This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks
Last week, Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite announced that the District intends to suspend the state school code and eliminate seniority as the predominant factor in all staffing decisions for the 2014-15 school year. The District has filed a motion asking the state Supreme Court to judge whether this unilateral decision is legal.
[Listen to two veteran Philadelphia teachers offer their perspective on seniority and teacher quality in the interview above.]
"Our plan helps each and every student have the right teacher with the right skill sets to support quality learning. We have seen firsthand the impact the right teachers have on students," Hite said in an official release.
"We must implement these changes now to be ready for the coming school year," he said. "In one instance, a high school chemistry teacher who was voted ‘best teacher’ by students lost his job simply because he lacked seniority. We cannot continue to allow that to occur."
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, whose contract with the District expired Aug. 31, has long opposed ending seniority — which exists in every other school district in the state. The PFT sees the debate about seniority as a red herring for the District’s real problem: a lack of adequate resources.
PFT president Jerry Jordan has instructed the union’s attorneys to "oppose strongly this bogus effort by the SRC to avoid its legal obligation to bargain in good faith."
Before the announcement was made, I sat down with two District teachers to discuss the perceptions surrounding seniority and the District’s teaching workforce in general.
Robeson High School teachers Andrew Saltz and Karla Johnson related an experience far different from the "parasite" teacher narrative that they say often pervades the education-reform conversation in Philadelphia and beyond.