Colorado

Forced placement of teachers is hot topic

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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”