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School board doesn’t renew teacher contract
4/27/2007 By: Carole McWilliams
More than 80 concerned students, parents, faculty and community members crowded into the Bayfield School District Board Room at Tuesday night’s meeting, to express their support of 26-year-old Travis Jackson, a health teacher and coach at Bayfield High School. They were protesting the school district’s decision not to renew Jackson’s teaching contract next year.
Students filled every nook and cranny, sitting on the floor and spilling out into the breezeway, to ask the Bayfield School Board to reconsider the recommendation for non-renewal of the contract for Jackson, who had taught at BHS for two years.
“Students, way to go,” said Robin Duffy-Wirth, school board president. “I haven’t seen students use so many channels to express themselves before.”
Duffy-Wirth was referring to the T-shirts the students had made, the papering and painting of cars with “Save Jackson,” along with letter writing, approaching board members, radio announcements and letters to the editor, all in an attempt to save Jackson’s position.
“We’re proud of you for using your rights and voices,” Duffy-Wirth stated. “A lot of you have asked us why. We can’t tell you that, all we can say is that it is happening. One of our duties as board members is to do what is right for this district with the knowledge we have…Nobody here doubts that Travis Jackson is a nice guy.”
Duffy-Wirth clarified that the recommendation being made was a teaching recommendation, not a coaching recommendation. Out of those in attendance the board heard from 21 concerned audience members who each spoke for an allotted two minutes.
Duffy-Wirth said the board had received calls on both sides, but all the comments heard Tuesday were positive. Most called Jackson an “excellent role model,” “a man of integrity,” “when Coach Jackson speaks…students listen,” and “he’s like a father…” Jackson’s “youthful passion” and “idealistic” views were also frequently mentioned.
“The facts are pretty clear…where are the negative comments,” Ryan Farmer, a parent, stated, “Put your other views and agendas aside and listen to the comments here tonight.”
Brady Martinez, a high school student, said, “He’s the best guy Bayfield could ever have. He’s not just a coach, but a teacher and I’m proud of him. I love that guy.”
Many felt the “evaluation process [was] behind the curve” and partly to blame for Jackson’s termination. Some audience members complained that the evaluations are performed by only one person who spends a little more then an hour in the classroom. There was a desire for an evaluation process that includes parent and student input.
“The evaluation process needs to be fixed. All [Jackson’s] evaluations came back perfect…if he thinks he’s doing a good job, where does the evaluation come into play?” asked Phil Griego, a teacher from Durango.
Vernon Kimball, who’s taught in the district for 33 years agreed, stating, “I’ve been proud of the staff we’ve had…and I value Jackson’s passion. I’m going to give you an honest assessment of the evaluation process, I don’t value mine. I value more the evaluations I receive from my students and parents. The voices here tonight are telling you what to do. They evaluate us everyday.”
Most of those who commented agreed that Jackson’s removal would have a “negative impact” on the student body and community. Many felt that if the administration had viewed negative “behavior that is unacceptable” they could help Jackson improve his performance through mentoring and education, but by removing Jackson from his position the school district would be “basically banning him from the community.”
“Many teachers go their entire careers without connecting to their students [the way Jackson has],” said Bob Thorne, a BHS parent. “If it’s a problem with classroom management, that can be addressed through the administration.”
The students presented the board with a petition they circulated which had received 233 signatures from students, community members and school faculty in support of Jackson.
“These decisions are very difficult…they’re heart wrenching. I want you to know that we do hear you and we do listen to you,” Duffy-Wirth explained before the board entered executive session.
The board went into an executive session around 9 p.m. and did not reappear until after 11 p.m.
Thirty to 40 people still remained to hear the board’s decision, mostly students.
“We took your comments seriously tonight concerning the evaluation instruments we use…Other districts have used our evaluation process as a model. It’s not bad,” board director Valerie Borge said.
“When you leave here tonight consider two things: One, were you heard and two, do you trust us. If you feel neither of those are true, then use your vote in November,” Duffy-Wirth added.
When the board unanimously passed the non-renewal of Jackson’s contract, the room erupted into tears and emotions ran high, with some adult audience members angrily calling out; “Come November we’re going to clean house of all of you,” “Shame on you” and “You broke a lot of hearts tonight…you broke a community.”