calendar conflicts

Teachers at George Washington High file grievance over imposed schedule

The recommendations call for George Washington High to get $6.7 million for upgrades or renovations.

Daniel Singer, an English teacher at Denver’s George Washington High School, has been stood up.

His principal was supposed to call him weeks ago, he said. But he’s still waiting.

The call, which was supposed to happen in early July, was to set a date for Singer, one of the building’s union representatives, to meet with the school’s teacher leadership team and the principal to finalize and approve the school’s master schedule, the document that sets teachers’ and students’ workload.

GW principal Micheal Johnson and his administrative team had published a draft schedule for teachers, but because that teacher leadership team was cut out of the process for next school year, union leaders claim, the document is invalid and in violation of its contract with Denver Public Schools.

With no signal from Johnson to collaborate, the Denver teachers union last week filed a formal complaint with city’s schools administrators.

A meeting has been scheduled for Aug. 12 between the district and the union.

The official grievance is the latest development to rile some of the southeast Denver community of parents and teachers since district officials announced their plans to open access to the high school’s storied International Baccalaureate program. School officials hope that the changes will expand educational opportunities for more of the school’s students. But the announcement sparked a firestorm among some parents who feared the move would water down the IB program’s academic rigor.

While the changes to the IB program aren’t supposed to take effect until the 2015 school year, the process by which officials made the decision has drawn the ire and skepticism of some teachers and a vocal group of parents.

And now anxiety over those changes appears to have been aggravated by their concerns over which teacher will be in which classroom and whether district officials will keep their word to leave the IB program as it is for one more year.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Billy Husher, a union organizer, referring to principal Johnson’s alleged disregard for collaboration.

A DPS spokeswoman said the district had no comment pending a full review of the grievance.

But Husher counters district officials have known about the lack of clarity in the scheduling process since late spring.

According to an email dated May 16 recapping a meeting between Husher and Greta Martinez, the district’s assistant superintendent of post-secondary readiness, the district in an earlier meeting had agreed that staff should provide input on the schedule.

Days after the school year ended, with still no meeting, Husher filed a grievance with the district. Husher said he withdrew his grievance at the request of the human resources department so that a school-level resolution could be found.

That’s when Singer, one of the building’s union representatives, reached out to Johnson.

“He said he was going to call me in early July and he never did,” Singer said. “In my seven years [at GW], it’s never been done this way.”

Meanwhile, many parents, already incensed over the changes to the IB program, began firing off letters in late May to district officials and school board members demanding to know who would be leading their students classrooms.

George Washington parent Joel Witter, who sent a letter, told Chalkbeat this week that district officials responded that because scheduling decisions are personnel matters, they wouldn’t be able to comply.

“We don’t know if the [IB] economics teacher and the biology teacher are going to be the teachers my son thought he was going to be spending time with,” Witter said.

And that ambiguity is feeding fears that teachers who haven’t previously taught in the IB program will end up teaching IB students for multiple years, Witter said.

“My son has loved the school so far, he loves his friends and teachers,” Witter said. “But, we have very serious concerns about the direction the school is going. We may send his younger brother somewhere else.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”