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Published in Print: January 31, 2001, as Few Philadelphia Schools Sign Up To Hire Own Teachers

Few Philadelphia Schools Sign Up To Hire Own Teachers

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Only 12 of Philadelphia's 260 schools have taken advantage of a policy change that offers individual schools new authority to choose their own teaching staffs. District leaders had negotiated for the change in the latest teachers' contract.

While that number represents less than 5 percent of the city's public schools, district officials hope the first few sites are successful enough to encourage more schools to adopt the procedure next year. Schools that do are allowed to hire teachers through their own personnel committees, instead of through a long- standing practice of giving the first shot at openings to those with the most years of service.

In the meantime, other provisions in the new teachers' contract will alter the hiring schedule for the whole district in an effort to attract and keep new teachers.

"In this environment, where seniority has been the rule of thumb since the mid-1960s, when the first contract came about, this is a major breakthrough," said Nancy McGinley, the executive director of the Philadelphia Education Fund, a nonprofit group that works to improve schools.

Efforts to lessen the role of seniority in teacher hiring have gained steam in recent years as states and districts have put more pressure on individual schools to improve. Intense competition for new teachers is also driving transformation of the practice.

Until now, a teacher wanting to switch to another school in the 208,000-student Philadelphia district would automatically have been given the open post she specified so long as she had the appropriate credentials and more seniority than anyone else seeking the assignment. Furthermore, under the traditional system, new teachers hired after the beginning of the school year could later lose their positions to more veteran educators wanting their jobs.

But the new contract allows the teaching staff at each school to vote by Dec. 31 on whether to form a personnel committee—including the principal and teachers—that would make its own hiring decisions. While 44 schools held such votes by the deadline, 32 of them failed to reach the two-thirds approval needed.

"The fact that nearly three-quarters of the buildings that voted on [the new system] turned it down tells you it was met with some skepticism," said Barbara Goodman, the communications director for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

New Incentives Planned

But district officials maintain that the small number of schools willing to participate reflects the lack of time teachers had to learn the plan's details. Contentious negotiations, including a one-day strike, didn't yield a settlement until late October. ("Philadelphia Teachers Reach Settlement," Nov. 1, 2000).

"I think 12 is a good amount because we haven't done this before," said Marj Adler, the district's executive director of human resources. "This will enable us to get the kinks out."

Moreover, she said, the entire system will benefit from other contract changes affecting the district's hiring. Now, teachers planning to transfer must do so by the end of June; after that, open positions will be given to new hires. Also, new teachers hired before January cannot be "bumped" by more experienced educators.

The result, Ms. Adler said, is that schools will be better able to hold on to the new teachers they want, and the district will be able to identify school assignments for new recruits earlier.

District officials soon expect to unveil another change called for in the new contract: financial incentives to address shortages in specific teaching specialties and at a group of schools that have had trouble attracting teachers.

"We expect many of these other things to have more of an impact than site selection" of new teachers, Ms. Adler said.

Vol. 20, Issue 20, Page 6

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