Douglas County, Education, Elections, Politics

Dougco school district appears headed down Jeffco path of district unrest

Ponderosa High School students protest over the loss of teachers they believe have left the district because of too little pay and too many mandates.
Ponderosa High School students protest over the loss of teachers they believe have left the district because of too little pay and too many mandates.

Roughly 200 Ponderosa High School students took to the soccer fields at their high school Wednesday to protest what they say are good teachers leaving the district and call for the termination of Douglas County School District’s superintendent.

“Teachers with experience who make you love math or science, or English teachers that might be better writers are actually leaving now,” said sophomore Anne Lindford. “So my younger siblings won’t get the experience I had.”

The walkout appears to be the first in what many expect will be a long line of antics organized by the Douglas County Federation of Teachers (DCFT) to turn the tide against the reform-minded Douglas County Board of Education majority, similar to how the Jefferson County Education Association successfully recalled three school board members in November because JCEA was not happy with changes made under a reform majority.

The Dougco school board has put in place several reforms over the past few years that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has not supported, including ending exclusive negotiating privileges with the DCFT, a school voucher system that would allow parents to enroll their children in private schools – a plan that is still making its way through the courts – and scraping the standard pay schedule in favor of a pay-for-performance system.

Three new anti-reform members were elected in November, but the board still has a 4-3 reform edge.

A Ponderosa student, whose identity Complete Colorado has decided not to release to protect that student from repercussions from the statement, said the protest came about as a result of efforts by two students – also not being identified by Complete Colorado – who have a history of helping teachers get their word out.

“Two students are really close with the teachers,” said the student. “They are always involved with them in a ton of stuff. They posted it on Twitter and Facebook and were handing out flyers to sign petitions. And when they got enough signatures they just picked a date.”

The same student said current teachers at Ponderosa are also taking time from their work day to discuss their pay with students, and elaborate on why they feel mistreated by the district.

“They (say that) since the district has changed, the pay has been below what they can live off of,” the student said. “They are unable to support themselves and their families and how (Superintendent Liz Fagen) gets options for bonuses but none of the teachers do.”

The protest proceeded without incident with students chanting names of teachers who have left the school, or other things such as “I say fire, you say Fagen,” in reference to Fagen, who students blame for the district’s troubles.

Several parents, some wearing t-shirts saying “#firefagen,” were also holding signs and leading the students in protest.

Ponderosa High School students protest what they perceive as a high number of teachers leaving their school. They blame the superintendent.
Ponderosa High School students protest what they perceive as a high number of teachers leaving their school. They blame the superintendent.

Ponderosa junior Madi Willis said students had just had enough. She said they’ve noticed a lot of teachers are treated unfairly.

“Some of the best teachers that we’ve had all through our high school careers are leaving because of it,” Madi said. “That affects us as students because teachers make us who we are in our future.”

Both Madi and Anne said they don’t believe the mandates placed on teachers come from the state. They believe all the problems began with Fagen and say that, at the very least, she needs replaced.

“What we’ve noticed is in Douglas County School District there is opening (sic) for almost 300 teachers but in Cherry Creek there is almost zero,” Anne said. “So there is definitely something going on.”

Madi added there are other needed changes – although she didn’t say what – but added that even if Fagen was replaced, there is no guarantee that anything would be different.

“If she does get fired, are the changes are going to be fixed at all,” Madi asked.

Fagen said after the protest that the numbers of teachers leaving the district has been higher since new teacher evaluations were enacted, but she said those evaluations have actually allowed for better raises for teachers than under the old system.

“We have over 3,400 teachers in the district,” Fagen said. “We are here to support … any of the concerns they may be having. Sometimes it’s just a really great opportunity for them. And when we can do something to make a difference for a teacher we do. There is no question that over the past few years, we’ve embarked on some changes in education and some people have not agreed with those, and we understand that, and we want to work together to solve those when we can, but there are opportunities to go to other places, and were going to have that in larger districts.”

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