Despite parental pleas, school board fires teacher

By: Robert Guttersohn | Royal Oak Review | Published June 5, 2013

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.