GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A probationary teacher with Grand Rapids Public Schools was unsuccessful in contesting his dismissal this week, based on a minimally effective evaluation in his third year.
The school board on Monday voted 7 to 2 to uphold the administration’s nonrenewal decision regarding Tom Bratt, who taught language arts at Union High when he received the poor evaluation. Board members Jose Flores and Nathaniel Moody voted in opposition.
A teacher who hasn’t earned tenure is considered a probationary teacher.
In the state of Michigan, if a probationary teacher does not receive an effective or highly effective evaluation in their final three years of the five-year probationary period, they are subject to dismissal, according to Brad Banasik, legal counsel and director of labor relations and policy for the Michigan Association of School Boards.
“Most of the time the district will dismiss,” said Banasik, who said he does not interpret the law to allow districts to extend the probationary period.
Bratt, who provided the board with materials supporting his argument, told the board the system was not equitable. He addressed three factors in his evaluation: Test scores, the evaluators and Tripod student surveys. Tripod refers to the three legs of quality teaching: content, pedagogy and relationships.
“The 11 years prior to this (2014-15 evaluation), I’d been effective or the equivalent every time. I had no problems,” said Bratt, about his 13-year career, including stints in Chicago Public Schools and a Christian school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“You’ll notice my student achievement measures have been rated either effective or highly effective, yet my instruction is somehow minimally effective. That means my students have either performed in spite of me, or things are not quite right.”
Sharron Pitts, assistant superintendent of human resources and general counsel, said Bratt was supposed to be dismissed from the district last year following the evaluation, but there was a confusion about if he received notification within the timeline required.
She said they worked it out with then-union leader Paul Helder that Bratt would work this school year, his fourth in the district, as a float substitute but not be renewed for 2016-17.
She said their evaluators have been trained and tested by Cambridge educators and rate employees highly effective, effective, minimally effective and ineffective.
“He was not just minimally effective in one area. He was in minimally effective in three areas. He was minimally effective in his student growth, in his observation (classroom observation by evaluator) and in his Tripod,” said Pitts.
“We believe our kids need strong teachers who are effective and highly effective.”
Bratt, who also taught at the former Creston High and University Preparatory Academy before Union, denies that Human Resources communicated the information regarding his pending nonrenewal this year as discussed with Helder.
He said evaluations are not impartial and said a personality clash with his evaluator, a former teacher, played a role in the review. He also took issue with being evaluated by those who hadn’t taught at the high school level.
Bratt further stated that many factors can go wrong with the student surveys. He also said test scores are a major component of the evaluation and it’s a problem for teachers who work in underperforming schools.
Pitts said a second evaluator is brought in when a teacher is deemed ineffective or minimally ineffective, and that evaluator came to the same conclusion regarding Bratt. She also said he was provided additional support, per their process.
“We believe we have a process that is fair and comprehensive,” said Pitts, who added Bratt’s argument comes down to him not liking the system.
Moody said he voted in opposition because while the system works for some, it may have failed Bratt. Flores, a former teacher and critic of the evaluation system, said the process is flawed.
Board President Tony Baker said the system in placed worked as designed and Human Resources followed procedure.
Prior to coming to the school board, Bratt’s dismissal was also upheld when he appealed to Ron Gorman, assistant superintendent of Pre-K-12 instructional support.
Pitts said the district has worked very hard on the evaluation tool and gets feedback from teachers and administrators every year to improve the process.