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Hillsborough board upholds teacher's firing

Hillsborough School Board members upheld the firing of middle school teacher Noel Patti on Thursday. They were told they had to under state law.

Hillsborough School Board members upheld the firing of middle school teacher Noel Patti on Thursday. They were told they had to under state law.



Noel Patti was a middle school teacher -- and then she wasn't.

Two consecutive unsatisfactory ratings took her out of the classroom at Madison Middle School in 2014. They were done under a system that gets some of its data from peer observations. Those are going away after this year, as the Hillsborough County school district makes more use of non-evaluative peer support.

But what's done is done and the law is the law. After two U's, you can't teach. And, although tenure law allows long-serving teachers like Patti, 48, to ask for a hearing before the School Board, state law also says the School Board cannot overturn the district's evaluation.

In other words, Patti brings her lawyer. The district brings its lawyers (there were at least three in Patti's hearing on Thursday). The board members take their seats at the dais.

But the teacher must still be fired.

Patti's day in court happened nearly two years after she was recommended for termination. Why the delay? The district was in court on a similar case involving teacher Mary Borne, who sued and lost, appealed and lost again.

But hers was a state court case.

Mark Herdman, Patti's lawyer, wants to continue on to federal court. At Thursday's brief hearing -- which did not include any details about the case, much less testimony from Patti herself -- Herdman said a teacher ought to be able to present information about the way she was evaluated, which may or may not be "consistent, coherent, logical or credible." And then the board should be allowed to decide if the firing was deserved or not.

Otherwise, what's the point? "If the School Board cannot execise that discretion, it is argued that this is not a meaningful hearing, consistent  with due process law," Herdman said.

The board members, commenting briefly before they voted 6-0 to fire Patti, chose their words carefully.

"This is one of those scenarios where once again, local control has been taken away from school boards by our Florida legislature and I do not like it," chairwoman April Griffin said.

"Ditto," said Susan Valdes.

No one talked about the peer evaluation process, which was funded through a seven-year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and counted for 25 percent of the teachers' final scores.

Statistics the district gave Gates showed that between 2011 and 2015, teacher resignations and terminations nearly tripled each year, from 611 to 1,503. And these numbers do not include retirements. Very few went all the way to a termination hearing like Patti's. The usual outcome was that they would improve with the help of mentors; leave voluntarily to avoid that second, crippling unsatisfactory rating; or leave for other reasons.

It could be argued that the recession affected the relatively low turnover in 2011, which increased as the economy improved. It could also be argued that teachers were discouraged by a lot of other developments, including value-added scores and Common Core.

While waiting for her hearing to begin, Patti said she now has a job outside the teaching field. She runs into her former students from time to time. Many are doing well and she is proud of them, she said.

Gradebook will provide updates if her case continues.

[Last modified: Sunday, April 3, 2016 6:07pm]


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