District 16 won’t renew teachers’ contracts; principal also departing

Amanda Holt MillerWestern Garfield County Staff

PARACHUTE – The Garfield School District No. 16 board is not reconsidering keeping two teachers employed – and the principal who didn’t renew their contracts is leaving, too.Tuesday night, community members filled about 75 seats in the gym at the Grand Valley Early Childhood Literacy Center to support the teachers, and request that the board reconsider its decision.Dorathy Johnson and Kari Musch were both teachers at St John Middle School, though neither had tenure. Principal Dan Hoey recommended the board not renew their contracts. The board had a community meeting May 25 and voted 4-1 to approve the principal’s decision.In Colorado, administrators do not have to justify the decision not to renew teachers in their first three years.Hoey stepped up to the microphone before the meeting was turned over to the public. He submitted his resignation, and the school board approved it. Fifteen people from the audience were allowed to speak for three minutes each. Some spoke about the teachers’ merits, while others urged the board to reconsider, in an effort to limit turnover and create a more stable environment.”I have five children in this district. One of them graduated this year. Can anyone tell me how many principals she’s had since she started here?” Alberta Nuelieb asked the board. “Can anyone tell me how many teachers she’s had? It’s your job to give them stability and consistency when they’re away from us.”Grand Valley High student Hope Dees has been in both of the teachers’ classes. She gave the board a passionate plea to reconsider.”No one in my family has graduated from high school without going back. I’m going to do it. I wouldn’t be able to stand here and say that without them,” Dees said. “As a student, someone who was in their classroom, they treated us with respect.”The board listened but did not respond to comments until Steve McKee, the district superintendent, addressed the audience. He explained that the district practiced what he called site-based management and trusts building administrators to make good staffing decisions.”Principals are in a position to know what goes on in the classroom,” McKee told the audience. “The building administrator is responsible for getting into the classroom and evaluating the teachers.”McKee said he knows the district struggles with turnover and said part of the reason is the district’s small size and low pay. He said a lot of teachers who go to school in Grand Junction will start in Parachute only to move back to Mesa County once they have more experience. He said the district works with employees to provide day care and has started hiring teachers from around the country in order to get a greater commitment from them.McKee said the state law leaves few options when it comes to probationary teachers. And the district isn’t free to respond to public inquiries about personnel matters.”The thing is, if there is a legitimate reason to nonrenew, folks can still go out and say anything – that we haven’t done our homework,” McKee said. “It would be nice to sit down and explain, but our hands are tied. And it looks like we’re trying to cover something up or like we don’t know what we’re doing.”Dick Doran, a member of the Committee to Rehire Dorathy Johnson and Kari Musch, spoke last. He cited an online poll by the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, in which 67 percent of respondents said they thought administrators should justify nonrenewals of probationary teachers.A board member moved that the board go to executive session to discuss the nonrenewals, but the motion was not seconded.

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