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Teacher proposal could change how schools run

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Politics and government Updated: March 13, 2014 - 1:36 PM

From showing really bad teachers the door quicker to creating a new subset of schools with an emphasis on results, not how they’re achieved, the contract proposal in the hands of Minneapolis teachers could create some notable changes in how schools run.

The new Partnership Schools concept first touted by Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson in a speech last May on changing how the district does business will mean big changes for participating schools.

They can get slack from the district on matters ranging from how many hours and days students and teachers spend in school to how teachers teach to state standards to how they spend their budget to how straggling students get help. They’ll even not be required to follow the district’s focused instruction curriculum. But they’ll have to meet academic performance targets to keep that flexibility.

The district plans to launch the first such school next fall when Cityview school reopens. But  No. 2 administrator Michael Goar said this week he’s still hoping the district can add another. Both reopening buildings, and existing schools with an interest in gaining greater school-level flexibility for performance standards, will be considered as potential partners.

In one example of how things could change, teachers could propose working up to 211 days annually, including some training days, compared to a norm of 196. But the district didn’t prevail on its early negotiation proposal that teachers in such schools move up the salary scale faster.

All this assumes that teachers vote to accept the contract proposal.  Some express concern about a clause would allow the district to axe a teacher it judges low-performing after just 45 days of working with a mentor to improve. The district said that now takes three to nine months. Alternatives to firing would include improving enough to stay with or without continued assistance, or shifting to another school if there’s a personality conflict or a misfit academically.

But Lynn Nordgren, president of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, said she expects only two to three teachers a year to go through the expedited process. Some improve earlier in the process of mentor-guided intervention steps, while others are either counseled out of the profession or come to that decision on their own, she said.  
 
Another issue for some teachers is a clause that gives the district the right to early posting of teacher openings in specialties or at schools that have trouble attracting applicants. Those jobs could be filled ahead of the normal two rounds in which teachers axed for budget reasons from schools and those seeking a shift of schools interview for openings.

The district says that posting those openings early means that it has a better shot at hiring more qualified applicants before they’re hired by competing districts who can make a firm offer earlier.  The agreement commits the district and union to developing efforts to hire and keep teachers in 16 struggling schools, but doesn’t specifically offer extra pay, a possibility the district floated last summer in negotiations but teacher negotiators called degrading to schools.              

The district set a class-size target in those struggling of 18 students in grades K-3, down from 21. That’s a $2.2 million commitment, the district said.

But there are no absolutes in those or regular schools, with Goar saying the district won’t bargain class size. The revamped contract gives teacher frustrated by having extra students above the targets crammed into their classrooms during the year a lifeline to a district hotline that would need to respond within five days. But there’s no guarantee of relief.  

For a teacher in a stuffed classroom in a school without room to expand, the district said it would work with the union on adding aides, redistributing students among teachers, adding a second teacher for part of the day, or other remedies.

The district abandoned a proposal to bump the number of teaching days by four to at least 180, or four more. Instead, it’s shifting to a targeted strategy to add days selectively for struggling students at the winter and spring breaks, and over the summer, using teachers willing to be paid for their extra time. The drawback to that proposal is that attendance is optional for students.

It also didn’t prevail on a proposal that it be able to retain what it judges to be superior teachers outside their seniority order in the case of layoffs.       

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