Dear Mr. McMinimee:
A lot has happened since we met at Jefferson Unitarian Church this past summer. At that time, you asked that we not look back at Douglas County and that you be judged by what you do here in Jeffco. I imagine it won’t surprise you that I am so disappointed, perhaps most especially by yesterday’s Super News sent to Jeffco Public Schools employees.
I agree with you that every student should have an effective teacher. Of course that’s true. Who could ever disagree? The fact-finder did not suggest that this should not be the case. What the fact-finder said was “The totality of the evidence at the fact-finding hearing establishes that teachers in different schools are treated differently in their evaluations. To a significant extent the District’s evaluation process lacks the degree of inter-rater reliability necessary to make valid salary distinctions.” In other words, the means by which the district is determining who should get a raise, who should not, and who should get an even greater raise is flawed.
Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, and that is the truly disappointing thing. You know that an independent third party said the means by which the district is determining who is effective is flawed, and yet you sent out a message to teachers everywhere stating that you are disregarding the fact-finder’s recommendations because “One of my fundamental beliefs…is that there should be an effective teacher in every classroom,” as if you had any reason to believe the evaluation system currently in place measured this accurately. It comes across as disingenuous, Mr. McMinimee. Last summer I wanted so much to trust you; to believe that you would do what was in your power to rebuild trust in the district. This is not accomplishing that goal.
Lest you think I am complaining about my personal compensation, please let me clarify that I was rated highly effective last year. Modesty aside, I believe I have earned that distinction. I got it, in part, because my principal had been my principal for 17 years. He has been in my classroom 40 or 50 times. As he checked off indicators, he used 17 years of knowledge to assist him. While it seems fair to reward me monetarily, I have spoken to other teachers for whom a single indicator made the difference between “effective” and “highly effective.” They were not evaluated by administrators who knew them so well. Because they were told that last year was a “hold harmless year,” that this subtle distinction would not make any difference to them, they did not fight to change their rating. Rather than waste precious time chasing down documentation to change ratings on indicators, they used their time planning great lessons, grading papers and providing much-needed feedback, and working one-on-one with kids. How is it fair that I, whose administrator drew upon over a decade of knowledge, get more than another outstanding teacher whose administrator rated her based upon a mere two observations of her classroom last year?
Again, let me clarify that I do not believe I am telling you anything of which you are currently unaware. This is what I find so devastating. To me, this looks less like trying to get the best teachers into every classroom than it does like trying to turn teachers against one another, perhaps in an effort to dilute their collective voices in the direction of Jefferson County Public Schools. Teachers are the ones working with students every day. No one in this district knows better than we what students and schools need. We have disparate opinions on a number of things, but in those areas upon which we agree, it is not in students’ best interests to ignore us or try to pit us against one another.
It is the beginning of the school year, Mr. McMinimee. It is not too late for you to be the healing influence you told me in July that you wished to be. I suppose that might jeopardize your position as superintendent. I have been told by more than one Douglas County teacher that by speaking out on behalf of students I am jeopardizing my job as a teacher. I hope that you and I can agree upon this: The fate of the students in Jefferson County is bigger than either of us. Let us do all we can together to make a difference of which we can be proud.
In fairness to you, I want to let you know that I will be posting a copy of this letter on my blog. I would like to able to post your reply, as well; however if you ask me to keep your reply private, I will honor your request.
Columbine High School