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Apple Valley charter school's teacher terminations spark frustration

  • Article by: Erin Adler
  • Star Tribune
  • June 4, 2013 - 2:20 PM

At Apple Valley charter school Paideia Academy, tensions are running high among parents and students after the contracts of five teachers weren’t renewed for next school year.

Parents allege that the teachers were terminated unfairly, and that politics and ambiguous evaluations contributed to the cuts.

Paideia’s director and school board, though, say protocol was followed and the teachers weren’t meeting expectations.

Board member Stephanie Abraham said that though the number of teachers terminated is higher than in recent years, the school is finally gaining stability after going through a series of directors. As a result, teachers were observed consistently this year.

“We’ve been somewhat rudderless for the past 18 to 20-something months,” Abraham said. “We hadn’t had a formal director in place for a long period of time, so those positions were never truly evaluated the way they probably should have been.”

This year, Paideia hired Marci Levy-Maguire as its new director — its fifth in eight years, not counting interim directors.

Paideia, which opened in 2005, serves about 380 students and offers a classically focused education, including Spanish and Latin instruction.

Levy-Maguire said she’s spent the year “ensuring a sustainable, long-term future” for Paideia, which included developing a process of observing and evaluating teachers using a well-known model.

At a board meeting two weeks ago, 75 parents and students turned out, with about 10 parents addressing the board, asking why the teachers were let go.

At the meeting, social studies teacher Leah Hood said she believes the school should continue reviewing its evaluation process, making it more transparent and helping teachers with remediation when necessary. She also voiced support for the administration and board.

Several parents tearfully lamented the terminations of the gym teacher, Mindy Daugherty, at Paideia for three years, and Susan Webster, a second-grade teacher who had been there for eight years.

Levy-Maguire explained that teachers were observed multiple times by herself and another person and given opportunities to improve if deemed below proficient.

“The criteria are very clear. This is a framework that has been used across the nation,” she said. “This isn’t fun for anyone — not me, not the board.”

Specific details can’t be shared because human resources information is confidential, said Allen Johnson, a board member and human resources committee chair.

The terminated teachers declined to comment on the circumstances of their dismissals.

“I just want you to be aware, we have been very thoughtful about this process,” Johnson said.

But some parents aren’t so sure.

Andrea Stone, who has five children, said she’s “been through a lot of hiccups” with the school, but that she’s never seen so many parents so upset.

“This is the first time a big group of teachers have been let go,” Stone said, adding that the “most alarming thing” is that the teachers leaving are so beloved.

Erin Wente, who has two daughters at Paideia, said she’s “heartbroken because the teachers and staff at this school have really been wonderful.”

Daugherty “was and is undoubtedly the most popular teacher in that entire school,” Wente said, noting that Daugherty won a grant last year allowing her to put thousands of dollars toward gym classes. Daugherty also organized activities such as snowshoeing and sand volleyball games.

“You take that and you tell me, what could have possibly outweighed all that she’s done?” Wente asked.

Stone believes the terminations will push some of the other “good teachers that we have, that we actually have some longevity with, to go find a job where they can get some assurance that they’re going to be back.”

Tony Moore, who has a second-grader and a kindergartner, said that he’s heard that many teachers are looking for new jobs.

“There’s a significant disdain for the current administration,” Moore said.

He said he’s concerned about the evaluation process and whether teachers were bullied if they expressed unpopular opinions.

He’s organizing a petition on the teachers’ behalf. Wente wrote a letter to the board, and her daughter and her classmates did as well.

While Paideia’s enrollment was up in May, that may not be the case for long, Moore said. Along with Wente and Stone, he said he’s considering other schools for next year.

But Abraham said that “parents really don’t know what’s in the personnel files of the teachers they were up there defending.”

She said she’s “very confident” that personality conflicts played no role and that evaluations were fair. Levy-Maguire said staffing decisions are final.

“We’re very open to respectful, open communication,” Abraham said. “There’s nothing that we’re hiding … and I want parents to know that.”

 

Erin Adler • 952-746-3283

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