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State mulls big staffing changes at 2 failing Boston schools

Principals, teachers, and other staff members at two Boston schools slated for state takeovers have been put on notice: They will likely be asked to reapply for their jobs in the coming months, a move that could lead to a mass exodus from Dever and Holland elementary schools.

The action would affect 96 teachers, administrators, and other staff members at Holland and 83 at Dever, both in Dorchester. The issue is particularly sensitive at Dever, where more than half the teaching staff was replaced four years ago in hopes of boosting student achievement.

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“We are definitely concerned about this,” said Barbara Donnelly, a Dever parent. “For a lot of our students, one of the only stable things they have is their relationship with their teachers. Four years ago, when students came back to school [in the fall] they were confused and it was hard for them, and it took a year for teachers to build up their trust.”

Mitchell Chester, the state’s elementary and secondary education commissioner, who is overseeing the takeovers, said he will make his decision on whether the staffs should reapply for their jobs after “turnaround plans” are developed for each school, according to a letter he sent to interim Superintendent John McDonough, dated Jan. 13.

But he added that he is “likely to exercise the authority.”

J.C. Considine, a state education spokesman, said the commissioner issued the warning because he wanted to give the staffs ample time to explore job opportunities elsewhere.

The state said in October that it would take over the two schools, citing chronically low MCAS scores. It marked the first time the state moved to seize control of a school run by the Boston school system, which had three years to turn around both schools but failed to get the job done.

‘I don’t think it’s an appropriate way to turn around a school.’

RICHARD STUTMAN, Boston teachers union president 
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Chester is in the process of selecting a receiver for the schools, and might announce his appointment this week. The commissioner could hire an outside organization to run the schools or an individual with expertise, or he could select Boston’s school superintendent to execute the state-crafted turnaround plans.

The receiver will have the power to hire staff for the school.

Richard Stutman, president of the teachers union, said he expects that few teachers will remain at Dever and Holland. He said in other instances where Boston school leaders asked teachers to reapply for their jobs in the last four years, many teachers didn’t bother or were passed over, causing more than half of the staffs to be replaced.

“I don’t think it’s an appropriate way to turn around a school,” Stutman said.

Boston school system officials notified staff members at the two schools about the commissioner’s thinking on Jan. 14 and formally “excessed” them from their positions — a move that enables them to apply for jobs at other schools in the system.

Typically, staff who are being pushed out of an underperforming school transfer to other schools in the system. School system officials would not say Thursday whether any teacher deemed unsatisfactory or in need of improvement on their job review would be allowed to move to another school or whether the school system would move to fire them.

But in most cases, the teachers at Dever and Holland should be of high quality. Principals of those schools were granted enormous flexibility to hand-pick their staffs under a 2010 state law that aims to rapidly overhaul failing schools. That hiring flexibility enables principals to get rid of any teacher, including those who perform well but disagree with the turnaround methods.

Bolstering instruction remains a priority at both schools, McDonough said in a prepared statement.

“We are also focused on making sure the transition to [state receivership] is a successful one for students, and we are working closely with the state on all aspects of that transition, including the staffing process recommended by the state,” McDonough said. “While it is too early to tell what the outcome will be with the state process in terms of teaching and staffing positions, we are focused on ensuring that every teacher in every classroom is a good one.”

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.
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