Teacher re-evaluations don’t ease concerns

Do-over by district follows high rankings at Trailblazer

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Trailblazer Elementary School teacher Cheryl Murphy recently learned her original “highly effective” instructional rating dropped a notch to “effective,” taking with it part of her anticipated raise and more of her faith in the Douglas County School District.

“The change isn’t what really bothers me,” Murphy said. “The whole evaluation process is flawed. It’s up to interpretation. It’s one more thing that shows this district’s not headed in a great direction for the majority of kids. It’s one more reason to go.”

Because of the drop in her rating and her relatively high placement on DCSD’s new market-based pay scale, Murphy said she’ll get a 2 percent pay increase instead of the 5 percent she’d anticipated.

Murphy and other Trailblazer teachers underwent a second evaluation of their teaching ability after DCSD labeled Principal Linda Schneider’s first assessments — in which she ranked 70 percent of her teachers “highly effective” — a statistical anomaly. Though Murphy chose to share her new ranking, the district isn’t releasing its results.

Under the evaluations, each teacher is assigned a rating ranging from “highly effective” to “ineffective” that is tied to pay increases. District-wide, about 15 percent of teachers rated “highly effective,” according to DCSD, and most — 71 percent — rated “effective.”

Schneider, retiring after eight years at Trailblazer, stands by her findings.

Murphy stands by her principal.

And DCSD stands by its self-designed process.

“There are always unforeseen circumstances when implementing any sort of program,” said Christian Cutter, assistant superintendent of elementary education. “We had many, many schools around the district — the vast majority — where it worked very well.

“The situation (at Trailblazer) is very unfortunate. I think it’s been hard on everybody.”

Cutter said the findings of “a couple” other evaluators also strayed far enough from the norm to warrant a second review. But Trailblazer’s was the farthest outside the standard deviations, he said.

Trailblazer parents and students protested outside the school May 23 after learning their teachers would be subject to a second evaluation. But this time, each teacher was reviewed by three principals or assistant principals from elsewhere in the district — not the principal who knows them best and describes her evaluation process as a thorough, year-long event.

Murphy said the three evaluators all gave her different scores.

“How is it possible if three people heard exactly the same information and came up with different scores?” Murphy said. “They’re saying Linda didn’t do it correctly and theirs is more valid. How is theirs more valid when they still get different scores and they don’t even know me?”

Schneider said the district’s second evaluation “is a glimpse in time, not a body of evidence.”

The principal said she turned the school around during her eight years there, initially firing some ineffective teachers and bringing together a top-notch staff deserving of their “highly effective” scores.

“I put my blood, sweat and tears into those evaluations,” Schneider said. “Year after year, my teachers have been highly effective. Only this year, when it’s tied to pay, were they questioned.”

Parents also protested at Saddle Ranch Elementary May 30 when they learned none of their teachers received a “highly effective” rating, and were denied a meeting with administrators to discuss the issue.

Teachers at two other schools report a preponderance of “partially effectives,” and Timber Trail Elementary Principal Michele Radke recently told teachers at the Castle Rock school they could have independent reviews of their evaluations.

“The best thing about this is people are starting to be aware of the ugliness that’s going on,” Schneider said. “I know what I’ve done was right. Is it easier for me to begin my retirement and put this behind me? Yes. I believe in our teachers too much not to speak up and let the inequities continue happening.”

Trailblazer parent Wendy Vogel feels DCSD’s children are paying the price for the school board’s fast-paced education reform efforts.

“Why the rush?” she said. “They could have waited. They could have worked out all the kinks and not had this issue. I think it was reckless of the district.

“In my opinion, they’re wanting to make a name for themselves. They’re experimenting, and it’s our kids that are going to bear the brunt of that.”

Cutter said DCSD will work closely with Trailblazer’s incoming principal when the new school year begins.

“We really want to support Trailblazer going forward,” he said.