Utah doesn't throw away kids, and it shouldn't throw away educators, either.
That's the word from Phyllis Sorensen, president of the Utah Education Association, in response to Gov. Mike Leavitt's call to school leaders to fire poorly performing teachers.Leavitt's remarks Tuesday echoed those he gave last month to the Education Interim Committee and state higher and public education officials meeting in Cedar City.
"Utah teachers are not bad," Sorensen said in a Wednesday prepared statement, citing high graduation rates and test scores on college exams. "We have more problems with parents who don't do their job - in terms of helping their children with their education - than with educators who aren't doing their job."
Leavitt, in a speech to the Salt Lake Rotary Club, said school leaders have a "cultural impediment" preventing them from firing poor-quality teachers. While most teachers are hard working and should be rewarded, some are not and very few are nudged out of the system, he said.
"And it is a very painful, long year when your child has one of them."
But such comments don't mean the governor does not support teachers and education, Leavitt's spokeswoman Vicki Varela said Thursday, pointing to salary increases and class-size reduction by an average six students in his tenure.
"Nothing demonstrates support of teachers more than Gov. Leavitt's track record. One of the highest priorities of his administration has been education. It will continue to be education and teachers in particular," Varela said.
But Sorensen says Utah teachers are good and need support from parents and political leaders and that professional development and mentoring is a better route than termination.
"In many cases, the state hasn't seen fit to fund these crucial needs," she said.
The Utah Educator Evaluation Law allows school administrators to remediate or terminate employees. The UEA gets involved in termination cases to ensure due pro-cess and educators' rights are upheld, Sorensen said.
"If administrators don't do their job - including keeping good records, conducting evaluations and following district policy - they will have a difficult time terminating an educator," she said.