7 teachers unsatisfactory; 25 vacancies remain

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When the Board of Education announced in July that five high schools would undergo intervention, one date became fixed in teachers’ minds: April 13. By that date, principals are to have completed five mandatory evaluations of each tenured teacher in the intervention schools and decided who stays and who goes.

By early March, only seven tenured teachers—out of some 180 at the five schools—had received unsatisfactory evaluations and were subject to dismissal, according to Sandra Givens, director of teacher accountability.

For the intervention teams at the schools, recruiting and hanging on to teachers remained a larger problem than getting rid of them. Together, Bowen, Collins, DuSable, Orr and South Shore high schools still have a total of about 25 vacancies.

“It’s hard to get teachers to come to intervention schools,” says Collins team leader Jerlyn Malloy. The West Side school has hired six teachers since July, but their arrival was offset by departures during the school year, she says.

No hearing required

In announcing the intervention initiative, Board of Education President Gery Chico called it the most drastic measure available to save failing high schools. Written into state law as part of the 1995 amendments to the Chicago School Reform Act, intervention allows the School Board to fire teachers without having to go through a state hearing. District officials stress, though, that teachers at intervention schools have all the rights due them under their union contract.

The School Board put additional weight into teacher evaluation at intervention schools by requiring the five observations and giving principals time to do them. It also added teams of highly rated teachers to help improve educational practices at the schools.

Chief Intervention Officer JoAnn Roberts says that intervention should not be judged by the number of teachers fired. Simply the threat of being removed has prompted some teachers to retire and others to transfer to other schools, she says. About 85 teachers have left the intervention schools, she reports, while 113 newcomers have been brought on board, many in the weeks before classes started.

Roberts is not bothered by the departures. She says no school—on intervention or otherwise—can succeed with teachers who don’t want to be there.

However, Chief Accountability Officer Phil Hansen finds the exodus somewhat troubling. Those who chose to leave before intervention started may have been good teachers or bad teachers—no one can be sure, he says. Still, he adds, at least teachers who were unwilling to accept changes under intervention were able to leave.

Recruitment woes

It’s not easy to hire teachers for most Chicago public high schools. With the stigma of intervention and uncertainty over what path the schools it will take next year, the intervention schools have faced an even greater challenge.

Team leaders say they have worked through many channels, including the CPS Office of Human Resources, the board’s program to recruit teachers from abroad, teacher-prep programs such as Teach for Chicago, and direct recruiting at universities.

Gladys Jones, team leader at DuSable, says she took a personal approach to recruiting through word of mouth. Jones says she highlights DuSable’s generally orderly student body. “You have a teachable high school,” she says.

Still, perceptions are hard to knock down. “People hear about 8 percent and wonder,” she says, referring to DuSable’s dismal percentage of students at or above national averages on reading tests.

About seven teachers, most of them young and new to their subjects, have needed special attention from intervention team members, Jones says. But she adds that the intervention members are not directly steered to teachers the principal deems to be struggling.

First-year DuSable chemistry teacher Sima Faik says the best part of intervention has been the extensive help he’s received from the science team member. Faik says he knew about DuSable’s troubled academic record, and that’s what drew him there. “I wanted to go into the school that needed motivated people,” he says.

At Orr High School, team leader Hellen DeBerry says she has tried to convince prospects that Orr is turning the corner. “I’ve had to sell the concept of the challenge and the possibility in this school,” she says.

She suggests that intervention schools start now to recruit their own teachers by attending job fairs and visiting colleges.

DeBerry has recruited six new teachers this year but suspects she’ll have to recruit more by September. “In reality, you won’t get that staff,” she says.

Intervention schools were told not to allow teachers to transfer out during the school year, which would exacerbate the vacancy rates. Some did anyway. “A few of them were able to squeeze through the cracks,” says Givens from teacher accountability. Givens and her staff visit the intervention schools to make sure principals are completing their evaluations.

Some believe intervention has continued to hurt teacher morale at the five schools and flushed out any chance of attracting high-quality teachers.

Michael Klonsky of the Small Schools Workshop at the University of Illinois Chicago, which withdrew as an external partner at Bowen when the school was placed on intervention, says word has spread that intervention has bulldozed through some of the good efforts of quality teachers.

Judith Hunter-Pate, a veteran CPS English teacher, came to Bowen last summer not knowing anything about intervention. As she sees it, the main problem has been that the intervention plan has changed almost weekly. It’s that inconsistency that’s been most maddening, she says.

Faik, the new DuSable teacher, agrees. “There’s never any stability” with the administration, or the direction of intervention, he says.

Hunter-Pate says she has enjoyed teaching her students, despite the gang and discipline problems that still plague Bowen. But for intervention schools to keep and attract teachers, she says, much needs to change. Currently, she can think of a dozen colleagues who are likely to leave Bowen at year’s end.

If Bowen leaders can convince the teachers to stay, “You might have a chance to have a better year next year,” she adds.

Plan on track

Despite the ups and downs of recruitment, Roberts says, the intervention schools will meet the first-year goal of having united principals with the teaching staff they have chosen.

Chief Academic Officer Cozette Buckney says she is satisfied that intervention, particularly its intensive teacher evaluation process, is helping the schools refocus. “We didn’t want to play ‘gotcha’ with teachers,” she says. “We want to make sure that there’s competent teaching going on.”

Intervention teams are busy planning for next year, but CPS officials are not yet sure what direction the overall effort will take.

Intervention may be tailored to individual schools, says Buckney. While the intervention teams will remain, their roles may vary, she says. The future of the Office of Intervention itself is even less certain. Buckney says it may remain intact, or it could be disbanded and its services divided among the offices of accountability and high school development.

The School Board will make these decisions, she says, based on performance data and a report she will submit in May. The data will include test scores, attendance and course passage.

Roberts says the first year has been about setting a new tone, providing new textbooks, upgrading computer technology and improving general school operations. “We put a name and face on the process,” she says.

Teachers identified for dismissal will learn their fate shortly after April 13, but no action will take place until the end of the school year, she says.