PARKER, Colo. - According to the Douglas County School District, 33 teachers have left Ponderosa High School over the past three years.
Two students tired of the turnover have organized an online petition asking for support for a protest at the school during the day on Wednesday.
“It came to the point where something needed to be done about it,” said Grace Davis, who’s a sophomore at Ponderosa High School.
“When we saw that Jefferson County did it, we’re like ‘well why can’t we do it,’” said Bailey Conrad, who’s a junior at Ponderosa High School.
Davis and Conrad spent the better part of a week to organize a peaceful protest at the school demanding the answer to one simple question, why are all of our teachers leaving?
Denver7 spoke with Douglas County Schools Superintendent Liz Fagen who said the district is working to keep the best teachers and will support the efforts of those who leave the district for better personal opportunities.
“We support teachers in finding the very best place for them and if they’re a great teacher, we want to keep them here, there’s no question about that, but sometimes opportunities come up and we congratulate them, celebrate it if it’s really clear to us that that’s not going to change,” said Fagen. “Sometimes we just simply can’t match the salary that they’re going to receive in another district because they’re going to get their years back and we had 4 years of pay freeze like most districts in the state during the recession.”
Fagen said the district reached out to Davis and Conrad to discuss differences and help resolve any issues before they turned to a public protest. Fagen said the district's offer was declined by the two girls.
“We’re interested in what each and every student, staff member, parent thinks, the concerns that they have and we have a lot of great people here ready to help resolve those issues,” said Fagen.
Davis said she isn’t interested in talking with the district until she’s had a chance to hear from all of the teachers and students who attend the protest. Davis said she’s only interested in an ‘interview’ style meeting with the district because Davis said they are only interested in getting candid answers to some big questions that both students and district staff members have about the direction of the district and the current turnover rate.
Davis said, in order for students to have a fruitful high school career, a low teacher turnover is paramount.
“In order to get us engaged into a subject we need those relationships with our teachers and if they leave after one year, then we have to redevelop those relationships,” said Davis.
The petition on change.org had garnered over 1500 signatures as of mid-day Tuesday, but that’s not the only online petition addressing district administration.
A second petition aimed at garnering support for a vote of ‘no confidence’ in Superintendent Fagen was launched just days later and has grabbed over 500 signatures in a few days.
Fagen said, being in the bullseye is just part of being a superintendent.
“I think every superintendent knows that we have a really large group of stakeholders and some of the decisions that you’re required to make are not going to be aligned with everybody’s hopes or things that they would prefer to do and so it’s a reality of the position to know that there’s going to be sort of differences of opinion,” said Fagen.
In preparing this story, Denver7 reporter Mark Boyle fielded several phone calls and emails from concerned parents and district staff members who say the policies laid out by the school board and Fagan are forcing teachers out of the district.
Rob Graham is a Ponderosa teacher who’s spent 16 years at the school and plans to leave after the school year for a job in another district. Graham said teachers are too afraid to speak out about their concerns and he supports the student-led protest in hopes it may force some change.
“I honestly hope it helps create open dialogue. I think the school board, the superintendent need to hear from the teachers where the teachers don’t feel afraid to say what they’re feeling,” said Graham.
The protest is expected to start at 9:15 a.m.Wednesday and last until 2:30 p.m. It will be held on the athletic field at the school.