What’s really going on in our public schools?

Jane White has exposed some troubling revelations at Grand Junction High School in the course of trying to save her job as a math teacher.

An administrative law judge’s review of her case has given the public a rare in-the-trenches view of friction among teachers, administrators and parents.

Judge Matthew E. Norwood recommended that the school district retain White, but District 51 School Board members were evenly split on whether to fire her Monday night. Board members differed on their interpretation of Norwood’s decision, calling it confusing and lacking responses to specific charges. The board will send the case back to Norwood for clarification.

Among Norwood’s findings:

• A GJHS math teacher (not White) provided inflated grades, leading parents to question why other math teachers were being tougher on students. White had been placed on an “awareness plan” in 2012 for having the lowest enrollment of any math teacher in the school, having half of her students earning less than a C, and because several students had asked to leave her class.

• “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 wrote in his decision.

• “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.Such eligibility was very important for some parents. Some parents would themselves complete a student’s homework,” the judge wrote.

Whether White, a teacher with 15 years of experience, merits dismissal is not the only consideration before the board. It must now address the concerns raised by the judge’s review. The board has an obligation to either clear the GJHS administration of any wrongdoing or acknowledge that problems exist and chart a course for improvement.

The board can provide oversight, set policy, make budgetary decisions — and in this case, decide a teacher’s fate — but it can’t dismiss the implications of grade-rigging allegations or parental influence.

White’s case illustrates that despite the board’s commitment to transparency, much of what goes on in the classroom takes place behind a veil. Sometimes it takes a termination hearing to get an inkling of the human relationships that underpin our educational system.

Ultimately, any school’s success will hinge on the relationship between the administration and the teachers on the front lines. We hope White’s case illuminates this for the board.


COMMENTS

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Teachers should never be coerced into giving higher grades than students have earned.  The problem of avoiding low grades and remaining eligible for athletic competition and other school activities is easily rectified:  students, do the work required to achieve the grade you want on your permanent record.

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