ORONO, Maine — Orono High School music students, soccer players and community members staged a protest at the town hall Wednesday afternoon in support of music teacher and orchestra director Waldo Caballero — a popular instructor for the past 15 years — who has been told he might lose his job.
Superintendent Joanne Harriman notified Caballero, who also is the boys soccer coach, earlier this month that he would be fired from his teaching post unless he can bring up his recertification test score by two points by the end of August, said Anna Caballero, wife of the longtime teacher.
Caballero, who is originally from Bolivia, needs a combined score of 526 on the reading, writing and math test to be certified under Maine Department of Education regulations, but scored a 524 because he failed to meet the writing requirement by two points, she said.
“We’re a small community and we don’t treat people the way the administration is treating Waldo,” she said. “We’re asking the superintendent to write a letter to the DOE to grant a conditional certification for another year, or for the school board to compel her to do that.”
Waldo Caballero has been “certified every year but it’s always conditional or a waived certification,” said Anna Caballero, who also works for the school department and helped to organize the student-led protest.
Even though he requested another waiver, Waldo Caballero said he is taking no chances and has been spending his free time studying to retake the test that will determine if he keeps his job.
He didn’t attend the protest because, “he’s studying for his exam,” Anna Caballero said.
Teachers can retake the Praxis test 21 days after a previous test, according to the Educational Testing Service website for Maine. The ETS offers the testing to teacher candidates and those who want to become certified.
Caballero is a conservatory-trained violinist who has played with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra for decades. Because English is a second language for Caballero he gets 50 percent more time to complete the test, his wife said.
Former student Kate Kirby, who now operates her own documentary film business, set up a Facebook page with the title “Not in Our Town” to let people know about the event.
“I heard about what was going on — the small-town rumors — and was shocked because Waldo has always been someone I admired,” Kirby said. “We don’t want that [his firing] to be something that happens in our town.”
Harriman said in an email that she could not talk about personnel, but she did say that, “The Superintendent’s Office and the School Board have received a number of emails and inquiries regarding the RSU 26 orchestra and soccer programs as well as the employment status of one of the teachers in RSU 26.”
“We want to assure the school community that RSU 26 will comply with state law and with any applicable provision of the collective bargaining agreement in making its employment decisions,” the superintendent said.
She added later that teacher certification rules state that, “Maine schools are prohibited from employing individuals that do not hold appropriate certification, how schools can lose their state funding if they employ such individuals, and the fact that individuals can forfeit their salary or benefits if they are employed without appropriate certification. If the Department determines that a school district has employed someone without the appropriate certification, the Department is also authorized to suspend or revoke the Superintendent’s certificate.”
Harriman also said rumors are circulating that the, “School Board has plans to cut the orchestra and soccer programs.”
Those rumors “are untrue,” the superintendent said. “The Board and the Superintendent believe that both programs are important and should remain available to students.”
The School Department has posted a help wanted ad for his post in the Bangor Daily News, which upset those who support him.
The classified ad states it’s an “anticipated opening,” and that “Experience is preferred but not required,” and has an Aug. 15 deadline for applying.
Approximately 50 people showed up at the July 15 school board meeting to voice their support of Caballero’s continued employment but were “gaveled down and ruled out of order when they tried to speak,” Anna Caballero said.
Then the police were called, she said.
Caballero was on the agenda because he was up for reappointment as the boys soccer coach, which was unanimously approved, his wife said.
The decision to call the police was made during the school board meeting, “after a member of the audience refused to respect the school district’s policy concerning public comment (despite several warnings),” Harriman said in an email.
The group of supporters and Waldo Caballero plan to attend the next school board meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, his wife said.