DeFrates column: Teacher hiring decision erodes trust in Roaring Fork schools
Conflicts are so much easier if there is a clear villain. If there’s some jerk to pin all your problems on, arguing the other side into the ground becomes a point of righteous fact. But when it comes to the controversial issue of displaced and nonrenewed teachers in the Roaring Fork School District, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t uncover an actual bad guy.
Rob Stein is our superintendent, and so I looked there first. But once one gets in the habit of assuming positive intent, it is almost impossible to look at someone who is obviously so committed to the education, growth and overall well-being of our students and not see their earnest belief that what they are doing is right. He and the RFSD leadership team are the rare kind of administrators who truly have students’ best possible outcome as their driving motivation. They are good people, and they work hard.
But sometimes good people can make mistakes.
At Wednesday night’s Board of Education meeting (covered in John Stroud’s article), I opened my public comment with the statement that I was surprised to be standing there — honestly surprised that our district is now grappling with the feelings of distrust, betrayal and confusion that one always hears about in the big districts like Atlanta and Chicago. This level of controversy is not our normal. Our leadership has taken the district in such an overall positive direction through the last five years that I and many others were blindsided by this decision.
How could Roaring Fork School District be saying so clearly that it values the letter of the law (SB 191) and a preference for certain educational philosophies over the experience and wisdom of our veteran teachers? Yes, shifts in enrollment necessitated some change. Yes, there is a good chance that most of these 24 teachers will receive placements throughout the district.
But there has been a clear statement from the leadership team that this not a guarantee. And yes, “forced placement” is prohibited through the new legislation, but wouldn’t any principal jump at the chance to recruit the veterans who have years under their belts and roots in the community? Not to mention that same pool of highly qualified candidates has long demonstrated a willingness to adapt and grow with whatever new requirements, best practices, curriculum changes and assessment techniques are handed down to them.
Whatever perceived benefit Dr. Stein and Adam Volek, the Riverview School principal, see from pursuing this course of action, I am afraid that the negative impacts will be greater and longer lasting. This decision undermines the trust and respect between administration and teachers that used to shine brightly from our district in a world of negative education headlines.
Our teachers need to know that someone has their back.
All the odds are already stacked against them to even make it to end of the day, let alone measure adequate yearly growth of the myriad learners in their classroom, meeting the individual needs of 150 different faces. Every day they face a pile of obstacles, criticism and ridiculously high standards. And then after each class they engage in such rigorous self-reflection that their every choice of tone and timing, correction and encouragement is questioned. They always assume they could improve it a little next time.
Add to that the annually shifting winds of national and state standards that belittle the perspectives of those on the frontline, blaming them instead for every perceived failing, and you have a tiny glimpse of what these masters put up with just to walk into another 10-plus hour day.
Without a clear support system of trust and respect, it becomes impossible to function at the level necessary to engage with every student at the emotional and intellectual level that fosters learning.
So why is Roaring Fork School District’s administration removing one of the few remaining supports from these amazing individuals?
I have rewritten this article five times from the ground up. Part of that is my process, but most of it comes from the fact that the right answer is anything but simple. And I know that our leadership team has invested far more blood, sweat and rough drafts in coming to their solution.
But I still have to ask them, despite their honest belief in the rightness of their decision, to look again at what it says about the value they place in our teachers. Without those individuals who love our students every day, without their passion and commitment to the classroom, our district has nothing.
I am asking the district leadership team to find a way to stand by them no matter what. So few others will.
Lindsay DeFrates of Carbondale writes a monthly column.
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