Archive for January, 2012

National tenure change stirs debate in local schools


JAN. 30, 2012

As more states have begun fighting school tenure laws, Ithaca residents and teachers debate whether a higher standard should be set for the community’s educators to retain job security.

New York State tenure status is granted to a teacher after three years of probation.  After that, the position becomes permanent.  But tenure laws differ by state.

Rebecca Gergely has worked as an English teacher at Ithaca High School since 2000.  She was surprised when she received tenure after just a single year of teaching, adding that the process was easy and she was not worried for a moment about not passing.

“I really have two minds. I think that tenure should not be a rubber stamp process, but I certainly benefitted from an easy passage,” she said “I do think there should be standards, and I think that some who enter the profession should not continue as teachers and there ought to be a process that weeds people out. However, I have seen tenure save teachers who are remarkable,” Gergely added.

Rachael Richards, the Parent Teacher Association Region Director does not have an official position on tenure as a PTA member. But with three children in Ithaca public schools she does have one as a mother.

Richards, drinks coffee while discussing tenure. Photo taken by Megan Goldschmidt.

“I’m not a big fan [of tenure|,” she said. “[But] I think that when tenure has to be earned, for a much longer period of time than it is now, it’s worth something. Everybody can interview really well, so once you’re in the job it’s a honeymoon period. Once they get tenured you’re stuck with them.”

Eldred Harris, Chairman of the Human Resources Committee on the Ithaca City School District Board of Education, disagrees with Richards ideals.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “I understand its history, I understand its purpose, and I have no problems with the system of tenure.”

However, Harris did show some concerns regarding the process of granting tenure. He said that the school district needs to create leaders who are able to write engaged and informative evaluations after observing teachers.

“If we’re going to make million-dollar decisions, which in effect is what each tenure decision amounts to, then we want to have the best information [possible],” Harris said.

The Obama administration recently implemented a program called “Race to the Top”, where states compete for billions of dollars of educational funding.

To participate in the program, states have to promise changes and conduct teacher evaluations to measure performance. Many states, like Florida, Rhode Island, and Colorado have slowly begun to eliminate tenure.

Richards also believes student opinion should dictate whether a teacher meets tenure requirements.

“I think there should be a parent consulting and there isn’t,” she added.  “A lot of times I think that teachers react differently in a parent observation. They know parents come in to observe and their behavior in the classroom is different than if parents were in there on a weekly basis,” Richards said.

Harris said that Dr. Brown, the current district superintendent, is attempting to straighten out the process of tenure by researching tools to better evaluate teachers.

According to Richards, the Ithaca City School District does not have some of the issues experienced by other district, so a change in laws wouldn’t shake things up as badly as many predict. Gergely not only agreed with Richards, but also added that about 90% of teachers would do absolutely nothing different because most of her colleagues work tirelessly.


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