Teacher Speaks Out on Poor Treatment in Lawrence Schools

By: Amy Berard – August, 2015

Lawrence High SchoolI am one of the 59 Lawrence teachers whose contract was not renewed this year. Recently, on June 11, you reported on this.

I would like to share with you and possibly your readers my experience teaching within the Lawrence Public School District. I have taught in Lawrence at two different schools during the 2012-2013, 2013-2014, and 2014-2015 school years. It is my hope that by sharing this, the public may be more aware of the experience of teachers within the district. It is also my hope that the district may in the future better support the faculty in serving students as well as notice patterns, strengths, and weaknesses in their management.

I was told my contract would not be renewed two weeks before the close of school. My portfolio had yet to be reviewed. (Every teacher in the state has to create a portfolio with evidence of four standards. This is to be reviewed by administers in April.) Three days before the last day of school, I received my summative evaluation in an email. Even though I received it June 16, it was post dated April 20. I believe this is just one of many examples of the lack of transparency and support within the school. Lack of timely feedback from the administration is a common thing in the district. Meaningful growth cannot happen without timely feedback.

Also, I have a hard time believing there is a growth mindset within the district when I was observed in March by my administrator, but only received the review of the March observation in mid-May. It was a critical review of my performance, yet it was not critical enough to notify me right away to make the recommended adjustments to better serve the students. Either my performance was misjudged, or the administrator remiss in notifying me in a timely manner of critical weaknesses in my teaching. I truly believe that my administrator has the best interests of the students in mind. Seeing that she was lackadaisical about notifying me of her review of my performance, I can only assume she didn’t truly believe that my performance was sub par.

Furthermore, I found the lack of experience among leadership also impeded growth and meaningful feedback. During the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school year I was evaluated by an administrator whose prior teaching experience was for two years as a math teacher. She earned her administrator license while serving as an administrator. It was her first year as an administrator while I was under her supervision. My position was as a Title 1 Reading Specialist. When I raised my concern that I would like an administrator who is knowledgeable of ELA (English Language Arts) and reading to evaluate me, the administrator told me to just teach her what she needed to know about reading, so she could provide meaningful feedback to me. I cannot teach someone in days what it took me years of study and practice to learn.

There are many members of the faculty in leadership positions that have little experience in their positions. I understand we all have to learn through trial and error. However, it needs to be taken into account the effect it has on faculty. It is very hard to perform to expectations when the leadership team is still learning what the expectations of their own positions are and they are not all on the same page with matters of curriculum and instruction.

During my Lawrence teaching experience, I found the ELA coach and administration contradicted themselves on curriculum. For example, I went to the ELA coach with a list of essential questions. I was told it was not correct examples of essential questions. I went with the same sheet to my administrator, a former ELA teacher, and I was told they were excellent examples of essential questions. Also, I was told by my administrator not to use a specific curriculum because it was not rigorous enough for my Special Education (SpEd) grade 6 class. However, within that same week, I was told to use that same curriculum viewed as not rigorous enough for a SpEd grade 6 with my regular education grade 7/8 class.

I find some decisions within the school seem to be ego-driven rather than child-centered.
I find that the district’s actions erode the very sense of community that they claim they are trying to build. It seems counterproductive to burn and churn teachers. Many students have transient home lives. Often the adults within the school are the adults they have the most contact with, especially with these extended school hours.

When you have a high teacher turnover and when you change the adults present in their lives, there is a loss of stability. Students and their parents are motivated to engage with the school based on their relationship and connection to the faculty. On my summative evaluation, I was commended for engaging the parents and school community.

When my contract was not renewed and I was told I was “not the right fit for Lawrence,” I understood it was a personal and not a professional decision.

I am a resident of Lawrence. I am a graduate of Lawrence High School. I attended the Bruce Elementary School in Lawrence. When I take my children to the Boys and Girls club, I see many of my students there. During Halloween, my children visit my students homes and my students visit my home for candy. It is not common in Lawrence to have a teacher within the same district and even school zone as the students. That’s something very special.

I am invested in the city of Lawrence and the students of Lawrence.

I know many staff members say nothing about their concerns because Lawrence has created a culture of silence. Faculty members have seen the large turnover within the district over these recent years and they’re concerned with their own job security, retirement, and career paths.
More than one teacher has said to me that they’re reluctant to help other teachers because they feel their job security is threatened when they assist other teachers.

For example, district colleagues have said to me it is “dog eat dog” and “every man for himself.” One colleague said, “Why would I share my tips with you? So you can use them with your students and then when they get to my grade it will be harder for me to make big gains?”

My contract was not renewed. Yet my last observation was proficient and the commendations were: “Students were engaged, asked questions, and contributed to the lesson” and “good pacing throughout the lesson.” During the lesson it was noted “Students were tasked with explaining 5 features of accountable text talk.” It was also noted that the lesson had all the features of the cycle of effective instruction. Accountable talk, text dependent questions, and the cycle of effective instruction were all school initiatives I was tasked to meet. There is documented evidence that I had met these expectations.

I am very pleased that my students made 154% progress toward targeted iready growth and I expect my students made significant MCAS gains as well. However, those results will not come out until later this summer.

It was never my intention to be in the right faculty clique, but it was my intention that my students learned. I was a successful teacher in that respect. I suspect Lawrence is losing good teachers not because of lack of teacher efficacy but because of office politics.

Amy Berard
Former Middle School Teacher
Lawrence, Ma

16 Responses to "Teacher Speaks Out on Poor Treatment in Lawrence Schools"

  1. Jessica Torres de Germain   August 21, 2015 at 3:50 PM

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts & heart about your experience there. I hope change happens because of your experience. It’s starts with one voice!!

  2. Worried Dad   August 22, 2015 at 6:12 AM

    The school system now has been becoming a joke. Its sad that i live in Lawrence and have to use a friends address just so he can attend school outside of the corrupt/money hungry LPS system.

    • Calvin P   August 24, 2015 at 12:21 PM

      Are you implying that you are illegally sending your kids to school in another town where you do not pay taxes? I know there is a school choice system where kids can be sent to school in another town but this statement sounds a bit shady ” Its sad that i live in Lawrence and have to use a friends address just so he can attend school outside of the corrupt/money hungry LPS system.”

  3. Patty   August 22, 2015 at 11:11 AM

    Very well said Amy. I am glad that you are standing up for education in the city. There are many things that need to be changed and a change is coming soon. Children learn best when they have a good relationship with their instructor. Without good relationships the students loose interest in school. You are a great teacher Amy. Remember that.

  4. Rocio M Collado   August 22, 2015 at 2:18 PM

    I’m sorry to hear that Lawrence is losing great teachers due to office politics. Amy thank you for your voice!

  5. Ethel Milone   August 24, 2015 at 2:07 PM

    That’s why when I lived in Lawrence my daughter went to St Patrick’s and St Mary’s high

  6. Lisa   August 24, 2015 at 8:25 PM

    This article was spot on. As a former teacher in the district I can relate to everything written here. There is definitely a culture of “silence” in the district and teachers stand by while others are targeted and in some cases even harassed to the point of resigning. There is no checks and balance system in place for administrators. I had some great administrators and some that were completely unprofessional but never held accountable for actions that were questionable to say the least. I applaud Amy for having the courage to say what every teacher in Lawrence already knows but is afraid to speak aloud. Teachers in this district are amongst some of the most capable and dedicated in the country. It’s so sad that many are being pushed out for reasons that are less than valid. The kids need teachers who won’t give up on them. They need teachers who place their education above the popularity contests that often exist (and shouldn’t) in our schools. There were things happening in my school that were beyond questionable and I believe most teachers were well aware but feared (with good reason) that speaking up would put them in the cross hairs as well.

  7. mamabooch   August 25, 2015 at 10:05 AM

    Excellent points made here! Bravo – you highlighted the major inadequacies in the current teacher evaluation system! The “growth mindset” comment is spot on! Also, many teachers identify with the comments you made about how poorly trained, and how inexperienced evaluators are. We need more teacher leaders and less inexperienced administrators. I have shared this with @DianeRavitch, @AnthonyCody and @ Rweingarten …. Great job on using your voice!

  8. Dee   August 27, 2015 at 8:00 AM

    I may be speaking out of turn as I was never a teacher but only a paraprofessional worked in several different classrooms with SPED and regular students. Teachers face the same inequity in their jobs as others face in regular businesses. I have worked for several companies and even in union jobs-politics gets the people jobs so many times your new boss is someone who has never done your job or knows anything about how it works. You train them and then they become your boss-never made sense to me. Unfortunately, teachers are really abused by superiors, students and their parents and still continue to try to do the best for their students. I do not know how they can even have time to instruct when they have so much paperwork to do and have to make sure their students pass tests like MCAS. Bless you for trying, and caring about the future leaders of our world because obviously no one else does.

  9. Teacher who understands!   August 27, 2015 at 3:23 PM

    I worked in the Lawrence school system as a teacher and I can agree and support all of these claims. The schools are bringing in outside sources and creating little robots to make the numbers look good. It’s not about the child’s education. I would be HAPPY to discuss what I endured working in Lawrence. It is a very disgusting situation!!!

  10. Jennifer Stern   August 29, 2015 at 8:07 AM

    This is also a very sad situation for the students as well. I taught in Lawrence for five years. The revolving door for administrators was a huge problem for Lawrence. Often times the administrators were working against each other and with the right hand not knowing what the left was doing, the teachers were constantly working in chaotic situations and would often times spend their time trying to fix what was wrong for the sake of their students. Many times during the evaluations the observers made it their choice to see only the insignificant errors in our lessons. These were always pointed out during the debriefing sessions. Needless to say the system was broken in many ways and we had little time to take the critiquing and turn it around before yet a new set of eyes to critique even more. Needless to say I left as the chaos was affecting my teaching and did not feel I could grow and thrive in a very demanding profession. It takes a special person to take on the challenges of an urban setting like Lawrence, I feel little has been done to remedy this impoverished district. Until the administrators all the way to the state stop patting each others back for getting rid of what they perceive as “bad Teachers” or poor fits for the district, the problem in Lawrence will continue to escalate long after the receivership is gone.

  11. Cindy   August 29, 2015 at 11:00 PM

    This is not just happening in your town, I have worked in several states as a special ed teacher and have seen many teachers nonrenewed and even worse, blackballed from the profession. When a country is desperate for teachers who are willing to accept low pay and other stresses from the job, why are the administrators being so empowered. Is this right for our students.

  12. beaks   August 30, 2015 at 11:29 AM

    Stuff like this is happening everywhere, but as a teacher you have way more responsibility’s with other peoples children. I don’t know how you guys do it. I have seen some of these young kids in grocery stores, and other department stores acting up and playing around like they were in their back yard. The mother is busy shopping and does not see what her kids are doing. This is so wrong and i am sure you teachers have seen way too much of that

  13. beaks   August 30, 2015 at 11:30 AM

    too bad you teachers couldn’t go on strike across the country

  14. Sara smith   September 1, 2015 at 3:31 AM

    Riley was principal of Edwards middle school in Charlestown. Some of the same programs and methods were brought in from Charlestown to lawrence. His middle school was heralded as progressive and a game changer in education. He left. The programs and ideals are still in place. The school is so far at the bottom you need a dive tank to get to where it’s located at the bottom of the list. Firing teachers, instilling fear, using a teacher evaluation system that is subjective and so convoluted that you can’t even find examples of a proficient and exemplary portfolio in the state, and tying a state test run by a company, Pearson, who has suggested more assessments, and can sell you books, computer programs, and prep materials to help increase test scores; while at the same time keeping state test materials so secret that last years test hasn’t been released to parents (ela was taken in March) and then using a formula for growth so absurd that a student that scores 240 one year and 250 the next year can actually show negative growth is the definition of an educational system that isn’t out to support students but out to make sure the moneymaking machine paid for by taxpayers continues to grow and line the pockets of non educators with fistfuls of cash. Pearson owns the nurse’s licensing, teacher’s licensing, licensing of blue collar jobs, the GED, sat, lawyer bar, dr’s, and many other licensing tests. The are also starting to track the results of the state test your third grader takes all the way to high school graduation and beyond. You may not like the fact that some teachers work 6.5 hours and 180 days a year, but in lawrence and in other districts teachers work close to 9 hours a day, start in mid august and go to mid June. Teachers working conditions are your child’s learning conditions. There is a teacher shortage, districts are forced to hire inexperienced or under qualified teachers. If you want to save money on your educational tax dollars, ask your district how much money is spent on administration, test prep materials, administering sometimes up to 10 inappropriate test assessments a year, grading the assessments, formulating the data from those assessments, and then putting together a plan based on that data, then doing nothing with it because there is no more money to implement the plan. And of course, this is the teachers fault. Or the parents fault for not educating themselves on the intricacies of an educational system that was put into place to confuse most and then convincing you you need to pay more tax dollars to fix it. Thank god my daughter quit teaching. I wouldn’t want her or any other person to go through what Amy went through. It’s abuse to adults but even more to our children. SHAME!

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