D.C. Public Schools' evaluation system for teachers and staff has been touted as a way to identify and keep great teachers. But that's not always the case. Some teachers recently found themselves unemployed despite good evaluations.
Patricia Hoyle was teaching at Anacostia High School in Southeast D.C. when she received a letter saying her position with the school system was being "terminated." It's ironic, she says. After teaching English for decades, she's been struggling to articulate how she feels.
"It's ... it's ... I've been searching for the words to describe it," she says. "I don't know if there's a word for it."
Effective, and also excessed
Hoyle is one of 187 teachers and staff rated effective or highly effective who were among those "excessed" during the 2009-2010 school year. That means they lost their jobs because of other factors, such as budget cuts or programming changes. These employees could leave immediately and receive $25,000 dollars, or they had one year to find another job within DCPS.
During that grace year, Hoyle couldn't find a principal willing to hire her. Nathan Saunders, the president of the Washington Teachers Union, has filed a grievance on behalf of 21 teachers in similar positions.
"What sense does it make to terminate, to fire, to get rid off a teacher who has proven themselves to be effective or highly effective?" he asks. Saunders believes that when the District was hiring for this academic year, any excessed teacher that had been rated effective or highly effective should have been hired first.
Teacher hires are the schools' calls
Overall, 90 percent of effective and highly effective teachers stay in the school district, according to Scott Thompson, director of Teacher Effectiveness for DCPS. Of those excessed, 60 percent found jobs at the end of the 2010-2011 school year. But he's quick to point out that it's up to principals at each school, not the central office, to make decisions about hiring.
"This is a fundamental belief," Thompson says. "In no professional context is a firm required to hire a certain person." The school system has held several job fairs for these teachers and staff, but they won't be matched in every case, he adds.
"We think that at the end of the day, if you've been on 10 to 12 interviews and can't find a principal who's willing to take you, that's probably okay," Thompson says.
Fighting the 'bad teacher' stigma
Another former teacher, Edwina Riddick-Bush, taught special education at Mamie Lee School in Northeast D.C. She too was rated "effective" both years before she was excessed.
"I'm devastated. I don't know how I'm going to make it," Riddick-Bush says. "I need a job badly."
She's struggling to understand why she doesn't have a job when she feels she's done everything right. The worst part, she says, is the expression on people's faces when she tells people she's no longer with DCPS. She knows they're thinking she's one of the so-called "bad" teachers.
"I tell them I have an effective rating. But they have the look on their face like you're not telling the truth," she says. "And you are. I'm not carrying my paperwork with me!"
As she gathers up her papers and reluctantly puts them back into a folder, Riddick-Bush says she is trying not to get depressed. "It's been my life. 21 years," she says. "I can't see any other way."
But in the next breath, she remembers there's hope. She's thinking of reinventing herself, and going back to school.