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Teachers frustrated by district changes

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Many teachers are confused and frustrated by district-level changes they say haven't been well thought out or explained to them. New teacher evaluation standards are too complicated, they say, creating apprehension among staff.

Their opinions are in stark contrast to those of district officials, who believe their proposal is focused, and easier to use than the state's planned evaluation system.

Teachers shared their concerns in a series of union-led meetings at Douglas County schools and community centers during the last month. Union leaders plan to pass those comments on to the school board.

“We think it's important to hold the district accountable,” said Brenda Smith, president of the Douglas County Federation. “In 20 years in this system, there's more ambiguity than ever before, and a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.”

Evaluation standards proposed under the district's pay-for-performance program will determine teachers' future salaries. But some instructors said they don't understand what the district expects from them, so they can't earn the “highly effective” ratings that will trigger pay bumps.

As an example of what Smith describes as ambiguity, she points to a proposed DCSD instructional standard that reads: “Teacher facilitates learning opportunities that inspire students to achieve world-class outcomes.”

The word “inspire” is not defined, Smith said, and though the district recently released a list of 11 phrases it said define world-class education targets, she said many teachers find phrases like “authentic assessment” and “sustainable learning” too vague.

“Teachers have no problem being held to a high level of accountability and wanting to improve their craft,” she said. “But when it's ambiguous, it makes it difficult for us to hit those targets.”

District leaders acknowledge the language needs further clarification and said they want teachers' help with that task.

“We want to go from murky to clear, so they know exactly what those targets look like and they are able to shoot for those,” Dana Strother, chief academic officer for elementary education, said in a district video.

Several teachers who spoke during the union's Oct. 8 meeting at the Lone Tree Recreation Center think the state's proposed evaluation standards are easier to understand than Douglas County's. They question the district's decision to create its own program.

“Why do they think we need to be different? Why do they think they know better?” asked one teacher. “There's such distrust right now between the teachers and administration building, we are all very leery of whatever comes out of it.”

District officials said they don't expect the transition to the new standards to be immediate.

“Change is difficult, especially when people perceive it as this is what allows me to keep my job or not,” said a Dan McMinimee, ssistant superintendent of secondary education. “I don't think it's high-stakes this year.”

McMinimee said the district is working to provide its staff with a thorough explanation of the ongoing changes with a combination of district videos, blogs and emails.

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