Newark Superintendent Takes a New Tack on How and Where Teachers Are Placed

June 21, 2011

In a trial run of a proposal the Christie administration wants to take statewide, Newark’s new school superintendent yesterday moved quickly to tighten up policies about how and where district teachers are assigned.

And with scores of Newark teachers jobs potentially in flux for next year, it may get that run sooner rather than later.

Only a week on the job, superintendent Cami Anderson announced that she would end the shuffling of teachers who are deemed ineffective from school to school -— so-called forced placements and put in place a policy that will require both principal and teacher to sign off on any new placement.

"This new staffing policy, by ending the forced placement of teachers in core positions, gives principals the authority and responsibility to select the best teachers for their schools,” Anderson said in a statement. “This is the first step in our collective focus on leadership and teacher quality."

In the beginning, the policy would cover teachers who are either laid off or deemed excess with the closing or consolidation of schools. It would offer them a spot in an internal hiring pool to get first shot at open positions elsewhere in the district. If a placement is not agreed upon, teachers may still be entitled to a job if they are tenured, but not necessarily as a lead classroom teacher.

The policy is a version of a so-called mutual consent proposal in Gov. Chris Christie’s teacher tenure and evaluation reform package. Under Christie’s plan, placements would also require the consent of both the principal and teacher. And if such consent isn’t reached, the teacher would have a year to find a job or possibly face dismissal. That proposal is now in the legislature in a couple of different bills, although not expected to be taken up again until next session.

The policy in Newark, announced to principals yesterday afternoon, is not as severe as Christie’s but nevertheless looks headed to its own test this summer, with the district already moving to dismiss close to 200 non-tenured teachers for next year due to budget cuts and school consolidations. Some of those teachers would fall into the new eligibility pool and could apply to openings elsewhere.

The plan yesterday drew prompt questions and some criticism from Joseph Del Gross, the head of the Newark Teachers Union (NTU). He said the district already has powers to dismiss non-tenured teachers and has done so with the recent non-renewals.

He added that if the district seeks to use this to get rid of tenured teachers, it still must comply with the state’s existing tenure laws that require it to file tenure charges.

“I think this is just causing a lot of unnecessary confusion,” Del Grosso said. "I think it causes more problems than it solves."

The imminent dismissals of the non-tenured teachers, Del Grosso said, has already led to considerable confusion with an unprecedented number of personnel hearings requested before the district’s advisory board. The dismissed teachers are permitted to seek the informal hearings, called “Donaldson” hearings after an administrative law case out of North Wildwood by that name. He said there have been 50 such requests so far from the 200 dismissals.

Many of the dismissals were on the basis of performance, which would preclude the teachers from reapplying for openings elsewhere under the new policy. But Del Grosso said some of the teachers received positive reviews from their principals and are contending the evaluations were changed in the district’s central office, with even some principals backing up their claims.

Outside observers said there were clearly questions to resolve, but they said Anderson seems intent on at least getting a tighter control on teacher placements in her new job.

"It may be easier statewide to do it in legislation rather than contract by contract," said Daniel Weisberg, vice president of The New Teacher Project in New York City. "But if you are someone like Cami, you may not feel you have much choice and not want to wait for the law to change."