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To justify tenure calls, some supes ask for teacher portfolios

As schools enter the peak season for teacher tenure decisions, teachers who are up for tenure are reporting increased scrutiny from principals and superintendents.

A teacher contacted GothamSchools last week to report that her principal had surprised teachers up for tenure at her school with a request for a portfolio.

“The superintendent just informed my principal that each person up for tenure had to have an extensive portfolio demonstrating all the work they do that benefits the school,” said the teacher, who herself is up for tenure this year.

“There’s been stress, to say the least,” she said.

The portfolios are one of several ways district superintendents are soliciting evidence to back up their tenure decisions. The superintendents have always had the final say on tenure decisions, but they rarely challenged principals’ recommendations in the past. Now they’re under pressure to toughen the tenure process and deny tenure or extend probation more often. So they’re asking principals to justify all of the recommendations they make. Superintendents can ask for whatever documentation they like, including portfolios. Some superintendents are also observing classes themselves or sitting down with principals to analyze teachers’ performance.

“Superintendents have been told that nothing is a given,” said a high school principal. He said he has been instructed to justify all of his tenure decisions with portfolios for each teacher. “Supes are definitely grabbing back some power in this area,” he said.

The teacher who is up for tenure reported that her principal handed down the portfolio edict around the beginning of the month — but gave few additional instructions.

“She provided no specific timing for when she might show up to browse them,” the teacher wrote. “I would say there’s very little communication about what’s expected to be in them. It’s a new requirement this year, and we were told about it last week.”

Some principals are trying to maintain some control over the tenure process. Concerned that his superintendent would push back against his tenure recommendations, IS 318 Principal Fortunato Rubino is videotaping classes taught by teachers up for tenure this year, for example.

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