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June 5, 2013

Despite parental pleas, school board fires teacher

Terminated teacher vows legal action

By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer

One by one, parents spoke May 30 to the Board of Education asking that it decline the Oakland Elementary principal’s request to terminate fourth- and fifth-grade teacher Meghan McGuire.

In the end, the pleas were for naught as the board voted unanimously to terminate the second-year teacher — effective June 30 — on the “grounds that her work has not been effective,” according to the resolution.

McGuire, who was also present at the meeting and spoke to the Review afterward, believes her termination has little to do with her job performance and more to do with a personal confrontation between her and Principal Gary van Staveren.

“I wasn’t surprised at all by the district’s stand because this is something they’ve been behind,” said McGuire, of Ferndale.

She plans to take legal action against the district. Parent Karen Kahn, who has had two children in McGuire’s class, said May 31 that several parents have started to raise funds to pay for McGuire’s potential legal fees.

Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin said before the board’s vote that once a principal makes a formal request to terminate a staff member, the staff member is allowed to make their case in front of him.

“There’s also an opportunity … to come to the superintendent and kind of bring data and to explain why one disagrees with the recommendation of the principal,” Lewis-Lakin said. “That did not occur in this case.”

McGuire claimed she did not take this opportunity because Lewis-Lakin and van Staveren are close friends, and it would have been “pointless.”

Because McGuire was only in her second year of teaching, she was considered probationary and could be fired immediately.

Cheryl Goodgine, the district’s executive director of administrative services, said teachers hired before 2011, like McGuire, are given four years of probationary status. Currently, new teachers are hired in at five years of probationary status.

Lewis-Lakin said in an email May 31 that the decision to terminate a teacher is never an easy one.

“A recommendation for the non-renewal of any teacher’s employment is a difficult recommendation to make and is never done without great care and consideration,” he wrote.

Van Staveren could not be reached.

Board of Education President Gary Briggs said in an interview that the decision was not personal and was not van Staveren’s sole decision to make.

“It was not one individual’s decision,” he said. “It’s a whole process that takes place.”

Although the district and Briggs would not elaborate on their decision, McGuire’s evaluations that she provided to the Review and the Board of Education point out that the principal mostly rated her as effective or highly effective in categories related to classroom education.

In fact, her students surpassed state benchmarks in every subject, according to her students’ growth chart collected by the district.

He rated her as ineffective or minimally effective in categories relating to professionalism. According to the evaluation, van Staveren gave her those scores because she failed to reply to four emails throughout the school year, was late in changing the showcase inside Oakland Elementary and had failed to implement iPads in her teaching.

McGuire said she hadn’t brought iPads into the classroom because she had no locker until recently in which to place them — something van Staveren acknowledged, according to a typed summary from a meeting between him and McGuire.

“It was made crystal clear to us that we were financially responsible for those iPads,” she said. “Should they go missing, we needed to replace them.”

McGuire said she didn’t get a locker until the day of her final evaluation, and it was delivered to her classroom door.

According to the summary, van Staveren told her other teachers lock the iPads in his office and have no problem using the technology in their classrooms.

He also wrote in the evaluation that McGuire does not participate in professional development courses during the school year, but acknowledged in the evaluation that she takes courses during the summer — something McGuire confirmed.

McGuire said that she does not take classes during the year because she doesn’t have time while teaching two classes.
McGuire said the personal disagreement with van Staveren began after she filed a harassment complaint in April with the district against him — a claim that the district found to be inconclusive.

“There were a lot of things going on involving the safety of the students that I was very concerned with, and it seemed to be targeted toward our room in many instances,” she said.

In a May letter to McGuire following an investigation into the complaint, Goodgine wrote that the district “does not find this to be an instance of harassment,” as defined by law.

When word spread that she may be fired, parents decided to come to the meeting.

The eight parents who pleaded with the district, some moved to tears during their public comments, called McGuire a great teacher and a great communicator.

They said, every night, she sent home emails with an agenda of what their children had been taught that day. Their children were excited for school and called McGuire their favorite teacher.

Then they told the board it would be a mistake if they fired McGuire.

“These are the signs of a teacher that really cares and notices what’s going on with her students on an individual case,” Kahn said to the board during the meeting.

“I just want to say that to fire her is a mistake, and I hope you consider that,” she concluded.

Brian Frick, whose son is currently in McGuire’s class, said he has been a teacher for 13 years in another district and has never met someone with McGuire’s work ethic.

“I have never met a teacher that worked harder and that did more for the kids,” Frick said.

He added that his son learns more from McGuire than other teachers in the past, despite having excellent ones in years past.

“In the last couple months, he comes home every day, and he looks at me and he says, ‘Dad, you know what? I think Ms. McGuire is my favorite teacher,’” Frick said.

Frick said that if she was doing something wrong, it’s the job of the school
leadership to tell McGuire how to fix it.

“It’s the job of the administration to help make corrections and not just write them down,” he said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robert Guttersohn at rguttersohn@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5006.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the community for their support. I have received hundreds of emails/texts offering words of encouragement, financial support, and legal advice. I have met with some phenomenal lawyers, and although there are copious amounts of evidence to support extensive student growth, there are no legal avenues that we can pursue at this time. I hope that this situation brought some of the educational inconsistencies to light, and will provide an opportunity for the district to make some significant changes. The students and parents deserve better!
Again, thank you!
Sincerely,
Meg McGuire

I'm still amazed that this happened. Ms. McGuire is the kind of teacher parents dream of. From the minute I met her, I knew this year was going to be different -- and far better than certain previous years at Oakland Elementary -- both for the kids and the students. From day one it was clear all of the students loved Ms. McGuire. She is funny, engaging and talks to them like actual human beings vs. small nuisances. I've heard tales of other teachers who sit on their iPhones all day, etc., and it amazes me that Ms. McGuire is the one being terminated, essentially due to bruised egos and being an individual. She often chooses to do things her own way to ensure the kids succeed and get what they need. The test results show she gets the kids beyond where they need to be. The smiles on their faces and the unity in the classroom are just the icing on the cake.

Students who were passed through previous grades blindly and started the year behind in math and reading are now beyond where they should be at the end of fourth grade or fifth grade. Ms. McGuire gives individualized attention, is in constant communication with parents and does it all while teaching the curriculum for BOTH fourth and fifth grades without a co-teacher, like most districts provide. She's cares about the kids SO MUCH, she chooses to do all of her professional development during the summer -- when she should be taking a much-deserved break -- because she doesn't want to take any additional time away from the kids than she has to, since she's so often required to be at meetings for one grade or the other throughout the year. Instead of being applauded for this, she's chastised by the administration for some reason.

Anyone who claims to be an educator and truly care about the success of the kids at his school would put his ego aside and/or find some common ground before losing the best teacher we have experienced. I fully support her taking legal action agains the board's decision. She has an amazing case and a huge group of cheerleaders on her side. Now the district, and ultimately the taxpayers, are going to have to spend money to defend this ludicrous decision that supports the interests of one man. It's a truly sad time for the district. The good news is, this forces her to look for new opportunities where she will be cherished and will flourish. Shame on you, Mr. Van and the district. You should be embarrassed.

If you won't listen to us, take a look at the fact that teachers have put in for transfers away from this administration, families are choosing to leave Oakland and maybe the district, and, most importantly, look at the children, who were in tears when they heard about the termination and are just as dumbfounded as anyone. Even they know the difference between right and wrong.

My daughter is in Ms. McGuire's 4th grade class and I can personally attest that Ms. McGuire is hands-down the best teacher she's ever had in her five years at Oakland. McGuire has been the most engaged, the most professional and, most importantly, the most effective. Just look at the numbers. Her class is scoring way beyond the benchmarks set for them. Plus, they have a lot of fun and the environment in the room has been the most positive and drama-free of my daughter's experience so far.

We were all shocked and saddened to hear about what happened. It was an ambush. Most of us didn't learn about what was happening until a few hours before the meeting, which took place when most of us were still at work.

Good teachers are hard to find. Great teachers, like Ms. McGuire, are even rarer. For this situation to have escalated to the point of termination, rather than some other outcome that involved resolving whatever personal frustrations the principle might have had with the teacher, speaks to the personal nature of the actions the principle took. This is a real tragedy. Education is the single most important issue in our world and we can't afford to make mistakes like this.

I am so glad that McGuire is fighting the termination! The kids deserve a dedicated teacher who makes going to school fun. My kids say she often stops class to lookup words, and answers every question. She values her students so much, she didn't resign (as asked to before the termination) because she would have had to leave her class before the end of the year.

If you would like to help McGuire out while she fights to remain a teacher, please consider donating to her fundraising page:
www.gofundme.com/33wmp8

Thank you!!

I am a resident of Royal Oak and a retired teacher from another district. I sent this letter to Superintendent Lewis-Lakin:

Dear Superintendent Lewis-Lakin,

I have lived in Royal Oak for almost 35 years and have voted positively for every school millage proposal. I will no longer vote in favor of any millage proposal and will urge my Royal Oak friends and neighbors to also vote negatively. I do not know Ms. McGuire and do not have any personal stake in the issue of her dismissal; however, from the article in the Royal Oak Review, I believe that she was poorly treated. I also get the impression that she has excellent teaching skills and has substantial parental support. It seems to me that there was personal animus directed at Ms. McGuire by Principal van Staveren that could have been resolved through simple mediation or, perhaps, a transfer. Dismissal seems harsh and unacceptable. And, if her accusations of your personal friendship with Principal van Staveren are true, you should have recused yourself from any involvement in this matter. Furthermore, if she wins a lawsuit against the school district, I am certain that citizens will begin to focus more carefully on this link between you and Principal van Staveren. I hope that this will not be a costly decision for the citizens of Royal Oak. I also hope that this decision will be reconsidered.

I second that, thank you!!

If you want to watch the actual school board meeting where the parents spoke, it is uploaded onto the WOAK website. www.royaloakschools.com/portal/node/46569 Look under 5-30-2013 section "Communications and Public Comment"

This is just the tip of the iceberg at this school. Ask around. Parents will tell you. Mismanagement and incompetence is the order of the day. The kids deserve better.