Audrey Silverman arrived at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High last week ready to finish “The Necklace,” the English class staple short story about the deceptiveness of appearances and the dangers of martyrdom with her gifted, honors ninth-grade students.
But when the literature teacher entered her classroom Thursday morning, 50 textbooks, including the teacher’s edition with years of annotations Silverman said she personally purchased, were missing from the baskets beneath the students’ desks. A student told Silverman she saw the books carted away the prior evening.
“They’re gone,” said Silverman. “Nobody knows where they are.”
What happened next has culminated into a tussle between teacher autonomy and embracing new, digital curriculum. Silverman filed a pre-grievance with the teachers’ union against her principal, Allison Harley, for breached academic freedom. Harley, Silverman says, launched an internal investigation with Miami-Dade County Public Schools against her for improper use of email.
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Silverman, a 30-year veteran teacher whose scores deem her one of the best teachers in the state, has been using a textbook called “McDougal-Littell Literature” for a decade, although students were using an edition from four years ago. It’s got poems, essays, short stories, Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare — a curriculum she says challenges and rivets her students.
But the Florida Department of Education phased out that textbook five years ago and introduced new titles that districts could use. A committee of teachers picked “Collections“ by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a digital textbook that aligns with new Florida standardized tests that heavily emphasize nonfiction and informational texts.
That digital book was adopted by the district in 2015 while rolling out a tablet-based program for high school freshmen, who could bring their own device or check one out from the school.
“It makes the learning a lot more interactive,” than using just a static book, said Lisette Alves, the assistant superintendent over academics.
Silverman had been quietly hanging on to her hardcover books until last week, when a group of district officials stopped by her classroom. District spokeswoman Jackie Calzadilla said an instructional review of all subjects took place at Krop on Sept. 26 and determined that the material Silverman was using “was not aligned with the Florida Standard” and was outdated.
The next morning, the books were gone. Not in the closed cabinets where she kept the spares, not under desks, not in her own desk.
“I felt that this may happen one day,” Silverman said.
Alves and Sylvia Diaz, assistant superintendent over innovation and school choice, say the district does not make the call to remove books. That decision was made by the principal.
“We do occasionally hear about a teacher using older materials,” Diaz said. “We advise the principal.”
“If we see it as we’re doing reviews, then we advise the principal to make sure they’re using [the adopted books],” Alves said.
Harley, the principal at Krop, would not comment and referred a reporter’s questions to the district. The district said Harley repeatedly asked Silverman to use the approved material and she refused.
Spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego said books were removed from Silverman’s class two summers ago, “but the teacher retrieved them and brought them back into the classroom.”
“So, they had to be removed again,” Gonzalez-Diego wrote in an email.
Silverman said this incident has been the first and only time books have been removed from her classroom. She said she’s kept these books in her cabinet for three years.
“That is an outright lie,” she said.
The district also said all other language arts teachers at Krop were using the approved material.
Ceresta Smith, a 10th-grade intensive reading teacher who returned to Krop after a decade at John A. Ferguson Senior High, said she doesn’t use any of the approved material. She uses a collection of materials she’s put together over her 30-year teaching career.
“I said to the principal when I ... came back to Krop, I said, ‘Don’t expect me to follow the pacing guide. I’m a veteran and I’m a professional and I know what I’m doing.’ ”
Smith said school officials are taking all of the ninth- and 10th-grade teachers’ textbooks so they only use tablets. Silverman said one of her 12th-grade students took a photo of McDougal textbooks stacked against an outdoor wall.
“In my 30 years of teaching I have never seen teachers reject a textbook the way they reject [this] textbook,” Smith said, referring to “Collections” as “garbage.”
Diaz said there is no penalty for using outdated books but pointed to a state statute that says school districts shall provide current materials to students. She said teachers are expected to use the newly adopted materials.
“Teachers always supplement with other materials,” she said. “They shouldn’t be holding on to old materials and using them as a primary source.”
Silverman was under the impression that teachers had a choice in what they could use to teach. She sent out an email blast asking all of the district’s English teachers and Krop school faculty if using “Collections” was a choice or a mandate.
Email replies from teachers that Silverman shared with the Miami Herald show that some say they have flexibility with curriculum. Some expressed dissatisfaction with “Collections” and the use of tablets for the class.
Later, Silverman told the Miami Herald she had vision issues and could not teach with a tablet. She had asked school officials for a hardcover teacher’s edition of “Collections” when it was first adopted but said she didn’t receive one until Tuesday when Harley provided it to her. Silverman said Harley told her she would not get her old textbooks back.
United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats sent Silverman an encouraging email. A pre-grievance meeting will be held at Krop on Friday.
“We have to go by whatever the school board approves,” Hernandez-Mats told the Miami Herald. “Yes, teachers should have academic freedom but she should be using it [the McDougal book] as a supplement, not core [curriculum].”
But she said, “The way it was done I don’t believe was tactful and professional.” She added that she has not heard of any other complaints about the textbook but says teachers often don’t like a shakeup in curriculum.
Jason Joseph, UTD’s director of communications, said the biggest complaint received from teachers is the tablets’ connections to the Internet.
To finish “The Necklace,” Silverman had her students print out and bring their own copies, although many had varying translations of the French short story. She’s also taught vocabulary in the meantime until she prepares new lesson plans for “Collections,” which she plans to use starting Monday.
But Silverman won’t be able to use her new textbook for much longer. The state will be coming out with a list of new books for consideration next year.
“If they give me a good text to use, I’ll use it,” she said. “They just haven’t.”