How does this happen? How does a young and effective educator get released over any other teacher?
The answer is Tenure: A status of employment that grants job security, based on performance and seniority. It generally takes several years for a teacher to achieve tenure, but it varies from place to place. "It is based on performance and time served," Dr. D'Agostino said.
Basically, teachers that have been employed the longest would be last to get laid off, and those that have not achieved it are the first to be terminated, regardless of performance or popularity.
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In order for a teacher to gain tenure they must pass through three levels: Temporary, Probationary, and Permanent. After being closely supervised by administration, a teacher can achieve Permanent Status, otherwise known as Tenure. So why did Kahawai not achieve tenure if she had performed well in her duties and served for a number of years?
Dr. D'Agostino states "...by law we are required to not run out of money; we have to take precautions to make sure the funding is there for the next school year. And sometimes in order to do that, we have to take teachers off the financial books, and hire them back only when we know we have funding again." Probationary teachers are notified on March 15th that their contracts will be released, and during the summer they are called back and must interview for their old jobs, competing with other teachers that can apply for the position. Sometimes they get hired back, sometimes they don’t.
The difficulty in firing a teacher with tenure has raised controversy. Some people say that teachers with tenure may take advantage of their job security. "Say somebody's teaching and they get overlooked, and then they perpetuate [some habit that is not benefiting the students]... this gets overlooked by admin [who has the authority to make change]... Somebody would have to point [the habit] out to you and help you make change. Say nobody held you accountable or helped you. Same thing as if we had a teacher who is not fulfilling their duties. That is a problem," Ms. Claytor said.
"If the teacher was deficient with something, their supervisor would have to identify that, address that in a way that makes the employee aware and give them an opportunity to improve. [After a period of time] their supervisor monitors them, if they did not change their way, they get termination. They get certain notifications... make sure the process is fair,” said Kim Claytor.
After this process of monitoring, if the teacher has not improved they have a right to a hearing. At the hearing the principal and the teacher have opportunities to appeal to the 3 person panel, who later decide whether or not to let the teacher go. Teachers without tenure do not have this right. They are the first to go when educational funding is low.
So why have the tenure system when good teachers can get fired and teachers that are less effective are difficult to remove?
"It doesn't make any financial sense to make greater efficiency to dismiss people; it's much more financially sound and economically smart to work with people who aren't doing a good job, and get them to see where they can improve and support them," said Dr. D'Agostino. "In the long run, it's cheaper, more effective, and better for relationships and better for people."
"What I'd really like to see happen is that all our good teachers, which I think we have here at Mesa, get the security that they need so that they can do their jobs well," said Principal D'Agostino.
NMUSD Human Resources Department could not be reached for comment.
Written by Loralee Sepsey and Natalie Tetreault