Monday, August 27, 2012


This morning several thousand Detroit teachers are waking up wondering if they are employed or not. Today is the day all DPS teachers are to report to their schools. However, the district is downsizing after turning 15 schools over to the new state EAA district. This means a serious reduction in DPS staff.
 Late spring, teachers were given the opportunity to interview with their current principal and the principal from one other school to secure a position for this fall. That’s it, you get two tries. That is, if you were lucky enough for HR to actually schedule you an interview outside your school. I know many teachers for whom this never happened. That means if your principal didn’t want you, either because you were minimally effective or she wanted to bring in someone from the outside for your position, it’s your tough luck. Also, interviews were scheduled during a one month period of time. Teachers were notified of interviews through their board email with typically less than 24 hours notice. So if you are a teacher like me, who checks email before the morning bell and then again after school because you devote instructional time to instruction rather than email, again tough luck. You may not have seen the notice until after your scheduled time. Or perhaps you had an after school commitment that day, there was no opportunity to reschedule.
Principals were told this was their opportunity to clean house and get the people they wanted on their staff. Seniority is not a problem due to Michigan Teacher Tenure Reform which removed seniority from the equation. On paper this sounds like a great thing. Clean house – get rid of those ineffective teachers and keep only the best! Unfortunately, this is not how it seems to be working out. Many highly effective teachers are being looked over because their job categories were reduced or eliminated. Or perhaps, the principal that interviewed them was content with their current staff.
Here are just a few of the cases I know personally. The names have been changed to protect their identities as much as possible.
-          Teacher “A” is a National Board teacher certified in Adolescent Science. Last year she secured a position at a high school for technology with a principal who was very excited to have her on the staff. At the last minute the district pulled her from that school and placed her in another teaching English Language Arts. As you might expect from a teacher placed outside their area of expertise, her evaluation was not stellar. However, during the interview process, the original principal was able to select her as a science teacher for her high school. Yay!, right? No, because of the evaluation, she was told (verbally through the grapevine) that she is terminated.
-          Teacher “B” is an excellent Reading Recovery teacher. A former first grade teacher and early interventionist, the district has invested thousands of dollars in her training. In a district where a great majority of our students come to school unprepared for the rigors of reading instruction, you would think an early childhood educator who has intensive training in early intervention would be golden. However, most principals do not have the Title I funds in their budgets to keep Reading Recovery in their schools. So instead of placing this valuable teacher in a high needs first grade classroom somewhere in the district, her lay-off appears to be taking effect this morning.
-          Teacher “C” is a previous year Michigan Teacher of the Year, National Board Certified Teacher and National Board Candidate Support Provider. She has worked extensively to develop School Improvement Plans and has written for many School Improvement Grants. For the past several years, she has been an Instructional Specialist in the district. Although she has repeatedly been assured by her principal that she was indeed selected, the money was budgeted, and her performance is stellar, she has not received a recall notice and in fact has been locked out of her board email over the weekend. This teacher has devoted nearly her entire summer to re-writing the School Improvement Plan (pro bono) to meet the ever-changing demands of the district and state, and now faces unemployment.
These are not isolated cases. This is being repeated throughout the district in great numbers.
So, how are employees finding out if they’re laid off, terminated or rehired? This is the greatest injustice of all. If you did not receive a call back letter last week, you don’t know. So far there is no apparent method for notifying teachers of their status if they did not receive a recall letter. This is a facebook message circulated this past weekend providing some (unofficial) guidance.
                "For those Detroit Public School folks still waiting for a word, please go to Peoplesoft & check your employee status under payroll & compensation. Depending upon what that says, it may give you a clue if you have been rehired or terminated, Not a good way to find out information, but it's better than waiting day in and day out for an answer."
Find out for yourself. Yep. Self-serve at it’s best. And it may have worked except those without recall letters, and even some who have them, were locked out of their board email yesterday. Seriously.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

It's Official!

One by one today, via facebook , twitter and text messages, my friends are letting the world know they received their recall letter. For most, they had already been verbally assured by a principal they were being recalled and to which school. Still, the sense of relief you get reading these posts is overwhelming. Layoffs were to take effect tomorrow at 4:00. Yet, this is much more notice than many received the last few years where letters were typically received AFTER the date to return to work and school assignments took up to several weeks to receive. Unbelievable isn’t it?
And yet, professionals that they are, most Detroit Public School teachers had already been reporting to duty the past few weeks. Workshops were scheduled and attended without any substantial assurance that they would be assigned to these schools. Some brave souls even began carting their belongings and materials to set up rooms that could be revoked at the last possible minute. While the news has been focused on the antics of a dueling Emergency Manager and School Board, they haven’t taken notice that teachers are doing everything possible to help the children of Detroit get off to a good start despite the madness of politics gone wild.
Mr. Roberts, exercising your financial power today, you shut down Fredrick Douglas Academy forcing the elected school board to meet in the parking lot. Elected School Board members, you have been busy scheming the last few weeks to reverse every Emergency Manager decision made over the last couple years. Did you notice your teachers busily stepping over and around you to offer our community some stability? I thought not.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Missing the Point

It was Friday morning and there were not enough substitute teachers to cover all the classes. We had the great idea to put all the K - 3rd grade students in the auditorium and show Ruby Bridges for Black History Month. The subject is a little deep for the 5 - 8 crowd so at certain points I would stop the movie and explain what was going on and try to put it in kid friendly terms using their own experience. When we got to the part where Ruby was attending her new school for the first time, I stopped and asked the kids to try to imagine that this was what greeted them on their first day of school. How would they feel? Would they come back?

Later that morning I passed a former student with his vision specialist working in a small office. He is especially bright and has very sophisticated critical thinking skills for a second grader. So I explained that we had been watching the movie and asked him to tell her what he learned from it.

Very slowly, in his stuttering kind of voice he said "Well, I.. I learned. I learned..." We waited anxiously for his insight, certain it would be brilliant as he is. "I learned...never go to a school with all white kids." (ah, innocence)

We laughed, of course, and explained that he missed the point of the movie. But did he? Maybe it is we who are missing the point. Our school is 99% African American, 75.5% free and reduced lunch and not likely to change any time soon. We have no supplies, no ink for printers, no toner for copy machines, few workbooks, few textbooks. There are no noon hour aides to watch over the kids at lunch, no lunch recess; no vocal music, no art. We share a violin teacher with 5 schools and consider ourselves very fortunate. When she retires this year, she will not be replaced. There is no nurse. The ceiling leaks in many classrooms, including mine, only half of the lights in my class are working. The list could go on and on. The threat of closure looms over our every breath.

Now that I think of it, Brandon is very insightful indeed. He gets it so much more than we do. Not much has really changed, has it?