LORAIN — CEO David Hardy told the teachers union president no teachers would move between buildings more than a week before announcing high school staff would go through a “selection process” to keep their jobs next year.
In an email sent Feb. 13 to Lorain Education Association President Jay Pickering, Hardy supplied “clarity on teacher movement” at Pickering’s request.
“As we spoke about this, I confirmed with you that I have no intention to change teacher assignments at schools unless it is driven by scholar enrollment numbers,” Hardy wrote. “We spoke about this because of a lingering concern/rumor that was floating around that I would be moving teachers this summer from one school to another randomly. I do not plan on doing that at all.”
On Thursday, 10 days after he sent Pickering the statement, Hardy announced the high school would be designated as the district’s first empowerment school, requiring staff to go through a “selection process” to retain their jobs next school year. Teachers with counting contracts, or tenure, who are not selected to remain at the high school will be moved to other positions in the district, Hardy said.
“Typically something like this, we would have gotten together to talk about the process so that we could bring up concerns and things,” Pickering said. “He did not engage me at all on this. He actually, quite the opposite told me none of this would happen.”
In an email, Hardy said he had no comment on the discrepancy between the Feb. 13 email and his announcement Thursday.
Following Friday’s meeting between high school staff and the administration, Pickering said, educators were left with more questions than answers.
Per a letter sent Friday evening, staff must submit a “declaration of intent” survey by next Friday as to whether they wish to remain at the soon-to-be empowerment school. From there, they will be interviewed, but the specifics remain unclear.
“They can’t tell you who’s interviewing people, what positions — when you put in your request to stay, there’s not ‘what am I going to teach.’ It was very vague as far as whatever this process is going to be. The only thing, and I made sure that I asked the CEO clearly, if throughout this process if a teacher’s not chosen, could they lose their job in Lorain, yes or no. And he just refused to answer the question.”
The building’s administration will have a hand in choosing who stays at the high school, per Hardy’s presentation Thursday, sparking further concerns.
In a survey conducted by the Lorain Education Association, of those who responded, 69 percent of high school teachers reported they did not believe the building’s deans were experienced and qualified for their jobs. When asked if they felt supported by the building administration, 17 percent “strongly disagreed,” and 36 percent “disagreed.” As for the administration providing a “safe and undisturbed learning atmosphere for students,” 43 percent “strongly disagreed” and 29 percent “disagreed.”
It is unclear how many high school teachers completed the union’s survey, though Pickering said each building had “more than 60 percent” participation. The entire survey garnered 331 responses from the 471 educators in the district.
Pickering said he thinks the survey results are in part why the high school was selected as the only empowerment school, which marks it as the lowest-performing under Hardy’s new plan to redefine the district’s buildings by performance.
“The only thing I can think of is he was mad because he can’t handle feedback even though he’s given feedback to teachers,” he said.
Pickering said nothing stated in Friday’s meeting was provided in writing, causing more confusion as staff were left trying to remember any information they’d been told.
He said the union’s legal consultant, provided by the State Education Association, was barred from the meeting, as was school board vice president Tony Dimacchia.
Pickering said the union is looking into the legality of the entire situation.
“(Friday) I was talking to senators, to our people, to lawyers — we’re trying to figure it out,” he said. “There’s so few details, but we’re definitely going to be addressing this. The question is how. Throughout next week we’ll be dealing with this.”
Teach for America concerns
As confusion swirls, some have expressed fear that district teachers could be replaced with Teach for America members. Social media posts circulated Saturday that include screenshots of job listings for Lorain Teach for America teachers via Indeed, LinkedIn and ZipRecruiter websites.
Founded in 1990, Teach for America places its corps members in low-income or disadvantaged districts across the country. Members are required to have a bachelor’s degree in any field, a minimum 2.5 grade-point average and be a U.S. citizen or have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. Those chosen for the program go through a five- to eight-week training institute before being placed in districts for two years. Teach for America teachers’ salaries and benefits are the same as the district’s other educators, and the district pays Teach for America a $5,000 annual fee for each member it employs. The national deadline for Teach for America applications is Friday.
In 2018 the district paid Teach for America $35,000 — $5,000 for each corps member employed by the district in either their first or second year, according to the district’s contract with the nonprofit.
Pickering said the district has been using Teach for America for a number of years, so the postings staff and community members are sharing on social media aren’t out of the ordinary.
“I can’t find anything there that’s unusual, to be honest, because they have been using Teach for America for three or four years in Lorain,” he said. “Some of them have already expired, that people have showed me.”
Lorain is one of eight districts in Northeast Ohio with partnerships with Teach for America, outside Cleveland Schools, the rest are charters or alternative models: Breakthrough Charter, Global Ambassadors Language Academy, Near West Intergenerational School, Performance Academy and Stonebrook Montessori.
Pickering said there aren’t many Teach for America members employed with the district, but even with the corps contract, Lorain schools is struggling to fill its vacancies.
“Keep in mind, the crazy thing about what he’s talking about now too is I think we’re missing five full-time teachers at the high school at the moment, so I don’t know how they can’t use all the current teachers,” he said. “They’ve been having trouble filling teacher positions, despite having requests in for Teach for America. The word is out, nobody wants to work in the school district.”
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