Mary Pishney, known as Miss P, won't return to teach first grade at Bromwell Elementary

Mary Pishney, the first-grade teacher whose arguably accurate negative performance evaluation was the subject of a recent Westword feature, will not return to the classroom when school starts again tomorrow. Pishney hasn't been back to Bromwell Elementary School in Cherry Creek since stress-related health issues caused her to take a leave of absence in February.

Pishney, known to students and parents as "Miss P," is officially on sick leave and, she says, is still suffering the effects of what happened. According to Pishney, several hard-to-please parents complained that her math lessons weren't rigorous enough and their gifted children weren't being challenged. Bromwell's new principal, Jody Cohn, sided with the parents. On top of that, a few fellow teachers wrote "letters of concern" about Pishney, detailing what she says are untrue allegations.

All of that led to the first negative teacher evaluation in Pishney's decades-long career.

And she wasn't the only one: Last year, fifty-eight Denver teachers got negative evaluations, which was more than twice as many as the previous year and three times as many as the year before that. While Denver Public Schools officials say the district is simply doing a better job of holding teachers accountable, some observers point to new state and federal pressure to get rid of "bad teachers" as the reason for the increase.

Pishney felt Cohn was being hostile toward her and filed a union grievance alleging that, as well as age discrimination. The day after, she went to see her doctor, who told her that her blood pressure was so high that she was on the edge of a stroke. So she took a leave of absence, and hasn't been back since.

DPS can't talk about Pishney's situation, citing personnel confidentiality. And as far as Pishney knows, she's still an employee of Denver Public Schools. But at this point, she says, there is likely no hope of her returning to a classroom. "I feel they will not transfer me" to another school, she says. "I am just seeking damages. I've racked up huge medical bills and lawyer bills... I had every full intention of working at Bromwell until my retirement. This has cost me a career, a retirement. It's cost me everything."

Pishney was a popular teacher, revered for her ability to connect with children and her practice of having them memorize poetry. Her student's test scores were excellent, she says, and many parents requested that their kids be placed in her class each year. Several parents were sad when she left and continue to support her now.

But Bromwell needs two first-grade teachers, and two Bromwell parents have confirmed that a "welcome back" newsletter received by parents this week states that the substitute who took over Pishney's class last year will return as a full-time teacher this year.

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar