Background checks

Chicago schools start Tuesday, but 511 employees don’t have clearance yet

PHOTO: Getty Images
266 employees have not cleared background checks, and 245 employees have not submitted fingerprints.

With back to school right around the corner, the majority of Chicago schools’ 43,000 employees have cleared background re-checks, the district said Sunday. Still, 266 employees have not been cleared, and 57 of those employees are teachers.

As of Sunday, 98 percent of staff had been cleared to return to school. The employees who were not cleared were flagged because of something on their record suggesting a charge related to sexual misconduct, violence, or dangerous criminal activity. 

“[Chicago Public Schools] will be conducting thorough investigations in all of these instances to better understand the circumstances of each unique case,” district spokesman Michael Passman said in a statement.

An additional 245 employees have not submitted their fingerprints to the district. They also are not permitted to teach.

Earlier this week, the district’s background checks temporarily snagged hundreds of employees. A Chicago Teachers Union spokeswoman said on Friday that the union had received dozens of calls from alarmed teachers who were not yet cleared to return to school, including teachers who had been arrested for a 2016 downtown protest of pension cuts. On Sunday, the district said teachers who had been flagged for charges related to protest or political activity were cleared.

In June, the Chicago Tribune released a series of stories revealing big gaps in how the district handled complaints of sexual misconduct against students by teachers, coaches, and other adults who work in schools. Scrambling to address systemic lapses, the district moved quickly to implement a series of new policies, including requiring all employees, vendors, and volunteers to complete background re-checks before the beginning of the new school year.

Chicago schools’ Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said in an e-mailed letter to parents Sunday that the overwhelming majority of adults in schools are committed to keeping children safe, but “it’s the small minority of employees whose records require deeper inquiry (who) will receive the thorough review they deserve.”

The district also required all employees to re-submit fingerprints before the start of the school year. The district said that if employees go to work without having submitted their fingerprints, they will be disqualified from future employment with the district.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney and Illinois Executive Inspector General Maggie Hickey has been hired by the district to review how it handles sexual misconduct cases. CPS released her preliminary findings in early August. “By conducting the background check refresh,” she wrote, “CPS has made significant progress toward ensuring that all adults working in schools have been background checked under uniform, rigorous standards.”

Top teacher

Franklin educator is Tennessee’s 2018-19 Teacher of the Year

PHOTO: TDOE
Melissa Miller leads her students in a learning game at Franklin Elementary School in Franklin Special School District in Williamson County. Miller is Tennessee's 2018-19 Teacher of the Year.

A first-grade teacher in Franklin is Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year.

Melissa Miller

Melissa Miller, who works at Franklin Elementary School, received the 2018-19 honor for excellence in the classroom Thursday evening during a banquet in Nashville.

A teacher for 19 years, she is National Board Certified, serves as a team leader and mentor at her school, and trains her colleagues on curriculum and technology in Franklin’s city school district in Williamson County, just south of Nashville. She will represent Tennessee in national competition and serve on several working groups with the state education department.

Miller was one of nine finalists statewide for the award, which has been presented to a Tennessee public school teacher most every year since 1960 as a way to promote respect and appreciation for the profession. The finalists were chosen based on scoring from a panel of educators; three regional winners were narrowed down following interviews.

In addition to Miller, who also won in Middle Tennessee, the state recognized Lori Farley, a media specialist at North City Elementary School in Athens City Schools, in East Tennessee. Michael Robinson, a high school social studies teacher at Houston High School in Germantown Municipal School District, was this year’s top teacher in West Tennessee.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen praised the finalists for leading their students to impressive academic gains and growth. She noted that “teachers are the single most important factor in improving students’ achievement.”

Last year’s statewide winner was Cicely Woodard, an eighth-grade math teacher in Nashville who has since moved to a middle school in the same Franklin district as Miller.

You can learn more about Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year program here.

PSA

Have you thought about teaching? Colorado teachers union sells the profession in new videos

PHOTO: Colorado Education Association

There are a lot of factors contributing to a shortage of teachers in Colorado and around the nation. One of them — with potentially long-term consequences — is that far fewer people are enrolling in or graduating from teacher preparation programs. A recent poll found that more than half of respondents, citing low pay and lack of respect, would not want their children to become teachers.

Earlier this year, one middle school teacher told Chalkbeat the state should invest in public service announcements to promote the profession.

“We could use some resources in Colorado to highlight how attractive teaching is, for the intangibles,” said Mary Hulac, who teaches English in the Greeley-Evans district. “I tell my students every day, this is the best job.

“You learn every day as a teacher. I’m a language arts teacher. When we talk about themes, and I hear a story through another student’s perspective, it’s always exciting and new.”

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has brought some resources to help get that message out with a series of videos aimed at “up-and-coming professionals deciding on a career.” A spokesman declined to say how much the union was putting into the ad buy.

The theme of the ads is: “Change a life. Change the world.”

“Nowhere but in the education profession can a person have such a profound impact on the lives of students,” association President Amie Baca-Oehlert said in a press release. “We want to show that teaching is a wonderful and noble profession.”

As the union notes, “Opportunities to teach in Colorado are abundant.”

One of the ads features 2018 Colorado Teacher of the Year Christina Randle.

“Are you ready to be a positive role model for kids and have a direct impact on the future?” Randle asks.

Another features an education student who was inspired by her own teachers and a 20-year veteran talking about how much she loves her job.

How would you sell the teaching profession to someone considering their career options? Let us know at co.tips@chalkbeat.org.