District 16 teachers not leaving without a fight
Western Garfield County Staff
Two middle school teachers and a collection of community members who support them plan to fight Garfield County School District No. 16 for the teachers’ jobs.
Seventh- and eighth-grade social studies, language arts and reading teacher Kari Musch and Dorathy Johnson, a reading teacher who has taught for 31 years, were both surprised principal Dan Hoey did not plan to renew their contracts at St John Middle School.
Musch taught at the school three years, and Johnson taught there two years. In Colorado, a teacher’s first three years are probationary, and an administrator does not have to justify the decision not to renew a teacher’s contract.
Students, parents and community members spoke on behalf of the two teachers, but the board voted 4-1 to approve Hoey’s recommendation that the teachers not be renewed.
Musch and Johnson felt like they had enough reason to fight Hoey’s recommendation at a special school board meeting May 25. Sandy Hanson, public relations director for District 16, said 16 people signed up to speak on behalf of each of the teachers.
The next day, several students wore signs on their shirts, and pasted signs on the walls and lockers to show support for the teachers.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Johnson said. “I haven’t had any discipline issues all year, and the reading CSAP scores have gone up since I’ve been there.”
Dani Christenson, the board member who voted to retain the teachers, said she’s bothered by community accusations that the board made the wrong decision.
“Once we’ve taken a vote, whether we agree or disagree, we stand as a board. We work very hard, and things like this are not taken lightly,” Christenson said. “There are things, that because it’s a personnel issue, the public can’t be told.”
Hanson said district policy prohibits her from discussing personnel issues.
Johnson said she suspects her nonrenewal may be related to her husband’s nonrenewal last year. John and Dorathy Johnson moved to Parachute from Texas three years ago for John to become the principal at Grand Valley High School. He was not renewed after two years as principal. John later talked about running for a spot on the school board.
Linda Levine, whose daughter had been in Musch’s class and who is Johnson’s friend, spoke in front of the school board on behalf of both teachers.
“It seems like there is a vendetta against this family,” Levine said.
Community member Dick Doran also said he thinks John Johnson’s relationship with the district has something to do with Dorathy’s nonrenewal. Doran is a retiree who substituted at the middle school and worked closely with Musch, who ran the Builder’s Club, a community service organization, and with Johnson, who ran a teen voting project.
“We’re not going to let this drop,” Doran said. “It’s bigger than firing two good teachers. I think the whole thing was fixed. From start to finish, it didn’t smell right.”
Hanson said that while she can’t comment on the specific situation, decisions to renew and not to renew are up to building administrators. The school board only votes on whether to approve the recommendation.
“The board members have to assume the principal is doing what’s in the best interest of the building and of the students,” Hanson said. “They saw the complete evaluations, and the teachers were allowed to represent themselves.”
Musch said she would have liked better feedback as well. She said she didn’t receive her evaluations for the 2003-04 school year until February 2005.
Evaluations are supposed to wrap up April 1, according to district policy.
Musch and Johnson were also upset by the short amount of time they had to prepare for their appeal to the board. Musch learned she would not be renewed May 20. Johnson didn’t hear until May 23, two days before the hearing.
“I didn’t really have a lot of time to get people together,” Johnson said.
Musch said she felt like the short preparation time represented a deliberate attempt to limit the support for the teachers at the meeting.
Hanson said there are no policies or requirements governing the amount of time between notification of nonrenewal and the formal appeal to the board.
“I understand now that this is quite common,” Musch said. “There is very little protection for teachers in the first three years. I understand that.”
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