Former Washington High School special education teacher Anne Daily left
the suburbs to teach in Chicago. But now her career in the district is
in jeopardy. Daily could join the dozens of probationary teachers who
ended up on the district’s “Do Not Hire” list due to firings and
negative evaluations. Former Washington High School special education teacher Anne Daily left the suburbs to teach in Chicago. But now her career in the district is in jeopardy. Daily could join the dozens of probationary teachers who ended up on the district’s “Do Not Hire” list due to firings and negative evaluations.
At the end of the 2010-11 school year, about 50 non-tenured teachers landed on the list after either failing two times to have their contract renewed or receiving an unsatisfactory evaluation.
Non-renewal is not necessarily an indication of a teacher’s job performance, since probationary teachers can end up not being renewed regardless of their evaluation. Critics say the policy also gives individual principals too much power to ruin a teacher’s career with one negative evaluation, as in Daily’s case.
Now, the Chicago Teachers Union is fighting the policy. Initially, the union filed a grievance on behalf of the affected teachers, but CPS denied the union’s request for arbitration. So the union has filed an unfair labor practices charge before the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, asserting the policy violates the union contract. Following a hearing, the CTU is waiting for a decision from the board on its request to force the district into arbitration over the matter.
“Teachers should get a chance to present their side of the situation,” says CTU staff coordinator Jackson Potter.
The union is challenging the policy in three areas, Potter says:
- Last year, affected teachers were not notified they were on the list, Potter says. The contract requires that teachers be sent dated copies of any negative documents placed in their personnel files.
- The district’s action was a change from what CPS has done in the past. The union’s contract allows it to file grievances when the district violates “past practice,” Potter says.
- The policy was implemented “ex post facto,” Potter says, with teachers unaware that their past evaluations and non-renewals would put them on the list, even if those non-renewals happened before the policy was implemented June 3.
In one case, Potter says, a teacher was non-renewed twice by the same principal. The first time it happened, the principal changed her mind, but the firing stayed on the teacher’s record.
“If the district has this blunt instrument, applying these policies in a uniform fashion without considering the details around how an individual member has gotten into this predicament, there’s no way for them to rectify the situation when it’s done in an unfair fashion,” Potter says.
Joseph McDermott, the high school member coordinator and municipal political coordinator for the CTU, says that most of the probationary teachers who are on the list are there because a principal didn’t renew them.
“I can tell you that non-tenured teachers are terrified,” Daily says.
After teaching high school history and junior high classes for four years outside the district,
Daily, now 36, decided to go back to school at Xavier University for a special education credential.
“I knew that I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl,” Daily says. “This is all I ever wanted to do with my life, and I’m good at it, and I like it.”
Before she was fired, she says, she was observed by both of the assistant principals at her school and received positive feedback, as well as an excellent evaluation from the principal.
But when Daily voiced her concerns about how another teacher was treating special education students, things began to change, she says. That teacher is on the local school council.
“It became very clear to me that [the principal] was not there to protect her students but to protect the LSC member and her own job,” Daily says. “Her contract was up for renewal.”
She claims Washington High School Principal Florence Gonzales targeted her for repeat observations and docked her for issues that were not her responsibility – for instance, the setup of a bulletin board in a general education teacher’s classroom. (Gonzales did not return phone messages asking about Daily).
In one instance, she was criticized for allowing a student without an ID to stay in class, Daily says. In another case, she was penalized for sending a student without an ID to the office.
McDermott says the do-not-hire rules offer little protection for teachers in cases where a principal treats them unfairly. “It has become a union issue, but I think it’s more than just a union issue,” he says. “Principals in some cases exert so much authority.”
In Daily’s case, one grievance – alleging that the principal harassed her – is waiting on a hearing with the Board of Education. A second – alleging that proper dismissal procedures weren’t followed – is waiting on a hearing with the principal. The district has also opened an investigation into the matter, which could provide Daily with some recourse.
Normally, when grievances aren’t decided in the union’s favor, the union can demand arbitration, which occasionally results in teachers getting their jobs back.
Even if Daily prevails in the end, she doesn’t know how she is going to support her 20-month-old daughter.
“I think I lost a lot of faith in people,” Daily says. “I always believed that the students come first and apparently that’s not the situation. It really saddens me.”