legal letter, Mark became obsessed. He stayed up late at night scouring discrimination laws and drafted numerous responses.

He asked Education Department staff for help.

"They told Mark that he's be fine, that he dealt with this all the time," his wife remembers.

Mark's doctor prescribed him antidepressants.

His family were asked to watch over him.

It took Mark 10 days to draft his response.

 

Not long afterwards, on December 7 2014, Dr Thompson took his own life.

 

"My dad was a great educator. His focus all throughout his career was putting students first," said Dr Thompson's son, Matt.

"But he spent, particularly towards the end of his career, so much time dealing with trivial complaints from parents ... I think towards the end it all perhaps got too much for him".

 

 

At the time of his death Dr Thompson was working as co-author on a study that revealed assistant principals were reluctant to take on the role of principal due to long hours, high levels of stress, burnout and abuse from parents and students.

Co-author Dr Piazza completed the study after Dr Thompson's death. 

 

 

Dr Thompson's wife Lynda is also a school principal.

She understood what her husband was going through.

While she was a new principal at Merna Primary School she had issued a trespass notice to prevent an aggrieved parent from entering the school grounds.

Eggs had been pelted at her school office, the side panels of her car had been scratched, mysterious placards had appeared around the school and the lock on the school gates had been superglued closed.

 

"Parents have a lot of say in how you run your school, they think they have the right to question you all the time," Mrs Thompson said.

"Parents feel they are entitled to tell you how they think the school should be run.

"And it's not from an educational point of view, it's from their own social and emotional point of view.

"Principals are under the pump with parent complaints.

"It is very time consuming and unfortunately principals have to prove their innocence all the time."

 

Mrs Thompson has been on leave all year, and said the Education Department had not provided much support.

"My life is very different," she said.

"My family miss him every day. He has missed out on his daughter's wedding, the birth of our first grandchild. I am finding it very difficult".


"My kids and I ask ourselves this question every day : 'What happened at that moment; why did it happen?'

"This is not something anyone should go through, especially over a job."

 

Lynda Thompson pursued the Workcover dependent's compensation claim for her husband's legacy.

"I want to improve the working conditions of principals and teachers," she said.

 

Lynda Thompson knows that there are plenty of other teachers and principals working under stress.

She wants people to talk about suicide more.

 

Mrs Thompson said Workcover claims involving mental health issues were very hard to prove.

But in May 2016, after a gruelling 18-month wait, Mrs Thompson received official confirmation that workplace stress was a factor in her husband's death.

She won a landmark payout.

 

Dr Piazza said the Victorian Education Department must provide greater support to school leaders.

"A number of senior people at the department don't have an educational background ... they don't know what it's like to be pursued by a disgruntled parent, or to have your tyres slashed by a student," she said.

"While they have a number of fantastic skills, if they have never worked in schools, they have no understanding of the pressures and the day-to-day issues facing principals."

 

 

'This is not something anyone should go through, especially over a job': the sickness plaguing our principals, Henrietta Cook, The Age, 23 October 2016

Landmark payout for widow of Melbourne principal who took his own life, Henrietta Cook, The Age, 14 May 2016

Stress, burnout, abuse deter deputy principals : study, Nick Toscano, The Age, 8 January 2016 .

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All of the information on this webpage is already in the public domain.

Publishing this information may support other teachers and principals who are dealing with workplace abuse.

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