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Tenure law favors ability first



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August 24, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry

Review Editor

Newer teachers in Lake Orion who do their jobs well will have more job security thanks to tenure legislation passed in Lansing this summer.

Michigan's new teacher tenure reform law ends the "Last In, First Out" practice that school districts have used to make staffing decisions based solely on seniority. Now administrators can also consider the effectiveness of a teacher when making such choices.

According to Heidi Kast, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment, the new law requires every teacher tenured or not to be formally evaluated on an annual basis starting next fall. Tenured teachers are currently evaluated every three years, while the performance of non-tenured teachers in the district is reviewed annually, she said.

The new law also requires teachers to now work five years in a district before reaching tenure.

"We always look for students to grow academically each year when evaluating teachers," Kast said. "New for us is the formal documentation requirement from the state to be in compliance."

Ineffective teachers in Lake Orion already are dismissed, according to Jeff Faber, a teacher at Oakview Middle School. "They may not be officially fired, but are forced to resign," he said. "They typically realize this field just isn't for them."

Faber agrees with the general intent of the new law. Teachers welcome the opportunity to prove themselves, he said. He seriously questions how the law was developed, however, since teachers were not involved in the process. "Let us share our opinions and hear our side," he insisted.

Furthermore, Faber does not think the way teachers will be evaluated is the most effective. "I don't know how we can be evaluated by just standardized scores," he said. "There are so many other factors involved in student performance."

In September, Lake Orion Community Schools Superintendent Marion Ginopolis and Larry Lobert, assistant superintendent of human resources, will make a presentation to the Board of Education with more details on tenure reform and how it may influence teacher evaluations here.

Board President Mary Jo Burchart does not think the new law will have much negative impact on the district. In fact, she said it will give younger teachers more time to receive feedback and improve on things they need to work on as they approach tenure.

While other districts may be more significantly impacted by the law, board trustee Connie Meech did think it may indeed influence decisions here if future teacher layoffs are necessary.

Burchart, however, quickly dismissed any possibility of this law being used to arbitrarily dismiss a tenured instructor.

"I understand the concerns of teachers who may think the district will now be able to get rid of them just because . . .", she said. "We're better than that and wouldn't replace a teacher just because of a personality clash with an administrator or similar issue."

Kast said last year, in anticipation of such tenure reform, the district formed a committee to review and adjust the district's teacher evaluation system. It included the president of the Lake Orion Education Association, administrators and teachers at every level. While there is still work to be done, the process is well underway, she said.

The school board president said people need to focus on the ultimate beneficiaries of the new law students. "The goal of this legislation is to determine who does the best job teaching and that is good for the kids," Burchart said. "There's no need to apologize for that."

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