Denver Public Schools boss puts teachers on notice

Last night, Denver Public Schools superintendent Tom Boasberg gave his first-ever "State of the Schools" speech at North High School to a not-quite-SRO "crowd" of about 75 people -- a total that even DPS chief communications officer Michael Vaughn can't make sound impressive. "It was a decent turnout," he offers, "but we're hoping to have more parents tonight," when Boasberg revisits the same territory at Hill Middle School.

The main event at North was the unveiling of the 2009 Denver Plan, a 62-page opus (to read it, click here) that aims to improve the district's mondo-uneven student performance levels. And surprise, surprise: Teachers took a lot of the heat despite having just agreed to a lower cost-of-living hike in the middle of a contract.

The section of the plan that pinpoints teachers is labeled "Great People to Drive Better Outcomes for Students." The document highlights the need for:

Frequent and meaningful feedback, coaching and development. Under the current satisfactory/unsatisfactory evaluation system, over 60% of our teachers receive no identified areas for growth or improvement and professional development is rarely linked to performance standards or individual needs. Teachers must receive regular feedback and development that targets identified, individual needs and is tied to professional standards in order to grow and develop.

Intensive support and development for our new teachers. Although it is widely recognized that new teachers are less effective in their first years in the classroom, new teachers receive little support or development. As noted i the Instructional Core section, new teacher induction must be transformed from an exercise in compliance with minimum state statutory requirements to a meaningful process that helps teachers develop one of society's most difficult and challenging set of professional skills.

Among the strategies to improve these situations:

Replace low-performing employees who, despite support, fail to meet expectations. Supervisors and management will use performance management systems, including Teacher Performance Framework described in the Instructional Core section, the principal evaluation process, and the Employee Performance Management Program, to clearly communicate performance expectations and reinforce these expectations through regular evaluation and consistent coaching and feedback. Principals, teachers, and staff who fail to meet expectations for performance will be given the opportunity and support to succeed fair process. And there must be fair and efficient processes for replacing employees, who despite this support, fail to meet expectations.

That may sound like DPS and Boasberg see lousy teachers as the root of the problem, but Vaughn begs to differ. He emphasizes that DPS and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the union representing teachers, worked together in a professional-practices work group to come up with many of these areas of concentration -- so accusations of demonizing instructors aren't justified. And besides, "right now, the plan we launched is very much a draft," he says. "We want to hear from all of our teachers, and we'll be doing that over the next six weeks."

In the meantime, Boasberg and a gaggle of his fellow DPS executives -- chief academic officer Ana Tilton, chief operating officer David Suppes and community engagement officer (and former city councilwoman) Happy Haynes -- will take their show on the road again tonight. Where, with luck, attendees won't be outnumbered by empty seats.