Teachers weigh options in wake of election

Some make plans to leave district at end of school year

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Eight-year Castle View High School teacher Cristin Bleess thought she’d retire in the Douglas County School District. After she learned the results of the school board election, she’s instead resigning and leaving the county.

“I just cannot work for a school board, superintendent and upper administration I don’t respect or agree with,” said Bleess, rated “highly effective” under DCSD’s controversial evaluation system. “It’s not that I don’t believe in reform. I do think changes need to be made in public education. I just don’t agree with the way they’re going about it.”

Bleess told the board about her plans to leave during the Nov. 19 meeting.

She is not alone in her sentiments. While few are going so far as to put their homes on the market — as Bleess and her husband are doing — many said they’ll be seeking employment elsewhere at the end of the 2013-14 school year.

“These are not disgruntled teachers that have lost their passion,” said Thor Kjeseth, another Castle View teacher. “They are cutting-edge teachers that devote their entire lives to improving their craft and working with kids. They’re going no matter what.

“For me, because I have two wonderful children and a wife and a mortgage, I would not leave until I found my next place. But I will look this year. It’ll break my heart. But if I was offered another position, I would go there because I don’t feel there’s a good future for me here.”

A Republican-endorsed, reform slate of candidates narrowly won the Nov. 5 election, triumphing over another slate largely supported by community groups. The winning slate, including two incumbents, supports the current board’s movement toward dramatic, fast-paced education reform.

Douglas County High School teacher Jeannie Verone said teachers are feeling “very sad.”

“They just really don’t understand why things went the way they did,” she said. “We really wanted to move in a direction we felt would benefit every single student.”

The teachers Verone knows felt the challenger candidates would take the district in that direction.

Verone said moving to the block schedule, which added another class to teachers’ schedules, has left them “truly exhausted.”

“Another thing that has taken a toll is having to do all the backward planning, and creating e-portfolios to prove our worth in the classroom,” she said. “Teachers still don’t understand the evaluation method. They don’t feel they’re having a voice in this.”

Kjeseth described the introduction of policy changes and new programs as “a blur of incompetence,” pointing to an outside consultant’s late 2012 advice against using the evaluations in any formal capacity.

“I cannot understand how you could ignore their warnings, go ahead and implement it poorly when people’s salaries were dependent upon this,” he said.

Verone said the market-based pay system, which sets salaries based on subject matter, has caused resentment among teachers.

“Teachers don’t want to be pitted against each other, but the pay system really has had a detrimental effect on morale,” she said. “I don’t know one teacher who thinks the pay band system is working very well for us.

“I’m just sad we weren’t able to get the majority of people to realize this was happening,” she said, referring to the recent election results.

Bleess said the reforms themselves are not necessarily the problem for teachers.

“The board could have gone about it completely differently and teachers may have been more likely to jump on board,” she said. “But I feel like they alienated us from the beginning.

“They’re trying to make it seem like teachers have input, but in all reality, I don’t believe we do. Overall, I think they’re more interested in promoting themselves as educational reformers at a national level instead of what we need in our community.”

Bleess is looking for international teacher opportunities; based on election results in Jefferson County and other school districts, she believes education reform will sweep Colorado.

Her husband, who works in information technology, will give up his job as well to leave.

“We’re willing to leave it behind to stand up for what we believe in,” she said.

All the teachers said they and their peers work to keep the focus on students.

“Everyone will do their best as long as they are working for this district,” Kjeseth said. “We deal directly with the kids. We’re not off on Wilcox (Street) dreaming up ideas that sound good to the Tea Party branch of the Republican Party.”

Colorado Community Media twice asked DCSD for contact information for teachers who are happy about the election results; DCSD did not respond to the requests.

 

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