Douglas County School Board members listened in silence as teachers and parents berated them during their Aug. 6 meeting for their perceived role in recent teacher resignations and flagging staff morale.
A half-dozen people from among the standing-room-only crowd spoke in support of the board, while the board heard at length from more than twice as many angry, sometimes tearful, critics. In a departure from standard procedure, the board allowed speakers to talk past the two-minute time limit and board members did not respond to the comments.
Though Douglas County School District statistics still show teacher turnover in the normal range, speakers said teachers are leaving because of the board’s education-reform measures. Those include a pay-for-performance system based on a controversial teacher evaluation system, and a market-based pay scale.
“Most teachers in Douglas County are looking for a way out of the mess you created,” said departing Rock Canyon High School teacher Suzi McKay, who said she received a “highly effective” rating during her recent evaluation. “For some, the promise of the elections is enough to keep them hanging. They are tired of being disparaged, mocked, demonized, lied about, sabotaged and ignored. While you manipulate the numbers … and tell the press there’s no morale problem, we all know teachers are leaving in droves.
“A growing percentage of our community is smarter than you think, more organized than you realize and angrier than you know. November is coming. And this community has had enough.”
Four seats on the seven-member board expire in November.
Board member Doug Benevento, whose term is among those that expire, said after the meeting facts don’t support the statements.
“The data all indicate something different,” he said. “A state-run survey indicates the vast majority of teachers are more satisfied with their work in Douglas County than any other district in the state. Their morale and satisfaction with the district has increased over two years. We know for a fact academic achievement is better than it was four years ago.”
But, he said, “In an organization of this size, you’re not going to be able to make everybody happy.”
Of the Douglas County educators who took the state-run Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) survey, 84.7 percent agreed their school is a good place to work and learn.
The survey also showed 22 percent of DCSD teachers — more than twice the state average — planned to leave the district or leave education entirely.
Many teachers also say the TELL survey results only reflect conditions at the school level, and that satisfaction with the district and its leadership is poor. They expressed that dissatisfaction to cheers and applause at the meeting.
Brian White, who left ThunderRidge High School to teach in the Littleton Public Schools, said district leaders don’t appear to care why teachers are leaving.
“The climate created by the board and central administration sucks the life out of teaching,” he said during the Aug. 6 meeting. “All of you are aware of the morale problem in Douglas County and not a single one of you have done anything to correct it.”
Others said the board is moving forward with a corporate education-reform agenda that doesn’t put students’ interests first.
“The voices of those closest to our students — the parents and teachers — are being ignored,” said former Saddle Ranch Elementary teacher Maria Lauer. “District leadership has decided that ideology and national attention are more important than what happens with our young minds.”
Kelsey Alexander, former chair of the Douglas County Republicans, was among the smaller group who praised the board.
“We just want the best curriculum and the best teachers,” she said. “So I want to thank you for giving an incentive system to encourage all teachers to be that great teacher … through your pay-for-performance program.”