Contract controversy causes dustup at Aurora’s Fox Ridge Middle School

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AURORA | Parents, students and teachers at Fox Ridge Middle School have reticently pushed back against administrators from the school and the Cherry Creek School District this month amid contract negotiations for a handful of Fox Ridge staffers.

The district is in the midst of confirming teacher contracts that will not be renewed next school year, which is a practice that occurs in school districts across the state each spring. CCSD has 94 contracts that are up for non-renewal following the end of this school year, according to district spokeswoman Tustin Amole.

“At the end of the school year, principals must make difficult decisions regarding which of those teachers meet the high standards we expect of all of our staff,” Amole said in a statement. “In many cases, lower enrollment, program changes and one-year only assignments at schools are the reasons for the non-renewal decisions.”

Amole said that of the 94 non-probationary contracts up for non-renewal across CCSD, four contracts correspond to teachers at Fox Ridge. That has sparked a kerfuffle at the school.

Teri Weiher, the mother of a Fox Ridge seventh-grader, said that she’s particularly  frustrated the school is opting not to renew the contract of Corey Phillips, a math teacher at Fox Ridge. Weiher said that the relationship between teachers and the Fox Ridge administration, which is led by Principal Marquetta Thomas, has been frayed by what she says are erratic hiring and non-renewal decisions. All non-renewals must be forwarded to the Board of Education by school principals.

“’I’m horrified that this is happening in any school, but especially in ours,” Weiher said.

Fox Ridge students and parents earlier this month held a brief protest in front of the school on East Arapahoe Road in support of Phillips.

“It’s not a new situation or unique,” Amole said. “This is not the first time students have rallied around a teacher that they like.”

The CCSD Board of education will consider and vote on the district’s non-renewals at a study session scheduled for May 5, according to Amole.

Weiher said that she and several parents are planning on attending the study session to voice their discontent. The board is expected to vote on the entirety of the district’s contracts up for non-renewal at the conclusion of the meeting, according to Amole.

Following parent requests, the district added an opportunity for public comment at the study session, which is unique for such meetings, according to Amole. Comments will be limited to three minutes. Amole said that the CCSD board is then expected to recess into a closed-door executive session.

“Hopefully our presence there will speak volumes,” Weiher wrote in an email. “We have been working diligently to get the word out to have parents attend.”

She wrote that parents may consider holding another protest in front of the school depending on the outcome of the study session.

Phillips declined to comment for this story.

Amole said that, under state law, the district cannot discuss the specifics related to a particular non-renewal contract.

“Whatever the reason, we understand that this is a difficult time for those teachers we will not retain,” she said in a statement. “These decisions are not made lightly.”

Amole added that, in some cases, teachers whose contracts are not renewed are later re-hired at other schools in the district.

“Some of those teachers are re-hired at other schools to fill positions opened when teachers retire, resign or student enrollment increases,” she said.

The average rate of teacher turnover across CCSD this school year is 10.35 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Education. That’s about 17 percentage points lower than the turnover rate in Denver Public Schools, and about 9 percentage points lower than the rate in Aurora Public Schools.