Departing teachers speak out

Educators cite morale, changes, environment

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Some teachers trace it back to the 2009 election of four Republican Party-backed current school board members — which they say began a sea change in Douglas County School District operations; others to the failed summer 2012 negotiations between the district and teachers’ union. But all departing teachers who spoke about their reasons for leaving point to changes initiated by the district’s current board and administration.

Teachers said they’re not opposed to the idea of education reform, or all of DCSD’s new policies. The changes simply are coming too fast, with too little explanation, they say.

Following are a few words from several departing teachers.

John Kissingford

Chaparral High School English teacher and department chair, accepted a new position in the Ouray School District. Ten years in DCSD. Rated “highly effective.”

“I’m more heartbroken about the direction the district has gone than personally frustrated. The administration has created such a toxic atmosphere, such an adversarial relationship between teachers and administration, and frankly, such an atmosphere of fear. It’s a heartbreaker.

“While I and many teachers really feel like a lot of the reforms are valid, (the) means of implementation has been so heavy-handed and so autocratic that there are huge structural problems. It pushed me out the door. Since the union now is effectively disempowered, we feel like we have no voice in these decisions. Much of this agenda could have been enacted effectively in a collaborative way with teachers.

“I would say somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of seasoned teachers would leave this district if they financially could. Most people cannot afford to take a huge pay cut. I’m going to take an enormous pay cut.”

Barb Dignan

Highlands Ranch High School theater teacher, retiring early. Fifteen years in DCSD. Rated “effective.”

“The district people are very good at packaging everything very nicely and making it look good. Whenever the district speaks, they say the emperor has clothes on and we’re saying, ‘No, he doesn’t.’ We in the trenches know how bad things are, how things are falling apart.

“The district wants to put all this on the union. That’s bull hockey; that’s just a diversion. I love my students. I’m just done with the whole bureaucracy.”

Debby Smith

Flagstone Elementary School sixth-grade teacher, accepted a position in Cherry Creek School District. Fifteen years in DCSD. Rated “highly effective.”

“I want to be somewhere where the first and last question we ask is, ‘What is best for kids?’ I don’t feel like that question is being asked anymore in our district. The first question seems to be about, ‘We’ve got to be the first ones in the nation doing this.’ It seems kids have been taken out of the picture.

“The evaluations, which seemed to continue to change throughout the year, the salary bands, the market pay — it doesn’t make me feel respected as an educator.

“Part of me is saying that, sadly, leaving is possibly one of the best ways I can fight. Teachers are leaving, and parents are starting to realize and question what is happening in the district. It’s personal now.”

Judy Ahlbrecht

Acres Green Elementary School art teacher, retiring early. Eighteen years in DCSD. Rated “highly effective.”

“The change happened when (John) Carson, (Doug) Benevento, Meghann (Silverthorn) and Justin Williams were elected to the board. It has been steadily going downhill since. The real slap in the face came when the district refused to work with the union. What’s happening at the district office and the board of education — the trust is totally gone.

“Working with the kids is where we get the strokes we need to continue. I could (teach) for a long time yet, but I don’t want to work for that board of education anymore.”

Brian White

ThunderRidge High School social studies teacher, accepted a job with Littleton Public Schools. Four years in DCSD. Rated “effective.”

“For me, the biggest concern would be that these reforms they’re pushing here are not going to do anything to improve teaching and learning in this district. Teachers here are under attack. Public education in general is under attack.

“Another big issue for me is the climate and morale in this district is just horrible. My first year here was the first year of this current board, and at that time, DCSD was what I call a destination district for teachers. Clearly, that’s changed. It’s not just how many teachers are leaving, but who they are — the quality and experience. These are teachers I never thought would leave.”

Pam Pitman

Clear Sky Elementary kindergarten teacher, leaving the teaching profession. Nine years in DCSD. Rated “effective.”

“It was such a hard decision because I love the kids. But I cannot work for a district that just philosophically goes against my beliefs.

“It’s the way things are presented; they have thrown stuff at us. A good teacher always lets students help the process of what they’re going to learn about because they have buy-in and they think they had a say in the manner. They don’t take that into consideration. There’s a wall coming up between teachers and the district. Eventually kids will suffer.”

Jenna Southern

Flagstone Elementary learning specialist, accepted a job with Littleton Public Schools. Six years in DCSD. Rated “effective.”

“There’s a lot of turmoil district-wide and it was really interfering with my teaching. I feel like it’s coming from the district level and how much change they’ve put in place. It doesn’t feel like change that’s best for kids.

“More so than money, I’m going to Littleton for the support they’re offering me. I’m looking forward to the change, but I don’t think I’ll ever find teachers as great as these.”

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