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Excellent Public Schools Act Round Two

Earlier this week, Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) introduced SB 361 – the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2013. The bill is similar in scope to Berger’s 2012 legislation (also called the Excellent Public Schools Act), which included some of the same provisions as this year’s but did not make it into the final state budget for 2012.

The bill stands out for its laser focus on teachers. The legislation would scrap tenure, which affords teachers job security after a period of four years but does not eliminate the possibility of dismissal if a teacher is found to be incompetent or commits other indefensible acts.

Instead, teachers will be offered one year contracts for the first three years of employment. After three years, teachers become eligible for contracts that could last anywhere from one to four years, at the discretion of the superintendent and local board of education and only if they “demonstrate effectiveness on the teacher evaluation instrument.”

North Carolina Principal of the Year Patrice Faison, who serves at Oak Hill Elementary School in Guilford County, said that teacher tenure doesn’t stop her from removing bad teachers from her school. Teachers who earn tenure should be afforded the job security that goes along with it, and she would rather see measures that lift up pay and respect for her staff.

“Why are we coming down on teachers? We need to do positive things for our teachers now – what we are asking them to do in math and science in particular is very hard work. I need someone to stand up for higher teacher salaries,” Faison said.

The bill also outlines new specifications for the A-F school grading system. In last year’s bill, lawmakers promised to factor in measures of student growth in school report cards down the road. In this session’s legislation, measures of student growth on annual assessments would be included on school report cards – but only as a separate indicator. Student growth will not influence what letter grade a school receives.

“The student growth component is critical,” said Rockingham County Schools Superintendent Rodney Shotwell. “Even in Florida, where this grading system was introduced, student growth over time was part of the grade, not a separate indicator. Our schools need to be assessed for growth and progress.”

Rodwell added that school systems are already dealing with a new curriculum and a brand new set of assessments, and these new challenges should be taken into consideration as lawmakers press on to give schools a grade.

Other provisions in the bill include strengthening literacy training components for teacher preparation programs, reducing the window of time for end of grade and end of course testing, and allowing state employees up to five hours per month of time to volunteer in a public school literacy program.

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