Leaving office after dismissal

Gilbert Public Schools determined what teachers would be laid off by scoring them on their performance in areas such as their campus leadership role, overall communication and their flexibility.

Last week the Governing Board voted to not renew the contracts of 152 teachers, citing the drop in student enrollment. The last time the district saw layoffs was in 2009, when 267 teachers lost their jobs as the Great Recession impacted the district’s tax base.

A committee was formed in January and a rubric was devised to rate the teachers. The state Legislature in late 2009 banned the use of tenure and seniority in determining layoffs.

All district principals were given a few days in early March to assess their staff – unbeknownst to teachers that this was occurring.

Teachers received either a zero for ineffective, 2 for effective or 3 for highly effective in nine areas. Secondary teachers were given two additional areas to be rated on.

 Criteria included creating an environment of respect and rapport, growing and developing professionally, showing professionalism, getting involved in campus activities such as clubs and coaching, taking on leadership roles, showing flexibility and responsiveness, participation in professional learning, promoting campus culture and overall communication.

Secondary school teachers also were assessed on their certification and program attrition. Under this last criterion, if multiple students request to drop a class or a significant number of students are failing a class, the teacher would receive a zero score. A teacher would receive a 3 if students request the teacher, there is retention and success and the program grows from year to year.

Shawn McIntosh, assistant superintendent of Talent Management, said it was determined that at the elementary level, a teacher scoring 13 points and below would be laid off. The highest possible score was 27.

For secondary teachers, 16 and below out of a total score of 33 made a teacher eligible for a layoff, he added.

“So, with 27 possible, using the elementary level, you could score effectively in eight of the categories and you wouldn’t have been below that threshold,” board member Reed Carr pointed out. “If you scored effective in at least eight categories, you had 16 points.  So you really had to score low on multiple categories to be below that threshold.”

 McIntosh said the threshold was not determined until all the valuations were completed.

 “Prior to us determining what that cut score would have been, depending on the number it could have been a 10 or it could have been a 16,” he said.  “I want to reiterate that at no time on the scoring did we know the number, the actual score that would be needed to meet the number of FTEs needed into next school year. 

“The principals didn’t know, (Office of Talent Management) did not know. Nobody knew what the score threshold would be that would need to meet the number of staff to be reduced next year.”

Angela Philpot, who is being laid off after seven years with the district, was disappointed there were no teachers involved in forming the rubric or that it was not brought to the governing board for approval before being used.

“I felt they were using the rubric to determine the livelihood and careers of professionals in their district and it should have involved all stakeholders,” she said. “Not one educator saw it or was part of the Student Centered Staffing Committee.”

She also felt the rubric used was for a normal school year and “this year seemed anything but normal” with the teachers jumping from in-person to virtual to hybrid teaching. 

At the March 30 board meeting, special-education teacher Amy Rowe also questioned the process. She has been with the district for a decade and anticipated retiring from Gilbert High School in seven years.

“I’m here tonight to express my concerns with the implementation of the Student Centered Staffing reduction in force,” Rowe said, adding:

 “It appears that our brand new principal of our high school was asked to evaluate our entire school and rank every single teacher at our campus not knowing what cutoff scores would be, not necessarily knowing how those may be used but knowing they would be reported to a committee that was looking at possible riffing.”

“Riffing” is a term used with reduction in force, or RIF.

“I can say honestly that all the teachers I work with he’s probably not observed the majority of them at no fault of his own and that is very concerning to me,” Rowe added.

“I am concerned that on my personal campus teachers who are exemplary have been riffed while we have teachers that all of us on campus could point to and say that person is weak and needs more support to grow and move into that role.”

Gilbert High Principal Brian Winters was hired for the 2020-21 school year from Maricopa High School.

Superintendent Shane McCord later said it was Rowe’s opinion that Winters may have been too new to fully know and assess all his teachers.

Rowe also said the district’s decision will cut two fully certified special-education teachers from Gilbert High, leaving two on campus who are not certified and two who will be leaving in June.

 Philpot also had concerns with some of the criteria used, especially with the one promoting campus culture.

Under that criterion, if a teacher was negative about the district or school, not sensitive to others and discussed school or district decisions publicly, a score of zero would be given. 

Philpot was concerned that teachers who went to their principal or the board and expressed frustration during the pandemic were targeted for layoff.

Philpot, who has not seen her rubric scoring, said she frequently is outspoken.

“I let them know they can do more to support students of color,” said Philpot, who teaches English-learner students. “I’m vocal about that, they need to do better but not in a disrespectful manner.”

She also questioned how her school principal could score her on her participation with professional learning because she goes through a district coordinator for that.

Philpot was recruited by GPS and said she brought in almost $1 million in grant funding to the district. “I have to find another position unfortunately,” she said. “I have been very blessed in that many of my colleagues have reached out and said come apply here. So I’ll spend the weekend getting applications in. The unfortunate part is I like teaching in Gilbert.”