FREE SPEECH ZONE | An MPS school board member’s perspective on being stuck on seniority

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While school districts across Minnesota wait for the state’s teacher evaluation task force to come up with a system, implement it, and only THEN enforce layoffs by effectiveness before seniority, Minneapolis Public Schools is thinking, “that was so three years ago.” Knowing we could not wait, MPS developed a strategic plan in 2007 that includes a commitment to implement a comprehensive teacher evaluation system. It took a couple of years working in collaboration with the teachers union, many hours of research, looking at best practices, gaining insight from the Gates Foundation’s 3 year teacher evaluation study, and knowing what has already been effective in evaluating teachers in MPS (because we have been doing so all along). This year we began rolling out the observation phase of the evaluation. To ensure the quality of our observation tool, our principals were required to earn the Standards of Effective Instruction certification, based on a well researched national certification process. Next fall we will fully implement our teacher evaluation system, and we will continue to look at best practices to inform our practice, like how we can most effectively include parent and student feedback as an integral part of the evaluation process.

We know our evaluation tool would be worthless without student achievement data, requiring a user friendly data system. Our version provides both growth and proficiency data that teachers can access in real time so that it informs instruction. And MPS is not stopping there. We are developing a value added tool to measure what has previously been dismissed as unmeasurable ~ academic tools invaluable to student success like cognitive thinking skills, logical and deductive reasoning, and problem solving. And at the core of our work is our focused instruction model, a data driven integrated instructional approach that supports a laser focus on individual student learning in the classroom, which is also in the process of being rolled out this year. These are the tools that will inform the work to assure that we implement teacher evaluation with fidelity. 

In this time of an enrollment boom, we are looking to hire, not fire. A teacher leaving MPS will do so as a retiree, a change of profession, as the result of a disciplinary action or because they were unable, after mentoring, professional development, and assisted by a professional support team, to produce adequate student growth. And while the rest of the school districts are waiting for the state to act (the word dysfunctional comes to mind), MPS will be an aberrant district that deviates from the normal state of a one size fits all traditional  approach to educating students which has failed so many children. We will also deviate from a moral standard that accepts an opportunity gap and has no urgency in closing it. Instead MPS demands higher standards and has high expectations of all the stakeholders necessary to ensure successful academic outcomes for all students. Engaged parents, community members, principals, teachers, district leaders, elected officials, faith communities, the business community, and the students themselves are THE REASON students achieve. We are ALL relevant to attaining academic success for all students.

It is disappointing that some people seem to be stuck on the same old seniority song. It is also disappointing that we don’t have a sense of urgency to settle any distractions that divert our focus away from students. What’s the hurry? Our children don’t have time to wait. 

Rebecca Gagnon, Director

Minneapolis Public Schools

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