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New pilot to aid struggling Denver teachers

The typical process to get rid of a struggling teacher is often costly, lengthy, bureaucratic and nasty.

But a new pilot program in Denver is expected to make the process less expensive, quicker and fairer to both sides.

The school board is expected to vote next month on creation of the pilot program, dubbed Peer Assistance and Review (PAR). A memorandum of understanding supporting it has been signed by Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Denver Classroom Teachers Association President Henry Roman.

The program, which also must be approved by a majority of the 3,000 DCTA members, sets Denver apart from districts in Colorado. Similar approaches to dismissing or working to help teachers who aren’t making the grade are in place in Ohio and California. In Denver, teachers and administrators have been drafting language for peer review for more than three years. In a board conversation about it last week, member Happy Haynes called it an “extraordinary breakthrough.”

Under the pilot, the principal and teacher must both agree to use the PAR panel, to be made up of three teachers selected by DCTA and three principals or instructional leaders selected by the superintendent. Teachers can still choose to follow the current Teacher Evaluation, Compensation and Dismissal Act process, including a hearing by an administrative law judge.

The pilot also will include a specially trained peer observer to help identify issues and provide at least 10 hours of coaching, modeling or other support during the 30- to 90-day process. Peer observer also will provide feedback to principals to help them decide whether or note to fire teachers or extend improvement plans.

“The entire process has several parts to it,” Roman said Monday. “Eventually, the principal, the teacher and peer observer get to present their findings…to the panel. It’s not the principal making the final recommendation or decision.”

If dismissal is recommended, the six-member panel hears evidence from the teacher, principal and peer observer to make a decision about the teacher’s employment.

If the panel is evenly split, the teacher gets more time to improve. If the panel is split the second time a teacher is reviewed, the principal’s recommendation takes precedence.

“There is a greater sense of fairness, given that you have peers reviewing all of it,” Roman said.

Boasberg said the new system demonstrates DPS’s “shared commitment to ensuring quality and accountability within the teaching practice.”

“We believe that the PAR process will provide a beneficial alternative to better support both principals and teachers through what can often be a challenging process, ultimately resulting in an effective teacher in every classroom,” Boasberg said.

Meanwhile, all Denver teachers will continue to receive feedback and support through LEAP (Leading Effective Academic Practice), the district’s system for supporting and evaluating effective teaching performance. LEAP uses multiple measures, including classroom observation by school leaders, peer observers, student-perception surveys, measures of teacher professionalism and multiple measures of student academic growth.

Teachers who are not meeting district expectations through LEAP can be placed on an improvement plan, which ultimately could lead to involvement in the PAR pilot. About 40 teachers currently are on improvement plans.