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Pinellas School Board fires teacher whom judge found incompetent

A Pinellas middle school teacher whom a judge found to be incompetent pleaded for mercy Tuesday before the Pinellas County School Board.

Curtis Brown, who taught math at John Hopkins Middle, asked if he could resign instead of being fired.

"I just don't want to be dismissed for being incompetent," said Brown, 68. "I don't have to go back into the classroom. But allow me to go out with some kind of dignity."

Board members, not in a forgiving mood, voted 7-0 to accept the recommendation of an administrative law judge to fire Brown.

In a rare ruling issued in January, Judge Jeff B. Clark said Pinellas proved Brown was incompetent and insubordinate and should be terminated on those grounds.

At John Hopkins, Brown was assigned to teach students struggling with the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and to be a mentor in a dropout prevention program. But district officials said he didn't prepare adequate lesson plans, teach assigned subject matter or use the required teaching software.

According to court records, Brown got an unflattering evaluation in 2005-06 and an unsatisfactory rating in 2006-07. Administrators developed a "success plan" for him in fall 2007, then put him on 90-day probation in January 2008.

Brown's personnel file contains a long list of other write-ups, including allegations of disparaging remarks toward students and leaving students unsupervised. In 2005, he was suspended for 15 days for reportedly falling asleep in class.

Brown, who made $41,420 a year, was suspended without pay last year. On Tuesday, even as he asked for the chance to retire, he insisted he did nothing wrong.

"I don't think I am guilty," he said.

School district attorney Laurie Dart noted that the district began the process of firing Brown last May — and that he could have resigned at any point.

"The district put in a great deal of time, effort and money in these proceedings," she said.

Added Superintendent Julie Janssen: "If we allow him to resign, we have no mechanism for other school systems (to see) that we did all of this work to prove he was not doing what was in the best interest of our students."

Teachers are rarely fired for poor teaching, in part because of special protections built into state law. Collectively, the Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando school districts have fired three other teachers for unsatisfactory performance in the past five years.

President Obama touched on the issue in a wide-ranging education speech Tuesday, saying, "if a teacher is given a chance but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching."

"I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences," he said.

In the Florida Legislature, both the House and Senate are considering bills that would make it easier to fire bad teachers.

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

Pinellas School Board fires teacher whom judge found incompetent 03/10/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 6:56am]
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