Metro

Dismissed Lawrence teachers fault evaluations

Several say feedback was inadequate, not given quickly enough

Amy Berard, a former former middle school English teacher in Lawrence, said school officials didn’t notify her of her shortcomings immediately after a performance review.
Mark Lorenz for the Boston Globe
Amy Berard, a former former middle school English teacher in Lawrence, said school officials didn’t notify her of her shortcomings immediately after a performance review.

A number of teachers who lost their jobs in Lawrence public schools this year say they were unfairly evaluated, asserting that administrators failed to provide adequate and timely feedback.

The Lawrence school system, taken over by the state in 2011, has dismissed 57 nontenured teachers and staff this year after deeming they were not a good fit for the district.

Amy Berard, a former middle school English teacher, said she was evaluated March 31, but did not receive feedback until May 18. That delay, she said, gave her little time to improve or implement an administrator’s suggestions.

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Comments on the evaluation, which was provided to the Globe, include “rigor of the class is low,” “urgency lacking,” and “routines for group work were not clear.”

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“It was a critical review of my performance,” said Berard. “Yet it was not critical enough to notify me right away to make the recommended adjustments to better serve the students.”

Berard is now running for a seat on the Lawrence School Committee.

Christine Longo’s evaluation was also delayed. Her formative review started on May 5, 2015, but she did not receive the evaluation until June 3, she said. The next day, on June 4, she was told she would be dismissed, leaving her no time to react to her evaluation.

Jeffrey C. Riley, the state-appointed receiver who oversees the school system, said he is “fully confident” the process was fair and offered to review the case of anyone who disagrees. Further, he said, not renewing teachers’ contracts is a routine practice that allows Massachusetts school districts to determine the best situation for their classrooms.

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Under state law, nonprofessional status teachers — typically those in the first three years of teaching — can be dismissed, Riley said. Teachers’ contracts are not renewed for a variety of reasons, he said, ranging from their performance to factors outside of their control such as a decline in student enrollment.

“At the end of the day, despite the large improvements in graduation rate, test scores, and other measures that LPS has seen over the last few years, we are still in state receivership and will continue to put the interests and needs of our students first,” Riley said.

Efforts to turn around the school district, which had been plagued by instability and poor student performance, are showing signs of success. Since 2011, the percentage of students scoring proficient on the math portion of the MCAS jumped from 28 percent to 41 percent in 2014. The graduation rate increased by 15 percentage points.

As receiver, Riley wields the powers of both the superintendent and the school committee. He can also amend or suspend aspects of the collective-bargaining agreement with teachers.

In the past three years, the district has opted against renewing the contracts of 160 teachers and other nonprofessional staff, though 11 teachers originally not renewed this year have been recalled to positions in the district and more may be added, according to Lawrence school officials. Lawrence has more than 1,000 teachers, according to the state’s website.

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Frank McLaughlin, president of the Lawrence Teachers Union, said that he is working with Riley to create a more comprehensive evaluation procedure for next year, in addition to reviewing evaluations from this year, and rehiring some teachers who were not renewed.

‘We are still in state receivership and will continue to put the interests and needs of our students first.’

Jeffrey Riley, state-appointed receiver of Lawrence schools 

The evaluation process may be a dark spot in an otherwise bright story of education reform, said state Senator Barbara L’Italien, an Andover Democrat whose district includes Lawrence. L’Italien said she met with approximately 15 to 20 teachers who are dismayed by the evaluation process.

“I am a big fan of the receiver. I think he has done a very good job under very challenging circumstances,” L’Italien said.

Jeffrey C. Riley, the state-appointed receiver who oversees Lawrence’s schools, said not renewing teachers’ contracts is a routine practice that allows school districts to determine the best situation for their classrooms.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/File 2012
Jeffrey C. Riley, the state-appointed receiver who oversees Lawrence’s schools, said not renewing teachers’ contracts is a routine practice that allows school districts to determine the best situation for their classrooms.

But regarding teacher evaluations, she added: “That may adhere to the letter of the law, but that’s not the way we should be conducting business in Massachusetts.”

The state adopted new teacher evaluation regulations in 2011 that call for a five-step process that aims “to provide educators with a continuous opportunity for professional growth and development,” including regular, constructive feedback. The regulations specify that teachers should have “no surprises” during the summative, or final phase, of evaluations.

Another dismissed Lawrence teacher, who did not want to be identified because she is seeking employment, said she was evaluated in May but received no feedback. On the day before the last day of school, she said, she was evaluated a final time but did not receive her summative evaluation until after she had been dismissed.

“I’m collecting unemployment,” said the teacher. “I have a master’s degree. I have a professional license in Massachusetts. I never thought something like this would happen.”

Classroom teachers aren’t the only ones complaining. School physical therapist Marianela Rivera said she received no evaluation or observation before her contract was not renewed. Rivera remembers one of her students grimacing with determination, clutching a metal banister, and walking upstairs for the first time.

“There was such joy in my heart,” Rivera said, overcome with emotion as she remembered the moment. “It was sad that my supervisor couldn’t see that progress.”

Although physical therapists such as Rivera are not required to be evaluated under state regulations, they are covered in many districts by the same collective-bargaining agreement that covers teachers and therefore often end up being evaluated, said Lauren Greene, spokeswoman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Lawrence’s collective bargaining agreement specifies that the term “teacher” refers to physical therapists.

Lawrence schools’ spokesman Christopher Markuns said that while all nonrenewed teachers had classroom observations and evaluations, some in nonteaching positions may not have been observed or evaluated.

Miranda Katz, a school technical theatre director, said she resigned at the end of the school year because she was dismayed that many teachers, under stress to perform well, are competing with one another instead of working as a team.

“I really hope that the focus goes back on the kids,” Katz said.

Monica Disare can be reached at monica.disare@globe.com.