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.