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County school board hears proposed selection plan for teacher contracts

By Lauren Williams Staff Writer

January 21, 2014

After months of gathering information and advice, and following meetings with a specially-created local task force, interim superintendent Mike Warren presented the Sampson County Board of Education with a proposed process Tuesday morning for carrying out the new law which eliminates teacher tenure and requires only a select percentage of teachers be awarded four-year contracts.


“We’ve been talking about it since September,” said Warren during the board’s Tuesday work session, referring to the state legislature’s decision to end teacher tenure.


Signed into law by the governor in July 2013, it is Senate Bill 402, specifically section 9.6, that Warren and the task force — comprised of each school’s reigning teacher of the year; another principal-recommended teacher from each school; school board members Sonya Powell, Dewain Sinclair, and vice chairwoman Faye Gay; assistant superintendent Wendy Cabral; and BT/mentor coordinator Brenda Nordin — have been grappling with.


During an October work session, Warren explained that the new law, which was “effective immediately,” ruled that teachers who have not yet earned tenure — also known as career status — before this current 2013-14 school year will not receive tenure now and many will be offered only one-year contracts.


However, he added, according to the law, some teachers — including instructional staff such as media coordinators, counselors, speech pathologists, social workers, and instructional coaches — who meet certain requirements will be eligible to receive four-year contracts through the 2018-19 school year.


Those requirements, listed in sub-section (g) of section 9.6, include having taught in the same, current school system for at least three consecutive school years, and after undergoing performance reviews and evaluations by their principals and then the superintendent, having been deemed proficient or better in five areas.


The law further states that the superintendent will recommend 25 percent of those eligible to the school board who will then approve the awarding of four-year contracts. However, the law does not specify how that 25 percent should be determined, leaving that up to individual school systems.


Calling the law “unspecific” and “undetailed,” Warren described the work that he and the task force have been doing as having to “create the plane as we fly it.”


Warren shared that, through the formation and assistance of the task force, he felt like the voice of the system’s teachers had been heard and taken into consideration but that unanimous approval on the proposed process wasn’t realistically possible.


Although it can still be tweaked, the process for selecting the needed 25 percent that was ultimately decided on and presented to school board members is one based on ranking with ties being broken by a random draw.


According to Warren, a list will be compiled of all the county school teachers who have three consecutive years of service under their belts as of the end of the current school year. Those who were not deemed proficient on all standards in their last summative evaluation will be removed from the list.


“Those first two steps take us down to 433 (teachers),” Warren pointed out. In December, Warren mentioned that there are approximately 600 certified staff members with Sampson County Schools.


With those 433 teachers determined, points will be awarded to individual teachers from a list of criteria which features items that have been selected, with input from the teachers on the task force, to award performance beyond what is noted on evaluations.


The list of criteria with each item equaling one point includes NCBT/Master’s degrees; club advisors; school committee, grade level or department chairs or lead mentors; accomplished or distinguished rating on Standard 4; mentors; serving on a DPI team/committee; hard to fill positions; coaches, band directors, athletic directors; RttT teacher leads; school committee members; teaching award recipients for last school year and this current year; after-school tutoring, among others.


Once each teacher’s points are calculated, teachers will be ranked, by school, according to their total award points.


“We’re only comparing within each school,” stressed Warren, reiterating that the 25 percent will not be chosen from the total 433 teachers but from each individual school.


School officials will be made aware of how many of their allotted number of teachers to be selected, and teachers with the most points will automatically be recommended for a four-year contract and the accompanying bonus, a $500 pay raise every year of their contract, which will total $5,000 over four years.


Anticipating there to be some ties in the ranking, Warren and the task force propose holding random drawings at each school to break ties for the last remaining spots in a school’s allotment. Present at the drawings will be the school’s principal, central office personnel, and task force representatives.


To verify all the data needed to implement the selection process, Warren shared that eligible teachers will be required to fill out a form, certifying their employment, evaluation information, and points awarded from the list of criteria. Principals will then certify that all the information submitted by teachers is accurate and will turn the forms into new superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy who was in attendance at Tuesday’s work session. Bracy will present the list of selected teachers to the school board for final approval.


Powell questioned how a principal is to verify a teacher’s information if he is new to the school and not familiar with what the teacher has been involved in at the school in the past.


Checking with school staff and even confirming information with the school’s previous principal are good ways to verify, noted Warren.


Fellow school board member Glenn Tart asked if the proposed process had been looked over by a lawyer.


No, acknowledged Warren, but assured that much of the process was formed from the suggestions and advice of numerous lawyers who specialize in educational matters and are “neutral,” having no personal stake in the issue.


Although they could vote to approve the process next week during the regular board meeting scheduled for Monday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. at the central office, school board members ultimately agreed to postpone their vote until February.


The school board’s decision to wait to vote follows a recommendation made in December by Warren and the task force to “slow down the process” as there might be a “tiny hope” that when the General Assembly meets in May’s short session that “we could get some changes in legislation;” that they are still continuing to hear new ideas; and that the extended time will allow more teachers the opportunity to qualify for eligibility for the four-year contracts.


Warren added another reason Tuesday — to allow time for the judicial review of the North Carolina Association of Educators’ (NCAE) lawsuit which was filed a little over a month ago on Dec. 17.


“We want to make sure we’ve included every possibility,” he stressed in December, adding that “we all know that this is going to cause some hard feelings.”


If the proposed process is approved and implemented, the selected teachers will have until June 30 to accept or decline the offer. If a teacher chooses to accept, he or she will have to give up tenure which, by 2018, will be completely eliminated with previously tenured teachers losing their tenured status and all teachers being employed through renewable one, two, or four-year contracts.


Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at lwilliams@civitasmedia.com.