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From the archives: Will schools opt to pick their teachers?

Teachers' contract offers schools decision-making powers in some new areas

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The Notebook was launched in 1994 as a newspaper committed to ensuring quality and equity in Philadelphia public schools. We celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first publication this spring. We are featuring an article from our archives each week, shedding light on both the dramatic changes that have taken place in public education and the persistent issues facing Philadelphia’s school system.

This piece, about the school system’s first move toward site-based selection of teachers and expanded school-based decision-making, is from the Winter 2000-2001 print edition:

by Paul Socolar

The new teachers’ contract agreement continues the District’s recent practice of shifting important decision-making powers from the downtown office to schools.

New contract language opens the door for greater teacher and parent participation in discussion of educational issues and for a shared decision-making process to take hold among parents, school staff, and students at more of Philadelphia’s schools.

Two significant issues can be taken up by all schools immediately:

  • Whether to opt into a "site-based" teacher selection system, where a school personnel committee would interview and select from teachers who apply for job openings, instead of having appointments determined by seniority.
    How to use the extra 30 minutes of instructional time that is to be added to the school day next fall.

Two other areas where the contract empowers schools to make decisions are professional development and discipline policies. Schools are expected to establish professional development committees that will determine how to use an expanded pool of days available for teacher training and will develop plans for mentoring new teachers.

To address discipline issues, each school is explicitly required by the contract to develop "clear standards of student conduct" and "identify clear consequences for infringements."

The role for parents in school decision-making is not highlighted by the new contract.

But principals are expected to consult with their staff in these school-based decisions. And at schools that have created School Councils including parents and staff, the Councils can put the issues like new teacher selection, the longer school day, professional development, and school discipline policies on their agendas.

"The contract does provide a number of important opportunities to approach the issue of building parent and community involvement in decision-making," commented school board member Sandra Dungee Glenn.

Glenn highlighted the new process for school-based selection of teachers. She added, ”The extra half hour is the type of educational issue that School Councils should have a say in."

Glenn noted that the District has committed itself to improving the functioning of School Councils, which are supposed to give parents and staff a voice in decisions at every school, but have never gotten off the ground at many schools.

In addition, any other school in the District can decide to adopt school-based selection of faculty, if the approach wins the approval of a two-thirds vote of the school staff. Dec. 31 is the deadline for gaining a school’s approval in order for the school-based selection process to take place next year.

Under the school-based selection process, a school personnel committee — including the principal, teachers, and a parent — determines the criteria for filling vacancies, screens and schedules interviews with candidates, selects faculty, and establishes procedures for maintaining racial balance. Seniority becomes the determining factor when two equally qualified teachers apply for the same position.

The District is implementing the new process cautiously, offering the 10 named pilot schools the opportunity to decide whether they want to participate in the process and whether to test the approach school-wide or only in targeted positions. Schools were briefed on the process in a meeting led jointly by District Human Resources Director Marj Adler and PFT director of staff Jerry Jordan.

The 10 schools are FitzSimons, Pepper, Sayre, Shaw, Sulzberger, Tilden, Turner, Lea, McMichael, and Alcorn.

Linda Harris, director of collective bargaining for the PFT, commented that site-based teacher selection is something that schools should "think about and not rush into; not every school is ready for this."

For several years, New York City has had a similar procedure for authorizing a school-based selection process, and about one-fourth of that system’s 1,100 schools currently take part, according to a union spokesperson there.

Planning the longer day

With the school day for teachers and for students lengthened by 30 minutes beginning in 2001, schools have the option to decide how best to use that extra half hour, so long as it is instructional time.

”The School District leadership will be making suggestions and exposing people to best practices, but this is a responsibility that people have at the school level for how to make the most of the time that they have," said school board President Pedro Ramos. "It’s a significant amount of time, and we’ re expecting that schools use this to improve student achievement."

"We hope that schools can make time within the day for students who need even more intensive help," added Debra Kahn, Philadelphia’s secretary of education.

"You’ve got to figure out how to utilize all of the adults in the school for the benefit of the kids. There could be some shaking up, so kids get more one-on-one attention."

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