Superintendent says she will do away with teacher selection days

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff photo

The days of parents lining up in the wee hours of the morning to pick their children’s teachers are gone.

Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm told the school board at Tuesday night’s meeting she will be changing the method of teacher selection and doing away with the tradition of selection days held for parents in the spring.

Seidenwurm said the practice has become an issue, especially at schools like Mesa and Zia elementaries, where parents sometimes line up as early as 3 a.m. and single teachers receive requests sometimes as much as two and a half times the capacity of their classrooms.

“That means we have 20 happy parents and 30 unhappy parents,” she told the board.

What also happens is the classroom dynamics can be affected by the process, where diversity can suffer on multiple levels or children who should not be placed together because of interaction or behavior issues end up in the same class, she said.

And, she said, a recent legal opinion shared with schools throughout the state indicated the practice of allowing parents to choose their teacher opens the schools up to legal claims from parents who didn’t get the teacher they wanted.

Seidenwurm said she plans to meet with principals in the next couple of weeks to devise a way of allowing parents a voice in selecting their child’s teacher but also gives latitude to administrators to ensure issues the old system created can be addressed.

The board acknowledged the issue is one that falls under the authority of the administration, but asked that she apprise them of whatever procedure she decides to implement, to which she agreed.

Seidenwurm said one possible solution to give parents a voice and give more flexibility in classroom placement would be to send home a card for parents to fill out that would allow them to list three teachers they would like, or a number proportionate to the number of teachers at a particular school, and also an area to share information about their child such as characteristics that might aid in the placement process.

About half a dozen parents attended the meeting, asking that they continue to be given input in what class their children are placed in.

“I am one of those moms that gets up … and stands in line at three in the morning,” said Brittany DeFoor, telling the board she doesn’t think enough parents are making selections to cause an issue.

“I think that we know our kids (best). You’ve just got a handful of parents doing it.”

Mesa parent Debbie Heath told board members if parents’ voices are going to be removed from the process, she would rather see it made random or see at risk children get the preferred teachers than to see the selection process directed completely by school staff and administration.

“The idea of parental input … I like that I have a voice,” she said.

“(But you’ll) end up with the elite few still getting selected and the other children are put where they’re put … Maybe teachers could identify the children with the greatest risk and have them placed first, then others.”

School board vice-president Terry Martin told the group the exposure to lawsuits the practice creates is reason enough to evaluate and change it.

“We as a school board want to see more parental participation, not just send them to school like a baby-sitter, but actually get involved,” he said.

“We’re in a sue-happy world and we’re trying to limit our exposure … we don’t want to exclude the parents but we do want to come up with some kind of policy that gives us the best of both worlds.”

But parent Robin Mitchell said she doesn’t think there is a problem with the way the system is set up.

“I don’t think the system is broke, I think it works just fine,” she said.

“I know my daughter’s personality, I know my step-daughter’s personality … There are some fabulous teachers at our school and there are a few that are not so fabulous. I don’t want my child in a not-so-fabulous class.”

In other business, the board:

• Reorganized the board, naming Mark Lansford president, Terry Martin vice-president and Max Best secretary.

• Recognized Jonella Bocanegra, a parent volunteer recently recognized by the state Family/Parent Advisory Council Board as a “Very Involved Parent” for her work at Cameo Elementary and with the Lincoln Jackson Family Center.

• Went into executive session to discuss personnel matters related to hiring a new superintendent. No action was taken.