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City schools end teacher placement policy

Providence Public Schools will end the practice known as "bumping" — filling teaching vacancies based mainly on seniority — at six schools later this year and throughout the city in 2010. The move to end bumping has angered the teachers union, which may sue to stop it.

Superintendent Tom Brady announced the change in an e-mail to all teachers and staff last week. It follows a February order from Peter McWalters, the state's commissioner of elementary and secondary education, that the district implement "criterion-based hiring and job assignment processes that are driven by student need rather than by seniority."

Bumping causes a chain-reaction shuffling of teachers among schools, said Christina O'Reilly, a spokesperson for the school system. For  example, in order to eliminate a teaching position at a school, the district would need to send layoff notices to all of the most junior teachers in the district.

While only one teacher would be laid off, the remaining teachers would be shuffled around as each chose a new position based on seniority, she said.

Under the new hiring policy, all applicants will undergo an interview process with a committee and with the school's principal, who will have final say as to who is hired. Hiring will take into account both principals' and teachers' ranked preferences, and a current teacher who is transferred will be required to stay in his new position until the end of the school year, according to Brady's e-mail.

While the length of a teacher's service will still be "valued" and taken into consideration, it will no longer be the main factor in decisions, O'Reilly said. The new system will "best match teacher qualifications with student need," she said.

For the 2009-10 school year, the policy change will take effect at four existing schools­ ­— Hope High School, Perry Middle School, Veazie Street Elementary School and Lauro Elementary School — as well as at the new Providence Career and Technical Academy and the newly renovated Nathan Bishop Middle School. It will take effect district-wide for the 2010-11 school year.

Brady and McWalters wanted to start with just a few schools, because they expect "there will be some wrinkles to iron out," O'Reilly said.

But Steve Smith, president of the Providence Teachers Union, said he sees a larger problem with the new plan. While the union is willing to accept McWalters' order, Smith said, the district did not properly take into account teachers' input.

"We're just being paid lip service," Smith said. "Superintendent Brady's idea of collaboration is he tells us what he's going to do."

The union may pursue legal action against the plan, he said.

O'Reilly said the union was involved in six hours of meetings going over the proposed plan, but Smith said six hours are not enough time to deal with a "monumental" issue such as hiring practices.

The union worked non-stop for several days during recent weeks to create its own plan, which would take teachers' experience into account, institute checks and balances and "give teachers a voice," Smith said.

"Teachers' experience should be valued," he said.

Smith said the union wants language assuring safeguards against unjustified assignments. According to Brady's e-mail to school staff, the new plan will not allow "arbitrary, capricious" placements, and teachers will be entitled to request an explanation for any assignment they receive.

The union is willing to work with the district to form a new policy, Smith said.

"We're more than willing to work with the district to implement the commissioner's order, but to date this has been a top-down implementation," he said.

Matthew Corritore '09, a co-coordinator for Brown Students for Education Reform, said that he was optimistic that bumping will end but that a lawsuit from the teachers' union would throw that into doubt. His group's school advocacy work has included circulating a petition to end bumping and support the school system in case of a lawsuit.

Research has shown that a stable school culture is important to learning and that bumps impede that proces, Corritore said.


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