Douglas County principal, Amber Sorg, at center of merit pay dispute, put on leave for 'misconduct'

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. - A Douglas County School District principal at the center of a community controversy over teacher merit pay at Rock Ridge Elementary School has been placed on administrative leave for misconduct, the district confirmed Monday.

In a Monday letter sent to Rock Ridge Elementary parents, Assistant Superintendent Ted Knight wrote, "Earlier this year Principal Amber Sorg tendered her resignation to pursue new opportunities. Mrs. Sorg’s last day with Rock Ridge Elementary was originally slated for June 30.

"However, due to allegations of misconduct, Mrs. Sorg has been placed on administrative leave. Mrs. Sorg will remain on leave during our investigation. Because this is a personnel matter, we cannot comment further on the investigation," Knight wrote.  "… We ask that you respect Mrs. Sorg’s privacy and understand how this situation is impacting her and her family."

A district spokeswoman also told 7NEWS the agency could not discuss details of Sorg's suspension because it is a personnel matter.

7NEWS reporter Molly Hendrickson reported Saturday that multiple sources confirmed Sorg was placed on leave Friday afternoon while a group of parents rallied outside the school in support of Sorg and her teachers. The rally coincided with the Douglas County School District's announcement that it is reviewing pay-for-performance ratings at the school.

On Saturday, some parents like Jen Johnson, received an anonymous voicemail that said in part, "What the news failed to report, you may not even know yet, but Amber has been put on administrative leave for insubordination... I would let the news know the rest of the story."

"The voicemail says she's been put on leave because we brought the news [to the school]," Johnson said.

Douglas County School Board President, Kevin Larsen, told 7NEWS on Friday the schools' teacher evaluations did not match up with the final score given to some teachers. He did not mention that the principal had been put on leave.

"It's shady, it's shady that he didn't say that [Sorg had been suspended]. People are shocked, teachers private messaged me, 'What do you mean? 'What's going on?' 'Are you joking?'" Johnson said after she posted the news to Facebook.

Larsen said he didn't know how teachers scored. However, multiple sources told 7NEWS the district is disciplining Sorg for scoring too many teachers too high on their evaluations.

In a Friday letter to Rock Ridge Elementary parents, Assistant Superintendent Knight wrote that teachers at the school had been informed that the district is having three principals from within the district conduct a secondary review of the teachers' pay-for-performance ratings.

He wrote that, in a routine review of teacher ratings, administrators found "there was sufficient evidence to warrant a Level 2 review."  

Knight said the district’s two-year-old evaluation system "has built-in provisions to maintain the fairness and reliability of the final ratings. These provisions include an optional second-look process that is initiated by teachers, an appeal that is initiated by teachers, a Level 1 review when an evaluator is an outlier or when there is evidence that data does not support ratings initiated by District leaders, and a Level 2 review performed by a panel of quality evaluators when there is evidence that data does not support the ratings initiated by District leaders."

"…We are working to complete this Level 2 review process as quickly and thoroughly as possible, so teachers can be notified of their final ratings soon," Knight added. "The evaluation process ensures fairness and reliability for all of staff members. We know that accurate feedback on performance evaluations results in improved classroom instruction and a better educational experience for our students."

7NEWS is trying to reach Sorg for comment.

She has been principal at Rock Ridge Elementary for almost two years.

Below are the two school district letters recently sent to parents in their entirety:

 

May 19, 2014

Dear Rock Ridge Parents,

Earlier this year Principal Amber Sorg tendered her resignation to pursue new opportunities.  Mrs. Sorg’s last day with Rock Ridge Elementary was originally slated for June 30.  However, due to allegations of misconduct, Mrs. Sorg has been placed on administrative leave.  Mrs. Sorg will remain on leave during our investigation.  Because this is a personnel matter, we cannot comment further on the investigation.

I know that this will be difficult news for many of our students and we feel that it is best shared by parents, so we encourage you to have a conversation with your child tonight about the change.

As a parent myself, I know that events that impact our children like this are stressful and unpleasant. Please know that as educators, our focus is the safety and education of our children. We strive to ensure that each student has a quality teacher in every classroom and a responsible administrator leading the building. We will be doing our best to ensure a stable learning environment through the final weeks of the school year. 

As you know, Michelle Colton has been named as the new leader of Rock Ridge Elementary. While she was planning on starting over the summer, we will be bringing her in the next few days to help keep the learning environment as stable as possible. During this period of transition, the department of Elementary Education will be supporting the school’s staff.

We will continue to communicate with you regarding next steps. We recognize that Rock Ridge Elementary is a very close and supportive community. Please know that we will do what we can do to support you and your students through this difficult situation. We ask that you respect Mrs. Sorg’s privacy and understand how this situation is impacting her and her family. 

Again, this situation is regrettable, but I appreciate your support.  If you have any further concerns please feel free to contact me directly at ted.knight@dcsdk12.org.

Sincerely,

Ted Knight

Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education

Douglas County School District

 

May 16, 2014

Dear Rock Ridge Community,

This is the time of year when principals are providing final evaluations to their staff members.

We have received several questions about the process at Rock Ridge Elementary School and want to provide you with the facts.

As you may be aware, our evaluation instrument changed two years ago from a satisfactory/unsatisfactory system with vague targets, to a four-point system with specific rubrics and targets that must be supported by appropriate evidence.  Even though we started building our new system in January 2009, the current evaluation system is also now required by the State of Colorado under Senate Bill 10-191.

This system is aligned to the best practices for students as found in literature and research as well as the general standards required by the state for teacher evaluations.  We are committed to what is best for our students, and we are committed to supporting our teachers and leaders on this path. This is a criterion-referenced system.  There is no quota.  The only requirement is a consistent level of performance that meets the targets in the rubric to earn that rating.

The District’s evaluation system has built-in provisions to maintain the fairness and reliability of the final ratings.   These provisions include an optional second-look process that is initiated by teachers, an appeal that is initiated by teachers, a Level 1 review when an evaluator is an outlier or when there is evidence that data does not support ratings initiated by District leaders, and a Level 2 review performed by a panel of quality evaluators when there is evidence that data does not support the ratings initiated by District leaders.  We are also doing a third party review of rating to evidence this year (a random sample) to give us additional data.

Over the last two years, District leaders have worked with our principals to ensure fairness for each teacher and reliability across our evaluation system. During the past several weeks, the administration of Rock Ridge Elementary and their director have had numerous conversations regarding the relationship between evaluation ratings and the evidence supporting those ratings.

As part of our standard process, we looked closely at the evaluations, supporting evidence, and ratings, and there was sufficient evidence to warrant a Level 2 review.  Therefore, today all teachers at Rock Ridge were notified of the Level 2 review process.  The next step is to have a panel of quality evaluators from across the District review the evidence supporting the final rating of each teacher.  Some ratings may improve, some may stay the same, and some may decline.  These are critical actions for us to take to ensure that our teachers receive fair and appropriate feedback.

We are working to complete this Level 2 review process as quickly and thoroughly as possible, so teachers can be notified of their final ratings soon.

The evaluation process ensures fairness and reliability for all of staff members. We know that accurate feedback on performance evaluations results in improved classroom instruction and a better educational experience for our students.

Sincerely,

Ted Knight

Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Schools

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