Colorado

Changes proposed to DPS “do not rehire” policy

Only a few probationary teachers whose contracts were not renewed next year would be banned from teaching for life by the Denver Public Schools under policy tweaks discussed by the school board Monday.

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Melissa Valverde McKibben, a recently blacklisted kindergarten teacher from Force Elementary, says the “do not rehire” policy should be overturned at a DCTA press conference Monday.

The remaining 70-plus teachers placed on the so-called “do not rehire” list this year could have a shot at returning to Denver schools in three years if they can demonstrate improvement in another district or charter school.

But the teachers union said teachers should be immediately able to apply for other district jobs if there are principals willing to hire them. And school board members who discussed the controversial practice at a work session said they wanted more specifics.

“It’s a good first stab,” board member Jeannie Kaplan said. “But there is a lot of un-specificity. It doesn’t give me great cause for celebration.”

At a midday press conference in front of the DPS administration building, Denver Classroom Teachers Association President Henry Roman said the changes proposed by staff are headed in the right direction but don’t go far enough. He said he agreed that teachers should be blacklisted for “egregious and criminal actions.” But the DCTA believes a three-year waiting period is too harsh.

“We want to make sure [DPS] grants immediate rehiring eligibility for our teachers without a waiting period of banishment from the district,” Roman said. “And we want to make sure the board gets to review information based on recommendations.”

Roman complained that many of the 220 probationary teachers whose contracts were not renewed this spring were not given adequate help and support — even when they asked for it.

“We absolutely want a highly effective and qualified teacher in every classroom,” he said. “This ‘do not rehire’ policy assumes everything wrong in Denver Public Schools is because teachers are not working hard enough, which is absolutely not true.”

Following the press conference and again later to the board, Superintendent Tom Boasberg reiterated the same points he has made in response to teacher complaints about the practice.

“This affects fewer than 2 percent of our teachers,” Boasberg said. “This is based on teachers where there are very significant performance issues. It’s based on multiple observations…It’s based on growth…We look at every one of these cases very carefully.”

Boasberg said this approach is more fair than the old way of doing business, which was to either give a probationary teacher tenure after three years or fire them. Now, probationary status can be continued indefinitely.

“Our sole interest to have the best teachers in the classroom,” Boasberg said. “The research is so clear that nothing matters more for students than the quality of our teachers.”

Boasberg said it would be wrong to allow a teacher who had repeatedly shown no  student growth to be shipped off to another Denver school.

“We can’t go back to the days when political pressure meant more to performance in terms of who is teaching our kids,” he said.

Teachers complain of power wielded by some principals

However, several teachers who spoke at the press conference said they still felt that personal vendettas by principals could determine a person’s fate as a teacher.

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CMS Community School parent Angela Rodriguez complains about the number of probationary teachers whose contracts were not renewed at her school at a DCTA news conference Monday.

Darcy Bauer, an early childhood educator, said she was blacklisted by DPS in 2012.  She said two other Denver principals were willing to interview her, but they couldn’t due to her being on the “do not rehire” list.

“Quite frankly, we’re treated like criminals,” she said. “When this happened to me, it was a shattering experience. It was unfair and deeply disturbing.”

Melissa Valverde McKibben, a recently blacklisted kindergarten teacher from Force Elementary, said she had demonstrated results with her students but described being “lied to” by her principal and the district after being promised help and support but not receiving it. She also said she is not a “yes man” and said nothing could make her principal like her after she spoke up.

“Only after I was non renewed and labeled ‘do not rehire’ did they take a look at my data,” said McKibben, who spoke as her family stood behind her.  “I was shut out for an ambiguously vague reason, ‘We didn’t see what we were looking for.’”

Angela Rodriguez, a mom of three students at CMS Community School, said 27 teachers from her school were not renewed based on the recommendations of a first-year principal whom she said lacked the experience to make the recommendations.

“We as parents should have a say so whether these teachers should stay or not,” Rodriguez said. “We know the value they bring to our children.”

Proposed changes to practice

The proposed change to a longstanding district practice came in the wake of vocal outcry from the teachers union and many of the 80 probationary teachers who were blacklisted this year.

The initial do not rehire was not part of any official policy but was a well-known practice in Denver.

Under proposed changes, the district’s Department of Human Resources, in consultation with the teacher’s supervisor and the instructional superintendent, would be responsible for determining whether a teacher whose probationary contract has been non-renewed will be eligible for rehire within the district.

District staff made it clear that the changes have nothing to do with teachers in good standing whose positions are eliminated or those who are simply not a good fit at their current school. Those teachers are immediately eligible for rehire in the district. Still, board member Happy Haynes said the proposed changes should clarify what “fit” means.

“I don’t have any expectation it would cover every single circumstance, but I would like to get a reasonable understanding of what ‘fit’ is,” Haynes said.

To be permanently blacklisted by DPS, on the other hand, the teacher must have committed a serious crime, presented a risk to colleges, mistreated students, been involved in workplace misconduct, or have demonstrated issues with integrity.

Teachers whose probationary contracts have been non-renewed or teachers who have resigned in lieu of non-renewal of their probationary contracts due to significant performance issues would be “conditionally eligible” for rehire within the district. This means the teacher would have to show three consecutive years of “demonstrated successful teaching performance” at a charter school, which is exempt from district hiring policies, or in another district.

School board members said they wanted clarity about what constituted “successful teaching performance.”

Boasberg said it referred to classroom performance, professionalism and student perception surveys. But board members wanted more specifics before they discuss and fine-tune the changes Thursday.

Under the proposed tweaks, if district staff agreed the teacher had improved, he or she could apply for jobs in DPS.  No job would be guaranteed, though, and teachers would start anew on the probationary teacher pathway if they were re-hired.

Under Senate Bill 10-191, which goes into effect this fall, all Colorado teachers who demonstrate effectiveness for three consecutive years will be granted non-probationary status.

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.”