Teacher’s firing on hold after board splits
A Grand Junction High School math teacher placed on leave last summer after 15 years of teaching at the school has a second chance at retaining her job after District 51 School Board members failed Monday night to reach a consensus on whether to fire her.
After two-and-half hours in executive session, board members Tom Parrish and Ann Tisue voted in open session for teacher Jane White’s dismissal while board members Greg Mikolai and John Williams voted against the motion. Board member Jeff Leany was absent from the meeting due to medical reasons.
The split vote tanked the measure, prompting Williams to request a motion to send the case back to Administrative Law Judge Matthew E. Norwood for clarifications on the case before the board can attempt another vote on White’s fate.
Norwood recommended that the school district retain White, but board members said the narrative of his decision was confusing and often failed to make specific responses to specific charges made by the district.
Board members differed on their interpretation of the decision, with Mikolai saying he would vote against White’s dismissal because he did not find sufficient evidence of insubordination in the document. Tisue said facts in the decision document did show cause for dismissal. Williams voted against dismissal but had his doubts about the judge’s findings.
“There are a lot of frustrated students that shouldn’t be frustrated. There are a lot of frustrated parents that shouldn’t be frustrated” with White, Williams said.
Norwood’s decision states White was placed on an “awareness plan” for non-probationary teachers in March 2010 after an assistant principal, Jami Moore, expressed concern that White was not returning parent calls or emails in a timely manner and that students were not engaged during class. White moved out of that plan by September 2010 and was called a “leader” and “well-prepared” in an evaluation by Moore.
Then, in February 2012, Moore told White in an email to cancel an after-school tutoring program because it would cost the district extra money, according to Norwood’s decision. White responded by saying she was “flabbergasted” and asked if she could forward Moore’s email to parents in lieu of writing her own explanation for the end of the program, which Moore said would be inappropriate.
A month later, White was again placed on an awareness plan for having the lowest student enrollment in her classes of any math teacher at Grand Junction High, having half of her students earning less than a C, and because several students had asked to leave her classes.
The judge wrote in his decision that counselors, administrators and students were responsible as well for attrition and enrollment and that student effort was responsible for grades. Norwood added another GJHS math teacher, listed as “GH,” provided inflated grades that made parents question why other math teachers gave their children lower grades.
“Multiple teachers testified that the administration at GJHS put pressure on them to avoid giving D’s and to particularly avoid giving F’s,” Norwood’s decision reads.
“The administration sought to minimize complaints from parents and wanted to make sure that students remained eligible for athletic competition, marching band and other activities ... some parents would themselves complete a student’s homework,” the judge wrote.
Norwood’s decision goes on to say Moore did not complete necessary documentation of observations of White and that complaints in a March 2013 report on White’s progress were lifted verbatim from a March 2012 report.
White was moved to a higher-risk plan in September 2012 and placed on leave during the summer of 2013.
A group of about 20 supporters grumbled throughout much of the board’s decision-making process Monday night. As she was leaving the meeting, one woman told the board, “If you worked in that building you’d know it’s not true.”