Court Upholds 'Mentor Teacher' Program In New York
In a much awaited court decision over the proper lines of authority in schools, a New York State judge ruled last week that a mentor-teacher program in Rochester does not have a "harmful'' effect on administrators in that district.
The Association of Supervisors and Administrators of Rochester filed suit last December seeking to dismantle the program. They contended that the district's 22 mentor teachers were performing only supervisory and administrative tasks without the proper credentials to do so.
The suit also charged that Rochester's Peer Assistance and Review program violated state regulations governing the funding of such mentoring projects.
In his June 18 decision, Judge Andrew V. Siracuse said the administrators and supervisors do "not directly state the harmful effect'' the program has on them.
"Presumably, the harmful effect is that the administrators' function of evaluating teachers' performance must now be shared with a mentor teacher and [peer-review] panel members,'' the judge wrote in his 6-page decision. "While this change in the previous evaluation system may have an effect on the administrators, I do not find it to be a harmful one.''
The judge said he found nothing within the state regulations governing the certification of administrators "which sets forth the rights, privileges, or duties conferred by that certification, or that those rights, duties, or privileges are exclusively within the province of certified administrators.''
Concerning the claim that the program is not in compliance with state guidelines, the judge said that the state commissioner of education "has the authority to disqualify the district from receiving state aid if the program doesn't meet the regulatory requirements.''
The Rochester program--put in place last fall--was established through a collective-bargaining agreement reached last spring between the district and the Rochester Teachers Association, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.
Under the agreement, mentor teachers help improve the skills of first-year teachers and tenured teachers experiencing difficulties.
In addition, the agreement established a panel, made up of four teachers and three administrators, which manages and directs the program, selects mentor teachers, and monitors the performance of the mentors and participating teachers.
"I am obviously encouraged by the decision, and by the fact that a potentially significant impediment to progress in our industry has been removed,'' said Adam Urbanski, president of the R.T.A.
He encouraged administrators "to collaborate with us to restructure schools and the teaching profession to achieve greater effectiveness.''
Adam D. Kauffman, a lawyer for the district, said that school officials were "pleased as punch about the decision'' and will "go forward'' with the program next year.
An official for the administrators' group said he had not yet seen a copy of the decision and declined to comment on it. The organization has not yet decided whether it will appeal the ruling, he said.--B.R.