COLORADO SPRINGS — Earlier this week, District 11 notified all staff members at Mitchell High School of their release from current work assignments at the end of the school year.
District 11 Superintendent Dr. Michael Thomas made the decision after several years of the school being formally identified as a Priority Improvement School.
According to the Colorado Department of Education, the state’s “Accountability Clock” only allows schools and districts to receive these low ratings for five years in a row. After that, they must come before the State Board of Education, which is required to direct a course of action designed to dramatically increase student achievement.
The department told News 5 that Mitchell High School has four years of low performance, and they haven't taken any action regarding the school. Despite having at least another year, the district decided to go forward with comprehensive changes for the school year. The decision bringing shock waves across the entire community.
"I was pretty devastated. They made a huge impact on my life and my future, as I said earlier they made me be invested in something outside of myself. I really do appreciate them for that," said Sierra Croom, former Mitchell High School student.
She graduated the high school a few years ago. During her time there, she says the teachers and staff were nothing but supportive.
"My teachers really tried their best and they worked really hard to get us further in our education and our future," said Croom. "These people put in so much time at this school and the fact that what they're getting out of it is being released from their job, I feel like it's a betrayal. If I was one of those teachers, I would be extremely upset."
While the district attributed the decision to low academic performance for the last several years, Croom says replacing hard-working teachers isn't the answer.
"These teachers have been working there for so long. Not only have they become close with their students, but they've become a family themselves. The staff works together, and with a completely new staff, they won't be able to work as they do now. I understand bringing in a couple of new teachers, but an entirely new staff is just going to screw the entire system up, more than it is now, " said Croom.
As a previous student, she says low academic performance can be attributed to the poverty rate in the area.
"A lot of families that send their kids to Mitchell don't make as much money as others. There are a lot of things going on in peoples lives, a lot of students that I went to school with had jobs, two jobs to help pay rent," said Croom.
To help teachers keep their jobs, Croom started an online petition called, "Stop District 11 from releasing Mitchell High School Staff." It's only been a day, and the petition has gained more than 400 signatures.
"I started the petition because these staff members stood up and fought for us when no one else would. With having to re-apply, I know they won't speak up on the situation because they don't want to potentially lose their position or the opportunity to re-apply and get their position back," said Croom.
She says everyone who signed the petition is upset with the situation, especially since it happened during a pandemic. Others like Miranda Popp, a former Language Arts Teacher at Mitchell High School, also upset with the timing of the district's decision.
"This is the worst possible time to do this to an entire staff of hard-working people and to the kids that are looking for stability. I was just floored, to be honest," said Popp.
She was a teacher between 2013 and 2019 and says the district said test scores were low, but students were experiencing growth.
"That population and community are struggling. There are kids that go to school every day wondering where they're going to get their next meal let alone how they're going to do on a standardized test. For a lot of those, it is survival mode," said Popp. "Some of them struggle to be in school because their parents are working two jobs and they have to go home and take care of younger siblings."
Popp says it had always been frustrating dealing with the testing process. She says if they were using a different benchmark to measure their success, there would be entirely different results.
"The test scores weren't through the roof, but I think it's because kids were struggling and saw them as another hoop to jump through because they've been tested into oblivion," said Popp. "We did see when more kids were encouraged and fostered those skills, and understood that I'm not doing it not another hoop to jump through but I'm demonstrating that I'm worthy and someone who has these schools."
She's worried there's going to be fallout from the district's decision.
"My friend that I was talking with the other day said maybe this is my sign to just get out of education and find something else. We're already seeing a lot of turnover with teachers, and saying is it worth it, why am I continuing to fight so hard to justify that I'm worth something when I can make the same amount of money doing something else," said Popp.
While Croom doesn't know if her petition will make a difference, she's hoping to at least spark conversation.
"I want D11 to hear us, hear our voices, and understand that we don't appreciate what they're doing. I'm not going down without a fight," said Croom.
News 5 reached out to the district for details on the comprehensive changes for the school year, but they're not releasing any information yet.