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Published: Tuesday, 2/10/2004

Colleagues back teacher in TPS review dispute

BY SANDRA SVOBODA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A fifth-grade teacher at the center of the claim that the district wants to lower standards for African-Americans has been defended by his colleagues and called “a teacher worth fighting for.”

Rodney West-Estell, a substitute and classroom teacher since 1997, was not renewed early last month by the intern board of review, a panel of five teacher representatives and four administrators. But after administrators on the panel voted against the recommendation to drop Mr. West-Estell, Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, accused the district of considering a lower standard for black teachers. The district has denied the charge.

At the Lincoln Academy for Boys where Mr. West-Estell taught, 17 staff members defended him in a letter to the district.

“The fact that he is a black male teaching at Lincoln Academy for Boys is not only politically correct, it is essential,” according to the letter.

The board of review receives reports from an intern consultant - a teacher released from classroom duties to mentor and evaluate new teachers - and makes recommendations about the teacher s future.

Mr. West-Estell appealed the recommendation not to renew him, and an appeal was held Jan. 29. The vote was 5-4 to uphold the recommendation, with the vote split along teacher and administrator lines, said Sheila Austin, district chief of staff who co-chairs the board. The teachers voted to support the board s recommendation, and the administrators sought to overturn it. Overturning the recommendation would have taken six votes in Mr. West-Estell s favor.

Two days later Ms. Lawrence sent a letter to 3,100 union members accusing the administration of being “about to establish one set of performance standards for Hispanics and whites and a lesser standard for African-Americans.”

She told The Blade last week she wrote the letter after someone in the administration asked that an intern teacher be renewed who had been recommended for nonrenewal. District sources said yesterday she was referring to Mr. West-Estell.

Neither Mrs. Lawrence nor Mr. West-Estell returned phone calls seeking comment. Lincoln Principal Derrick Roberts said Mr. West-Estell was not at school yesterday.

District records show Mr. West-Estell first received satisfactory recommendations from two consultants when he completed the intern program as a long-term substitute in 1997 and 1998.

In 2001, he was again mentored in the intern program as a student teacher, a position he held while he was enrolled in a University of Toledo program to complete his certification to teach full-time, according to district records.

His evaluator had concerns about his lesson planning but noted improvement, recognized improvement in his classroom management, and praised his attitude toward teaching. “He is receptive to all suggestions and works to incorporate the suggestions in his classroom,” the evaluator wrote.

In March, a different evaluator gave Mr. West-Estell unsatisfactory marks for his “skill in making assignments” and “effective classroom facilitation and control,” district records show.

He was recommended for a second one-year contract at Lincoln after that report. But last fall, he received progressively worse evaluations from another intern consultant, records show. She recommended in a December evaluation he not be reappointed.

After the intern board of review met Jan. 8-12 and Mr. West-Estell was not renewed, the district received the letter from Mr. West-Estell s colleagues, Dr. Austin said.

“We request that he be given assistance in areas where he has been found weak and are willing to aid him ourselves, in any capacity,” they wrote. The letter was signed by 17 Lincoln staff members.

“We know when a teacher is worth fighting for,” they wrote.

School board Vice President Larry Sykes said he believes inconsistency of Mr. West-Estell s evaluations are a problem with the intern program.

“I think the plan has to be evaluated because of the inconsistencies that are applied to teachers in their evaluations,” he said. “What I want to see is a program applied in the same manner for everyone.”



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