A plan to limit the “forced placement” of veteran teachers in Denver’s lowest-performing and highest-poverty schools drew applause Thursday, and some opposition.

David Clayton, a parent at Montclair Elementary, echoed others when he said that he supported the plan “but only as a first step” toward extending the policy to all schools.

“Forced or direct placement is not good for our poorest-performing schools nor is it good for higher-performing schools,” said Clayton, a member of the group Stand for Children.

Because teachers with three years of experience are guaranteed jobs under state law, the district must place those unable to find their own positions by the end of the school year.

DPS placed 107 teachers in schools for the current year without the agreement of either the teachers or the principals.

Of the 107, 26 were being direct-placed for a second or third time. Five teachers have been direct-placed for three consecutive years.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg announced Feb. 5 that the district would not allow any direct teacher placements at schools on probation under the district’s school ratings system.

He also said he planned to limit direct teacher placements at Title 1 schools, meaning those schools with high poverty rates that receive federal grant dollars.

In past years, Title 1 schools have received a disproportionate number of unassigned veteran teachers.

“We’ve got to have the best trained people in our building,” said Antonio Esquibel, principal of Abraham Lincoln High School, where 91 percent of students are poor and 80 percent are English language learners.

“We need teachers that really understand what it means to be a second-language instructor and help get kids ready for college,” he said. “And that’s tough because there aren’t very many teachers out there in this country that have that background …

“I want to be able to select and be able to interview those candidates that possess those qualities.”

More than a dozen speakers, including a teacher and representatives of A+ Denver, Colorado Succeeds, the Denver Urban League and Padres Unidos, spoke in favor of the change.

One speaker, Henry Roman, the president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said the union is not in agreement with the plan.

He said the district needs to address broader issues, such as better mentoring of new teachers, if the idea is that direct-placed teachers are ineffective.

Otherwise, “When we make statements about ending forced placement, to me it’s an analogy like ‘Let’s end unemployment.’ I think all of us would agree that’s a lofty goal,” Roman said.

“Even in a well-functioning economic system, you’re always going to have a normal rate of unemployment. In a big system like DPS, we’re always going to have a normal rate of placements.”

But the most vocal opponent to the plan Thursday was school board member Andrea Mérida, who read aloud a resolution she said she’ll introduce at a later board meeting.

It states that any policy change regarding direct placements should wait until after improvements are made to the teacher evaluation system.

“…the Superintendent of Schools is directed to immediately produce … a plan for a teacher evaluation, mentorship and professional development system within 90 days of this resolution,” she read in part.

Read Merida’s resolution here.

Boasberg acknowledged the district and union do not agree on the issue but said they’ve been meeting for two years, without success, to address it.

“In the interim, do we continue to force place teachers disproportionately in our Title 1 Schools?” he asked. “I think that’s wrong.”

Merida shook her head and quietly said, “That’s not the issue.”

“The issue here is not the policy,” she later Tweeted from the meeting. “It’s the fact that we aren’t properly evaluating and keeping the RIGHT teachers in the 1st place.”

DPS and the Denver teachers’ union won a $10 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to improve teacher effectiveness. Boasberg said they’re collaborating on a pilot program on teacher observation, coaching and evaluation to be launched next spring in several schools.

The schools receiving the most direct placements in the past three years are in far northeast Denver – Martin Luther King Early College has received 11 teachers via forced placement and 10 have gone to Montbello High School.

Another 11 teachers have been assigned to central administration and not a specific school.

Faye Alexander, a parent at Montbello, said her children came home one afternoon and said, “Mom, we have a teacher in our building today who said, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ ”

“How does that make you feel as a parent that you have someone teaching your child that doesn’t want to be there?” she asked the board.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at nmitchell@pebc.org or 303-478-4573.

Click here to read the letters supporting the policy from North High Principal Ed Salem and West High Principal Jorge Loera.

Click here to read the latest DPS staffing update outlining the new process under the changed policy.