Science teacher resigns, questions school policy on evaluating new teachers

By Ralph Echtinaw

Four St. Louis High School students sang the praises of science teacher Charles Bunce at Monday’s school board meeting only 30 minutes before the board voted to accept the teacher’s forced resignation.

The students were Abigail Conn, MJ Kenneth, Carson Butcher and Sammantha Simmons. They were upset because the administration gave Bunce the Hobson’s choice of non-renewal of his contract or resignation, and his resignation was on the agenda that night.

Bunce, 34, also spoke but took the tack of advising the board on how to better handle teacher evaluations.

Administrators should focus on three things to help new teachers as the navigate through their first five years before achieving tenure, he said.

The first is that new teachers need better preparation. “When myself and another science teacher came into our positions we had no prior curriculum for us to build off of,” he said. “We ended up having to build our curriculum from scratch, which took a large amount of time and was not as polished as it could have been if we had a curriculum that we could have worked with from prior teachers. Also, as new teachers, we were offered extra professional development through the district’s RESD. But the administration never got the process started for us to receive that particular training.”

Bunce’s second point is that new teachers should be given “a clear line of expectations. During my time at SLHS, I was never told that minimally effective scoring was grounds for non-renewal.”  And “at no point was I warned by the administration that I needed to get my scoring up in order to gain renewal of my contract.”

Lastly, Bunce said administrators don’t communicate well with new teachers in general. “After each walkthrough and evaluation in the first semester we usually would have an appointment set up by the administration to sit down and discuss what they had observed, why they scored a teacher the way they were scored and also give suggestions on how to improve. Over the course of my four to five walkthroughs and evaluations in the second semester that counted toward my overall evaluation score, I only sat down with the administration once at the start of the semester and then never again until my non-renewal. This pattern was repeated with other new teachers I talked to with one other receiving only one sit down and another receiving no sit downs whatsoever during the second semester.”

Bunce believes the administration may have violated its own Bylaws and Policies regarding probationary teachers. Section 3142 says, in part, “The Superintendent shall ensure that all probationary teachers are provided an Individualized Development Plan, evaluated in a timely manner by appropriate administrators, notified of areas of which performance is not meeting expectations, and are provided assistance in improving their performance.”

Bunce is an SLHS alumni from the Class of 2006 (one of three valedictorians) and has lived in St. Louis for 32 years. He has a bachelor’s degree from Alma College, a master’s degree in biology from Central Michigan University with PhD studies at Ohio University for two years before returning to Michigan around 2014. It was then that he decided to be a teacher and obtained a teaching license in 2018.

“I believe that if the school is going to get better there needs to be a bit more accountability on the administrative side,” Bunce said via email. “Otherwise they are just going to keep grinding through new teachers.”

Asked for comment, Superintendent Jennifer McKittrick said, “Charles Bunce submitted a resignation that was accepted by the Board of Education last night. Outside of that board action, St. Louis Public Schools does not discuss personnel matters.”

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