Dear Mayor Bloomberg:
This is a letter of concern to everyone who cares about the educational system in New York City. It addresses an issue in the school that I work in that surely extends far beyond my school, New York City, and New York State. I am very concerned about current tenure practices where three very qualified teachers were denied tenure and held personally responsible for the merits of an entire school. A fair and equitable solution to this unfair practice needs to be found.
I work at Urban Action Academy in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. Urban Action Academy is one of three schools that replaced the old Canarsie High School, which failed. All three schools were commended earlier this year for their improvement. Even though two of the three schools have low Progress Report Grades, graduation rates have increased from 40% to 60% in a relatively short period of time. We are working hard to make more gains in graduation rates, building an Advanced Placement Program, and other academic ventures in our fifth year of existence. As a school community we are committed to learning, growing, and continuous improvement.
I am currently in my third year of teaching; my tenure year. Teachers are aware that in our third or fourth year there are three options we face: tenure, extension or probation, or termination. However, at the end of our fifth year the possibility of extension is eliminated. A teacher either attains tenure or leaves the profession. When denied tenure we are aware if we search for opportunities to work at other schools, even in other states, we are asked if we were ever denied tenure. If a teacher has been denied tenure it raises a red flag and can cause an applicant not to be considered for a position. As the hiring manager for my school I know that I would be reluctant to consider a candidate who was denied tenure. The way the system stands today, denial of tenure is likely interpreted as incompetence and inability.
Due to this stigma, you can imagine the anxiety felt two years ago when every eligible professional in our school who applied for tenure was denied. Our administration apologized, and their explanation was that they had not prepared us with the new system of review properly. As a new teacher I have limited knowledge of the different systems. To my knowledge, in the past, the principal either recommended a teacher or did not, and that was the entire process. In the current push for accountability, there is now a burden of proof placed on teachers to provide a binder of evidence of their work to justify the principal’s decision. Though I was not a part of this process, I heard from others that our administration told the teachers who were denied that the binders were not put together properly and that in the future they would lead teachers through the process better.
Then last year, every tenure request was granted. All the individuals who were denied tenure were granted it the very next year. Knowing these individuals and seeing their work and results it is not surprising they received tenure. It is very well deserved. However, there are other implications to this. It makes one believe that their original denial was not based on individual work – but rather a system beyond our control.
This year something far more disturbing has happened. There were four teachers up for tenure, including myself. I was informed that I was being recommended for extension and not tenure. As I spent most of the last year doing administrative work and not in the classroom, I accepted this as a fair appraisal of my growth as a teacher. My administration promised to work with me and was confident that next year I would be recommended for tenure if I continued working as I had been.
The other three teachers were recommended for tenure by our principal. In addition to doing their work as teachers, they were partaking in Saturday Academy, which is a program on Saturdays for students to receive academic intervention services including credit recovery, Regents preparation, and tutoring. In addition, these teachers are involved in cabinet and community activities, and two of the three are attending graduate school. They put together the requested binders to confirm their individual worth, which is a measurement of their commitment and success, and got the materials ready to send to our superintendent for review. However, their binders and individual statistics were never reviewed by our superintendent. Before they even had the chance to send in their binders, they received an email from our superintendent telling them that because our school is failing they could not possibly be given tenure. In other words, the school’s results were the basis for their denial of tenure and not their individual abilities which were already acknowledged by our principal.
Therefore, our superintendent is not aware that our chemistry teacher voluntarily took on Living Environment Regents preparation for our juniors and seniors for the past two years and achieved a 50% pass rate with students who had failed after taking the course twice – in summer school and in the fall semester. She accomplished the same pass rate in one semester that a veteran teacher achieved in a year and a half. 75% of the students who have taken her prep course have now passed. Bare in mind that these are the most difficult students – the ones who struggled with learning more than their peers, and she accomplished the same results. Her outstanding results were deemed meaningless because the rest of our school could not keep up. Her two summers and nearly every Saturday at work giving these students extra support are also going unnoticed. She also implemented a professional development session on POGIL- a new lesson style she learned – that received the highest rating of any professional development opportunity our school has had in the two years we’ve been rating them. Unfortunately her outstanding results are not being viewed because our school is failing.
Two of our three teachers are members of teaching fellowships – Teach for America and New York City Teaching Fellows – organizations whose mission is to put highly motivated individuals in failing schools to turn them around. Both of these fellows have contributed much to our school’s success. In fact our school would crumble without such hard working and skilled individuals. Should these excellent teachers remain loyal to their school, it may ultimately lead to the termination of their careers. And if they continue to show superior results, but our school does not, they could be denied tenure again next year…and the following year…and then they will not be able to have a future in what they have committed their lives to and love doing- TEACHING!
I was disappointed but understood when all teachers were denied tenure two years ago. But this year, to be denied without even having your binder looked at, to be measured only as a member of a community and not by individual attributes, and to know that the continuance of this system will ultimately end your career no matter what you do as an individual contributor, cannot continue. To not even look at the evidence of their abilities is a serious miscarriage of justice to these individuals as well as a deterrent for any teacher to work in a school that has problems. What will happen to students if good teachers are punished due to the environment in which they work?
I believe that a qualified person or panel should look at the evidence provided by the teachers and the school, and provide a reasonable approval or denial of tenure based on the supporting documentation. This is the way the system is supposed to work and this issue needs to be addressed.
I would also like to mention that these teachers were asked to sign an extension agreement that day. They were told there was a deadline, and if they missed it they would lose their jobs. They signed under duress before our union got back to them telling them they shouldn’t have signed the agreement. If their hard work is not enough for tenure and they are eventually denied, and their careers ended, so be it. But let it be after due process is completed and not because of a political struggle in a system that they’re just trying to maneuver through well enough to help our children succeed.
Are you a social worker or teacher seeing similar issues with in your school? If so, please share. In addition, Michelle is open to answering any questions or comments regarding her letter. Her email is: Mpietromonaco2@gmail.com
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