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Hurt by old tenure rules, a principal is hopeful for change

Although principals won’t get their first look at the city’s new tenure rules until tomorrow, one principal I spoke to today has high hopes for the new system.

For years, tenure has been treated as a formality, the principal said, so some school leaders put little effort into thinking about whether it should be granted. The new rules may prompt them to take the process of granting tenure more seriously, she said.

“I think the new system is probably not such a bad thing,” she said, telling a story about how her school had been hurt by what’s known as “tenure by estoppel.”

Tenure by estoppel, which is part of state law, means that a teacher can get tenure after a certain period of time if her principal never makes a decision.

In this person’s school, there was a teacher who had been given an extra year of probation and was up for tenure, which the former-principal knew she hadn’t earned.

“The teacher had been out a lot and there was more going on than just absences, there were mental health issues,” the principal said. “When she was here and focused she was a good teacher, but that wasn’t often the case.”

But the former-principal forgot to deny tenure, so the teacher got it anyway. The school was stuck with a teacher who was incompetent and nearly impossible to remove.

Now, the Department of Education is asking principals to put an end to tenure by estoppel. In order to recommend a teacher for tenure, principals will have to submit written requests explaining their rationale. If they still fail to make a decision, teachers will get tenure by estoppel, but city officials are hoping it will be less common.

The new system is likely to be more work for school leaders, but this principal said she’d welcome the change:

“They’re really saying to the principals we’re going to hold you accountable,” she said.

“But I don’t have a problem with that, because if someone is going to get tenure, that’s basically a job for life. I’m seeing what’s happening with people we tried to remove and, chances are, at least one of them will end up back in the classroom. It’s terrible. So I don’t have a problem with saying if you’re going to give this person tenure, you need to be accountable and not just doing what’s easy.”

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