FNE update: Some teacher jobs uncertain

One in five teachers in schools affected by the dramatic turnaround underway in Far Northeast Denver are without district jobs for the coming school year.

Demonstrators at one of several gatherings for and against the DPS proposal in FNE Denver.

Statistics released Friday by Denver Public Schools show that 55 of the 278 teachers at Montbello High School and five feeder schools this year – or 20 percent – don’t have a teaching position for 2011-12. That includes 38 probationary teachers with less than three years’ experience whose annual contracts were not renewed.

The district’s numbers show slightly more than that – 23 percent – have landed new jobs elsewhere within DPS through “mutual consent,” meaning both they and their new principals agreed to the placement. Another 2 percent found part-time teaching jobs through mutual consent.

Another 8 percent are in short-term placements, including temporary teaching assignments, substitute teacher positions or other instructional support roles such as tutoring or intervention jobs. And 2 percent have resigned or retired.

That leaves 126 teachers, or 45 percent, whose job status has not been significantly affected by the sweeping reform plan approved in November by Denver school board members to the accompaniment of emotional testimony on both sides. Those teachers’ jobs are secure for at least another year.

School board member Jeannie Kaplan, who has voiced concern about the fate of teachers in the FNE turnaround schools, said the number of teachers still looking for a home in the coming school year is “better, actually” than she had envisioned.

“I really would hate to be paying … teachers sitting in a rubber room doing nothing,” added Kaplan, who voted against the plan. “That’s what I don’t want to see happen. That would not be a good expenditure of taxpayer money.”

Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, filed an open records request with the district last week, seeking a detailed breakdown of teachers impacted by the changes.

He’s asking for years of experience, salaries and age – age discrimination is one factor in which he’s particularly interested.

“Even though people might be paying lip service, saying, ‘We value our experienced teachers,’ we might see the unintended results of these policies are different. That’s what we are trying to determine,” he said.

Roman said DPS leaders have asked for a seven-day extension beyond the three-day limit prescribed in the Colorado Open Records Act, so he’s expecting a response by June 9.

“The data should be clear, and it shouldn’t be hidden from anyone. We can try to explain what we’re doing with this policy but there’s what you explain and then there’s what happens,” he said. “Right now, anecdotally, I know of many teachers who don’t have assignments from Ford, Green Valley Ranch and McGlone Elementary. I know this personally, from teachers there.”

One teacher’s story of uncertainty

Marie Myfanawy started her last full week of the school year with no idea whether she had a future as a teacher in DPS.

One thing she did know – this would be the last of her 12 years as a third-grade teacher at McGlone Elementary.

Myfanawy, 58, said the staff at McGlone was put on notice in fall 2010 that because of chronic low performance, theirs was to become a turnaround school. In November, McGlone teachers learned they would have to re-apply for their jobs if they wanted to stay.

McGlone Elementary teacher Marie Myfanawy faces an uncertain future in DPS. (Shaina Cavazos )

Six teachers have been rehired by new principal Suzanne Morey. DPS officials said they have not tracked applications at the impacted FNE schools by applicant’s name so they could not provide re-application and re-hiring statistics for those schools.

Myfanawy spent her last day at McGlone Tuesday. Summer vacation for teachers began Wednesday.

“It’s really devastating. I’m really grieving,” she said. “In terms of my life, I would rate it right up there with death and divorce, in terms of its being emotionally devastating.”

Myfanawy said she applied for 35 teaching positions throughout DPS but only had five interviews – all five took place at two job fairs put on by DPS at Montbello High School.

She choose not to re-apply at McGlone after learning the school would seek innovation status, she said, which she equates with teachers forfeiting their union rights.

McGlone’s innovation application, which includes longer school days and a longer school year, is scheduled to be heard by the Denver school board on June 23.

Myfanawy admits to having experienced some conflict with the school’s outgoing principal. And she wonders if her status as McGlone’s union representative for seven years might have somehow undermined her job security.

“I’m a teacher who really goes the extra mile. So it’s hard for me not to imagine I have some kind of tag – either I have a bad recommendation from the principal or because of the union,” she said. “It seems strange to me. I love teaching and I’m really good at it.”

Out of 80 third-graders at McGlone last year, 14 tested as proficient readers on state exams – 12 of those were her students, Myfanawy said.

Teachers in impacted FNE:

  • Total teachers in six FNE schools: 278
  • Teachers whose jobs are not affected: 126 or 45%
  • Teachers impacted by FNE reform: 152 or 55%

Of the 152 impacted:

  • Teachers finding other jobs via mutual consent: 64
  • Teachers finding part-time jobs via mutual consent: 5
  • Teachers placed in short-term assignments: 23
  • Probationary teachers whose contracts were not renewed: 38
  • Teachers unassigned as of May 27: 17
  • Teachers retired or resigned as of May 27: 5

“I would be the first to tell you they needed to do something different in this school,” she conceded. “Students need to be achieving better than they are. But they should have handled this much better.

“If the district cared about how change was to happen, if they came and asked us what we thought was needed and let us develop the plan and gave us the time to implement it, if they had student achievement at heart rather than union-breaking, they could have done it that way.”

DPS spokesman Mike Vaughn said Montbello and its feeder schools, including McGlone, have been underperforming for years despite a heavy investment of resources and district support.

“The clear message from the community was that the students at these schools need dramatic change, and they need it now,” he said.

With her professional future cloudy, Myfanawy began taking precautions, including moving in with her daughter and son-in-law so she could pay her bills down if she became unemployed.

But at 4:51 p.m. Friday, she received an email from DPS telling her she has a temporary placement this fall at CMS Community School.

“I feel relieved,” she said. “I wonder why they didn’t tell me sooner. And I don’t know if I’m in a classroom or what I will be doing there.”

DPS officials said any non-probationary FNE teachers – those with more than three years’ experience – who don’t get positions by fall will be placed into short or limited-term assignments, such as instructional support.

Allen Smith, executive director of the Denver Summit Schools Network, said 85 percent of overall staffs are in place as well as all administrative staff.

“Our diversity within those staffs is pretty high for minorities,” Smith said. ”We have 25 percent Hispanic, 15 percent African-American and 22 percent second-language teachers.”

135 students on waitlists

The substantial upheaval for the teachers at the six schools was just one reason the plan drew heated protests from many in the community when it was approved by the DPS board.

Turnaround plan

  • Montbello High School is being replaced by High Tech Early College, Collegiate Prep Academy and a Denver Center for International Studies 6-12 program.
  • Noel Middle School is being phased out to be replaced by Noel Community Arts School and a KIPP charter school.
  • Ford Elementary is being replaced with a Denver Center for International Studies K-6 program.
  • Green Valley Elementary has a new principal who is hiring a new staff.
  • McGlone Elementary has a new principal who is hiring a new staff.
  • Oakland Elementary is being phased out to be replaced by a second SOAR charter school.

The turnaround scheme also dramatically changed the method for placement of students in the schools.

Rather than students simply being assigned to a neighborhood school based on their home address, incoming sixth and ninth-graders were required to list their top three preferences for middle and high schools. DPS then decided the placements based on students’ preferences combined with the school’s enrollment priorities.

Less than three months from students’ reporting for the new school year, district officials say they’re pleased with the way the transformation is progressing.

“It feels really good,” Smith said. “In December, I wasn’t so sure. But now, I’m very confident.”

Of the sixth- and ninth-graders who filled out the required paperwork with the DPS Office of Choice and Enrollment Services, 92 percent were placed at either their first or second choice FNE school, Smith said. The remaining 8 percent landed at their third choice.

A total of 135 students are currently wait-listed for a school they ranked as a higher preference than the one to which they are assigned.

That does not count 386 students who are on waiting lists at the Denver School of Science and Technology: Stapleton High School or the Denver School of Science and Technology: Green Valley Ranch Middle School, which are charter schools. Some of those students may have listed another FNE choice higher, and been assigned to that higher choice.

The turnaround plan passed last November called for the traditionally low-performing Montbello High School to be phased out and replaced by three new programs – a High Tech Early College, a Collegiate Prep Academy and a Denver Center for International Studies 6-12 campus.

All three were to be located at the Montbello campus. But High Tech Early College has since been moved to the former Samsonite building, site of the former Challenges, Choices and Images or CCI and Amandla charter schools, at 11200 E. 45th Avenue. The district leases the property.

“That changed right after the process (was approved) and after taking a look at the space needs and how to create a situation for the best success for all of the programs,” Smith said.

Raising questions about Blueprint

The FNE plan is being implemented with the assistance of the Blueprint Schools Network, a Massachusetts-based educational non-profit providing support to the district as it pursues a dramatic shift for its strategy in one of the most challenging parts of the city.

Roland Fryer, a Harvard professor who works with Blueprint, spoke in FNE Denver in March.

Blueprint, which shows one other major client on its website, the Houston Independent School District, employs strategies developed by Roland Fryer and the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University (EdLabs) through Fryer’s evaluation of the Harlem Children’s Zone intervention program.

The Blueprint philosophy emphasizes five core areas for improving the performance of a school and its students – excellence in leadership, increased instructional time, a no-excuses culture of high expectations, frequent assessments and daily tutoring in the critical growth years of fourth, sixth and ninth grades.

Smith said teaming up with Blueprint is working well in the FNE.

“We believe every child can learn and it is our responsibility to give them what they need to be successful,” he said.

He described intense immersion by key Blueprint staff in the FNE turnaround efforts, noting, “What we have with them is really a true partnership.”

However, Denver school board member Andrea Merida said she is frustrated because she’s asked DPS administrators repeatedly for contractual information on Blueprint and has yet to receive it.

“I’m at the point where I’m going to start filing lawsuits and get a court order to get the information I need,” said Merida, who voted against the FNE proposal.

“This is an oversight issue. We don’t do turnaround well. Implementation has always been a problem for us, and this is a population that really needs us to understand what’s going on there.”

Vaughn, the district spokesman, put the cost of work by Blueprint at about $330,000, which he said is covered through grant money. And, he said, the contract has not been finalized nor any money paid out. Board approval is not required for DPS expenditures of less than $1 million.

School-by-school breakdown of teachers impacted by FNE Denver turnaround

Ford Elementary

  • Total teachers: 43
  • Total impacted: 24
  • New job by mutual consent of teacher and principal: 10
  • Short-term placement: 3
  • Part-time mutual consent, part-time unassigned: 2
  • Probationary contract not renewed: 5
  • Unassigned: 4

Green Valley Elementary

  • Total teachers: 36
  • Total impacted: 33
  • New job by mutual consent of teacher and principal: 16
  • Short-term placement: 8
  • Probationary contract not renewed: 4
  • Unassigned: 2
  • Resigned: 2
  • Retired: 1

McGlone Elementary

  • Total teachers: 30
  • Total impacted: 29
  • New job by mutual consent of teacher and principal: 13
  • Short-term placement: 6
  • Probationary contract not renewed: 8
  • Unassigned: 2

Montbello High School

  • Total teachers: 93
  • Total impacted: 29
  • New job by mutual consent of teacher and principal: 5
  • Short-term placement: 4
  • Part-time mutual consent, part-time unassigned: 1
  • Probationary contract not renewed: 14
  • Unassigned: 4
  • Resigned: 1

Noel Middle School

  • Total teachers: 45
  • Total impacted: 18
  • New job by mutual consent of teacher and principal: 7
  • Short-term placement: 1
  • Probationary contract not renewed: 6
  • Unassigned: 3
  • Retired: 1

Oakland Elementary

  • Total teachers: 31
  • Total impacted: 19
  • New job by mutual consent of teacher and principal: 13
  • Short-term placement: 1
  • Part-time mutual consent, part-time unassigned: 2
  • Probationary contract not renewed: 1
  • Unassigned: 2

**Examples of teachers whose jobs are not impacted by the FNE turnaround plan in 2011-12 include those in schools whose programs are being gradually phased out.
Source: Denver Public Schools’ response to Colorado Open Records Act request.