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.

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.

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.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.