Colorado’s new teacher effectiveness legislation is in its final year of a five-year rollout.
That’s one year too late for Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee, who said it would make situations like the recent firing of an ineffective teacher much easier.
McMinimee wasn’t willing to wait, however. Instead, in four months of employment with Jeffco he found the courage to do what nearly two decades of his predecessors did not. Namely, he recommended terminating a teacher who had more than 16 years of documented classroom issues.
Changing the System
The 2010 law, known as Senate Bill 191, is designed to make being an ineffective teacher a lost art. It will give superintendents across the state the ability to terminate teachers such as Andrew Medina after just two years of ineffectiveness, not halfway to retirement.
SB 191 has several components that will drastically change the way administrators manage their employees.
It includes a defined path to identify effective teachers and principals. It makes at least 50 percent of student growth the teachers’ responsibility and is reported on an annual evaluation.
It also doesn’t allow teachers to be “reassigned” without the consent of the teacher and the receiving principal. The former system simply placed ineffective teachers in different schools, allowing them access to a new set of students.
Additionally, the law:
- Allows teachers on non-probationary status, formally known as tenure, to move to another district and retain their status
- Requires annual evaluations for principals and non-probationary teachers
- Changes earning non-probationary status from simply the length of employment to demonstrated effectiveness for three consecutive years.
Perhaps most importantly, SB 191 includes a provision that non-probationary teachers may lose their status if they demonstrate ineffectiveness for two consecutive years, regardless of how long the teacher has been in the district.
Under the current system, teachers such as Medina could spend years being ineffective. Jeffco reprimanded Medina at multiple positions, by multiple principals in multiple schools for what the district said was “insubordination, incompetence, neglect of duty, unsatisfactory performance and other good and just cause.” The Board of Education agreed to approve his termination at its November 6 meeting.
And still, Medina may be able to keep his job if he chooses to seek mediation and wins, a common occurrence.
Jefferson County Education Association president John Ford did not return multiple calls from Complete Colorado seeking comment on whether the union would be supporting Medina in any effort to retain his position.
McMinimee said the new law would allow timely feedback on teacher performance so ineffective teachers can be taken out of the system much more rapidly.
“We are looking very forward to the full implementation of SB 191,” McMinimee said. ““It also gives us a good indication of what we can act on in terms of professional development and what positive practices we can put in place during the first three years of employment to make a teacher effective,” McMinimee said.
SB 191 opened up the ability for school districts to terminate teachers without the lengthy process that has cost districts thousands in salaries, legal fees and incidentals in the past because teachers formally were awarded tenure, a system that essentially guarantees employment after just three consecutive years of service.
During the 2013-14 school year, teachers received their first evaluations under the new system. By the end of this year, their effectiveness or ineffectiveness will be considered when granting or revoking non-probationary status.
A Lengthy Record
According to a letter from McMinimee to the board, Medina, began his Jeffco career in 1993 as a sixth-grade teacher. Five years later, as a fifth-grade teacher, he received his first memo of concern from the principal at Normandy Elementary School after failing to be on time for a faculty meeting.
A laundry list of violations has been documented since then.
Through 2004, as a special education teacher at both Normandy and Columbine Elementary Schools, principals continued to document Medina’s lack of punctuality. He failed to submit a conference schedule and turn in a communication log in a timely manner continually over a period of four months despite repeated reminders, the letter said.
The neglected document was critical to ensure compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for students receiving special education services.
Medina transferred to Pennington Elementary School in 2004-05, and again, was reprimanded for failing to attend meetings and communicate with parents and staff.
However, through 2010, Medina was regularly evaluated as meeting district standards. During the 2010-11 school year, Medina was transferred to Ralston Elementary School. The school received two letters from parents concerned with his abilities. One described his son’s experience as “hell in a cage,” McMinimee’s letter said.
Then in 2012, Medina was reprimanded for not complying with the Fair Campaign Practices Act by showing bias for a candidate and advocating for a ballot measure in the classroom.
Letters of complaints continued from parents, and his troubles increased to include leaving his classroom unattended, being less than effective as a teacher and assigning inappropriate writing assignments.
In 2014, having been reassigned again, he was eventually found to be overall ineffective and placed on a remediation plan. McMinimee’s letter said Medina never made progress and that was when the district chose to terminate him.
McMinimee couldn’t discuss Medina specifically because he was not sure if Medina would exercise mediation or other options, but said he would be relieved to see 191 fully implemented to be able to release teachers long before situations like Medina’s.
“SB-191 will allow building principals to evaluate quicker and make decisions during the first three years,” McMinimee said. “During the first three years we have the privilege of giving feedback and making the changes needed. We’re not going to change anything after a teacher has had three years.”