Renewal of high school teacher’s contract up in air after standing-room-only protest
BRECKENRIDGE – About 70 students and parents crowded the Summit School Board meeting at Breckenridge Elementary Wednesday night to protest what could have meant the effective firing of a popular teacher. The show of support convinced the board to hold off on a decision.
Summit High School co-principal Frank Mencin submitted a recommendation to the school board that it not renew a contract with math teacher Sandy Brown. The recommendation was based on evaluations Mencin made throughout the school year, Brown’s second as a teacher. The evaluation reportedly expressed concerns Brown was not using the full 90-minute class period and was not receptive to guidance from administrators and faculty.
Students pleaded with board members to keep Brown. Each student described how Brown was able to interest them in math, explain concepts in a way they could understand and was someone students could talk to about school and personal matters.
Cheerleaders Christmas Ramirez and Rachel Meinke, with tears in their eyes, presented a petition with 260 student signatures in support of Brown.
“I had Mrs. Brown last year,” said 10th-grader Drew Taylor. “I’m proof that Mrs. Brown’s methods work. I learned everything I needed to and she gave me a love for math. This year, that’s not happening.”
Brown defended herself to the board, disputing some of the points in the recommendation. Brown earned her teaching certificate through an alternative licensing program that gives teachers on-the-fly training, as opposed to a traditional college teaching program; she said she gave up $20,000 in annual salary leaving a chemistry laboratory after 13 years because of her desire to teach.
The principal’s recommendation questioned Brown’s effective use of time, but the teacher said, with an average of 29 students per class, she found it more useful to cut lectures short in favor of one-on-one work with students. She also defended her requirement that students take notes, as opposed to handing out prepared photocopies.
When co-principal Peggy Kastberg was in charge of the math department last year, “my evaluations were fine,” Brown said. “I’m not sure why they changed. I was led to believe that I was hired because I brought a different approach to teaching, that I was valuable because I didn’t come from the traditional teacher background. I wanted to retire from Summit High School.”
Kastberg said Thursday an important part of being a high school teacher is working as part of team – with principals, department faculty and parents, in addition to students.
“You have to be supportive of the department’s philosophy,” Kastberg said. “You have to have an open ear.”
Brown said she didn’t feel she was given alternatives, but was only told “you can’t do that.”
Parents voiced support for Brown, saying their children suddenly were enthusiastic math students, thanks to Brown. Members of the crowd also pointed out the last time so many people attended a school board meeting to voice their opinion was to urge the school board not to change the high school schedule; the board changed it anyway. Some made it clear they would be voting differently in the next school board election.
“You are bullying these kids,” parent Merrill Miller said. “You need to ask yourself, why do you have this many kids here? But you won’t listen. We’re wasting our time. You’re going to go with the administration and ignore all of us.”
School board members countered by saying renewal decisions are the hardest to make as elected officials, and they were listening to students’ and parents’ concerns. They said there were many contract- and personnel-related issues they didn’t feel comfortable discussing in a public forum.
“She was hired as a math teacher, not a guidance counselor,” said board member Dr. Garrett Sullivan. “This is not a popularity contest. And at the same time, just because we don’t do what you want us to, doesn’t mean we don’t care about you. That’s the hardest part about sitting on this side of the table.”
Superintendent Wes Smith told the audience Brown also had a chance to dispute the recommendation in a closed executive session with the school board at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, or could have approached the board independently, but did not until Wednesday night.
“Lots of things have come up tonight that are cause for thought,” said board member Jay Brunvand. “There are many factors that go into this kind of decision. But, I’ve always said that I’d rather be right and alone than wrong in the crowd. Of course, I’m wrong and alone a lot, too. I hope you voted for us because you trust our opinion.”
The board called a recess after the discussion was closed. When the board reconvened, members voted 6-0 to postpone the decision and gather more information. Board President Jennifer Brauns was absent and did not vote.
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or email@example.com.
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