The Tenure Process
Achieving tenure is a significant accomplishment in the career of an educator. Put simply, tenure marks a change in employment status which affords that educator the right to keep his or her job, and requires due process for discipline or dismissal. Similarly, granting tenure, upon recommendation from the Superintendent, is among the most serious and significant responsibilities of the Board of Education. Interestingly, Boards of Education are empowered only to approve, or reject the recommendation of the Superintendent, and cannot award, or deny, tenure without such a recommendation. Importantly, none of this can happen before a teacher or administrator successfully completes a trial, or probationary, period of employment. The intent of this article is to explain, if only briefly, what occurs during this probationary period to inform such an important decision.
The probationary period commences after a rigorous recruitment and selection process. Once a teacher or administrator is granted a full-time appointment, the clock starts on the probationary period, which can now range from two to four years. Prior to July, 2015, the established probationary period in New York was three years. An exception to this requirement is made for teachers (though not administrators) who have been granted tenure by another New York State public school district prior to being employed in their current school. These individuals have a reduced, two-year probationary period. However, on July 1, 2015, the law changed to extend the probationary period from three to four years (and from two to three for those with prior tenure). The administrator exception applies here, too -- four years to tenure for administrators. There is one final exception to note. In rare cases, the three (or, in the near future, four) year probationary period is not deemed sufficient to make a tenure decision. In those cases, the educator can request an additional probationary year. If granted, the trial period continues. If not, a recommendation for tenure is withheld, and the educator either resigns, or is terminated.
The quality and effectiveness of a probationary educator's performance is gauged against professional standards. Each school district in New York is required to identify which of several model standards it uses to evaluate teachers and administrators. In Scarsdale, we use Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching to guide our teacher evaluation process. The Framework describes effective practice across the domains of Planning and Preparation, Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities. For 2020-21, a most unusual year which includes both hybrid and virtual only learning for students, we have concentrated our focus on the Danielson Framework for Remote Teaching. This revision reorganized the framework into a pathway that emphasizes three essential practices:
- Knowing and valuing our students by deeply understanding their identities and assets; their current context and needs; and figuring out how to best support their social, emotional, and academic development in partnership with families and caregivers.
- Building responsive learning environments both in person and online, and based on what we learn about our students. We have strived to develop systems and supports that prioritize equitable access, easy navigation of learning experiences, and ongoing formative assessment.
- Engaging students in learning. With these structures in place, we strive daily to plan and facilitate engaging and coherent instruction that meets students where they are in this moment.
For administrators, we use the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) Standards. ISLLC Standards cover six broad categories of leadership, including vision for teaching and learning, instructional leadership, management and safety, collaboration, ethical practice, and educational context. Our appraisal system relies on a wide variety of inputs that inform the decision to recommend a teacher for tenure, including:
- Four formal, clinical observations annually, inclusive of a discussion, reflection, written report, and rating, conducted by supervisors (i.e., department chair, teacher-in-charge) and administrators (i.e., principal, assistant principal)
- An observation by an Assistant Superintendent or Director, annually
- Numerous informal "drop-in" observations by supervisors and evaluators
- Formal and informal mentoring
- A portfolio of artifacts documenting professional practice, with written commentary
- A year-end conference, written appraisal, assessment of progress, and rating, annually
- An administrative review panel attended by District administrators, building administrators, supervisors, and Board of Education members, annually
- Feedback from other parts of the school community
It should be noted that the information-gathering used to gauge the performance of principals and other building and district leaders varies somewhat from those listed above due to differences in the nature of these roles. For example, formal, clinical observations are replaced by school visits, classroom walk-throughs, observations of faculty meetings, and the like. Feedback from faculty and staff is also a part of the picture for leader evaluation.
In addition to these structured inputs, the progress of all probationers is monitored on a continual basis, enriched by dialogue between teachers and leaders, and ongoing participation in meetings, events, professional development activities, and parent-school communications and events.
In sum, it is our belief that the rigors of the tenure process are commensurate with the importance of the achievement. The work of supervision and evaluation is ongoing, and is essential to the continuous development of all educators. Critically, that development does not end with tenure!
- January: Overview of tenure process and tenure candidate list shared via 'Dale Dispatch and website; Public input invited; Parent survey sent electronically; Administrative review panel meets to discuss tenure candidates
- February: Administrative review panel meets to discuss tenure candidates
- April: Tenure recommendations completed; Administrative review panel meets to discuss all other probationers
- May: Continuation decisions made; Board of Education tenure vote