ATLANTA – Sweeping changes to personnel policies will likely be approved by the Fulton County Board of Education next month, moving the system closer to the business model of human resources. The proposed changes will cover how employees are hired, the needed certifications to teach and how grievances are dealt with.
Fulton Superintendent Robert Avossa said Fulton’s move to a charter system this year prompted serious consideration into which policies the system will waive under Title 20 – the law which governs all aspects of public education in Georgia.
The state granted Fulton Schools a “blanket waiver” from Title 20 provisions, said Avossa, under the terms of the charter.
“As we begin to think about a charter system and some of the district- wide waivers that we might want to use, we knew we had to get a couple of things right,” said Avossa.
These include a strong performance management system for the system’s 14,000 employees, professional development opportunities for employees and the “third leg of this stool,” said Avossa, which is holding people accountable for what they do.
“We have a good evaluation system in place, we’re supporting [our employees], helping them get better – but [in some cases] they are not getting better and, in fact, they’re really not adding value, and in some cases hurting kids’ potential outcomes,” said Avossa.
The policy changes recommended by staff were introduced at the school board’s meeting this month, and are up for a vote in April.
Employee grievances will be dealt with at a lower level than currently exists. Grievances now heard by the school board will be dealt with by the superintendent, whose decision is final and not subject to appeal. Grievances that were previously heard by the superintendent will now be dealt with by human resources. All grievances must be completed in 65 days – down from 90 days for certified staff (teachers).
All new hires will have a 90-day probationary period and can be terminated at will. Only full-time employees will be offered contracts. Central administration or other non-school based employees, for the most part, will not be offered contracts. The acceptance time for a contract offer will drop from 10 days to seven days, and the deadline for offering a contract will go from May 15 to May 20.
Human Resources Director Ron Wade said in the vast majority of cases, contracts will be offered in April; however the additional days allow the school system more flexibility.
“Under Title 20, if someone had not received a contract by May 15, they were contracted by default,” said Wade. “What this new policy allows is the [flexibility] to go up to May 20 in situations where an employee may be on a performance bubble and we need more time.”
Under the proposed new policy, teachers could be hired without a teaching certification.
“While the school board strongly values and strongly prefers the certification, we want to make sure the certification doesn’t become a barrier when we find ourselves with a talented individual with deep content we might want to hire,” said Wade.
The waiver will likely be used only in certain content areas, and the teacher must hold a bachelor’s degree, pass a basic skills assessment in their content area and undergo continuous professional development.
And finally, the board will likely approve a policy that takes away the mandated “duty free lunch” in grades K-5 and replace it with a 25-minute break provided at some point before the end of the day at the principal’s discretion.
While the change may seem insignificant to many, for teachers, the change is huge.
“I think most of us are wary of all these new proposals, but the lunch change is our biggest concern,” said one elementary teacher who asked not to be identified. “There are days when that 25 minutes we get for lunch is our only chance to breathe between 7 a.m. and 2:30. Requiring us to give up a duty free lunch in exchange for a 30 minute break ‘sometime during the day’ isn’t much of an exchange.”
Veteran teacher welcomes new evaluation process
Said raising the bar has made her a better teacher
MILTON, Ga. – Looking back on a teaching career of more than 20 years, Paula Perque can’t remember working as hard in her classroom as she has this year. And that’s not a bad thing, she muses.
“I’ve worked harder this year on planning the best lessons I can for my students, and it’s changed my entire mindset,” said Perque, who teaches sixth-grade science at Northwestern Middle School. “No longer can you be the teacher that comes in and teaches [the same lesson to all students] in the same way. You have to differentiate and move out of your comfort zone.”
With a meaningful teacher evaluation underway, new standards to teach under the Common Core Curriculum and an expectation to do more for kids academically, it’s a tough time to be a teacher. Throw in no pay increase for the past five years (and no plans for one next year), and one might expect teacher morale to be dipping.
But Perque says she has as much excitement this year as she did the day she started teaching, and has heard little grumbling in the hallways in her school. Recently named “Teacher of the Year” for Northwestern, Perque said the higher bar for teachers is a good thing because it should translate to better outcomes for kids.
“I think it makes you a better teacher because the evaluations now have meaning,” said Perque.
A new teacher evaluation process will become state law by the 2014-2015 school year, and takes into account student achievement, student surveys and classroom observations to provide an overall assessment of teacher effectiveness.
Compare that to the previous evaluation process that rated teachers either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” based on a short observation and review of lesson plans.
Perque says now that the expectations have been outlined, the state and county need to provide more professional development and training opportunities so that teachers can meet those expectations. And an incentive program for those that meet and exceed expectations would be a plus, as well.
“I’m making less today than I did five years ago with the increases in health insurance,” said Perque, a single mother of a Milton High student.
State education officials have talked about a pay-for-performance plan that rewards the state’s best teachers, but no plans have been put in place.