Duval County school district reassigns nearly 40 teachers just before start of year

Several dozen Duval teachers learned Friday they won’t be going back to their assigned schools Monday.

Instead, the 35 teachers in eight “turnaround” schools got new, last-minute assignments to different schools or they were put onto the district’s “surplus” list, a kind of waiting list to receive a new job assignment.

They will not be allowed back at the school where they taught last year and it’s unclear who will replace them.

Worst hit were Arlington Middle, with 12 teachers gone, Gregory Drive with six gone, and Northwestern Middle with five gone. The rest lost three or fewer teachers

Turnaround schools are low-performing schools which are implementing turnaround plans in the hope of earning a C or better this school year. The state must approve these turnaround plans.

Florida education officials didn’t tell Duval until last Thursday — 11 days before school opens — that the district must remove these low-scoring teachers from the schools or face ramifications, including loss of money for low-performing school and possible rejection of Duval’s turnaround plans.

“We have made these changes as directed to ensure we do not compromise the much-needed funding that is potentially available to further support these schools,” wrote interim Superintendent Patricia Willis, in a statement to School Board members.

It is unclear who will fill the open positions. Duval already had more than 100 teacher openings to fill as of last week.

“Unfortunately, due to the late notice of this requirement by the FLDOE, we anticipate that these schools may open with higher than desirable vacancies,” Willis wrote. “Staffing supervisors will work with each school … and are aware of the urgency to find and staff quality candidates in these schools.”

School opens for students Aug. 14 and for teachers Monday, Aug. 7.

The last-minute shuffling affects five elementary schools and three middle schools: Arlington Heights, George Washington Carver, Gregory Drive, Lake Forest and Ramona Boulevard elementary schools, and Arlington, Matthew Gilbert and Northwestern middle schools.

Terrie Brady, president of the Duval Teachers United union, said that, at first, the state said between 100 to 200 teachers would need to be transferred, but district officials were able to get that reduced to 35 teachers.

These teachers were rated “needs improvement,” or “developing” based on state VAM scores, Brady said.

VAM stands for value-added measurement or value-added model.

It is a complicated formula comparing student test scores with scores students are expected to achieve, given their school environment.

Critics of VAM say it is too complex to understand, may be inaccurate and can be biased against teachers who serve needy students or high-poverty schools. It also only measures certain academic subjects.

Proponents say VAM provides a way to quantify the effect teachers have on student learning.

A just-passed state education law removes requirements that districts use VAM when evaluating teachers, so it’s unclear how or why Florida is using VAM in this case. Brady said it’s unclear what the state’s standards were for transferring these teachers.

“The teachers still don’t have their VAM scores,” Brady said. “They can’t even tell us what the cut-off is. The state establishes it’s own” VAM cut-off scores.

Willis said in a statement that the state used “raw” VAM data and that these teachers are in the state’s “unsatisfactory” range.

In prior years, most of these teachers had “needs improvement” or “effective” ratings from Duval, Brady said.

In Florida, the highest ratings teachers can get are “highly effective” and “effective,” and teachers with those ratings usually receive raises. The next lower ratings are “needs improvement” for veteran teachers or “developing” for new teachers.

The lowest rating, “unsatisfactory,” has resulted in teachers being fired.

Districts usually learn in late spring or early summer which teachers they must fire or transfer, teachers say. It is unclear why this notification came so late in the summer.

Two Florida Department of Education spokeswomen said they are seeking answers to questions about the issue.

Meanwhile, some teachers contacted teacher and blogger Chris Guerrieri, who wrote several blog items over the weekend about the process.

One teacher said she chose to quit rather than go to a different school or be surplussed. Another teacher described getting a two-minute phone call saying he was assigned to another school, which doesn’t have openings. A third teacher said he or she was told to be grateful that at least they have a job.

“I have no doubt that the state did the district no favors, but it also seems like the district took a bad and uncomfortable situation and made it much worse,” wrote Guerrieri, a frequent critic of some in district leadership.

Guerrieri said he suspects this last-minute edict from the state is possible retaliation after the district’s recent discussions about whether to join a lawsuit, with at least five other districts plan to file to challenge the constitutionality of the new education law, House Bill 7069.

“I do believe people will be outraged at the harm this is going to do to some of our most vulnerable schools,” he wrote, “and it should be asked if this is political payback for talking about joining the HB 7069 lawsuit.”

Because no one knows who will take the newly opened jobs, some observers question the wisdom of reassigning the old ones. Substitute teachers rarely make a good option for starting the school year, said Elnora Watkins, a retired educator who now heads the education committee of the NAACP’s Jacksonville branch, and high-performing teachers aren’t going to want to take on the risk.

“I would prefer a high-performing teacher in every classroom, but we know that’s not going to happen,” Atkins said. “We’re just going from bad to worse. I know that not many teachers are looking for jobs at (struggling) schools.”

Florida Times-Union


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