NAPLES — As students headed back to classes this week, onetime Golden Apple teacher Mia German wasn’t there to welcome them.
“It’s strange. I am not buying glue sticks for the first time in a long time,” she said. “It’s mind-boggling how this could happen. I hope it is resolved.”
What’s mind-boggling to German is how a teacher deemed highly effective could have a contract offer to teach at an Immokalee elementary school revoked just days before she was set to return to the classroom.
German, who had been teaching in Collier for several years, made the decision to leave the district last spring in an effort to become a school administrator. She signed her separation agreement from Collier County schools on May 9, according to her personnel file.
She cited “lack of advancement opportunities” and “other employment” as her reasons for leaving.
“I tried to get into the administrative pool in Collier County,” said German, who hopes to one day be a school principal. “I wasn’t getting anywhere.”
The problem, German said, is that she couldn’t earn enough points to get her into Collier County’s administrative pool. The pool requires a candidate to earn between 54 points and 75 points to be considered for the administrative pool as a dean, assistant principal or principal, according to Collier County School District documents.
A candidate is judged on factors such as education and training, educational experience, community and professional development, recommendations, written communication, awards and special skills.
German found a job at a charter school in Lee County as an administrator. But, as the school year drew closer, German said the school didn’t have the enrollment to justify her position.
So she decided to go back to teaching.
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"I was in the process of moving when I got a call on Aug. 4 that they had rescinded my position,” Mia German said. “They said I had a negative reference.”
She applied for a position in Collier and said she was offered a job at Lake Trafford Elementary School in Immokalee.
“I knew the principal. He used to be the assistant principal at Pinecrest (where German was a teacher). I was in the process of moving when I got a call on Aug. 4 that they had rescinded my position,” she said. “They said I had a negative reference.”
The news was surprising to German, a nine-year teaching veteran and a 2009 Golden Apple teacher. In the most recent review in her personnel file, former Pinecrest Principal Connie Helton wrote that German was “conscientious” and “a tremendous asset to Pinecrest and the community.”
“Under her guidance her students have matured academically, socially and emotionally,” Helton wrote.
Ryan Schwartz, a spokesman for the Collier County School District, said when a teacher is offered the position, the offer is contingent on several factors, including two positive references, a check of a teacher’s certification, a negative drug screening and a positive background check from the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“The district’s procedure for reference checks is to contact the two most recent supervisors. If there are mixed reviews from the supervisors, we contact the principal,” he wrote in an email. “The principal then contacts the most recent supervisor to discuss the ‘fit’ for the school. The principal decides whether he/she wants to honor the contingency contract.”
When a teacher is offered the position, the offer is contingent on several factors, including two positive references, a check of a teacher’s certification, a negative drug screening and a positive background check from the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement, district officials said.
German’s two most recent supervisors were Helton and current Pinecrest Principal Kerry Stewart.
German said she doesn’t believe there are any problems with either principal.
“Dr. Helton was one of my references. (Stewart) and I had a minor disagreement in my evaluation about my use of technology, but it was nothing major,” she said.
But even if someone did have a problem with her, German said one bad review shouldn’t be enough to keep her out of the classroom, especially considering her previous service to the district. She said the rescinding of her contract feels like a personal attack.
“I have never had a problem. I am in disbelief,” she said. “I worry about whether I will be able to get another job.”
Schwartz said German would need positive references if she would want to apply again.
German said the denial of her contract is surprising considering that she was named one of the county’s top teachers, honored with the Golden Apple, just a couple of years ago.
“You had a highly effective teacher in the classroom. The kids learned in my classroom,” she said. “And HR is going to rescind my position?”
German, who is working to finish her doctorate in educational leadership, now finds herself unemployed for the first time in a decade as children go back to school.
But she isn’t giving up.
“I have too much to offer,” she said.