GUSD eyes extending teacher probationary period

Glendale Unified officials on Tuesday voiced support for increasing the teacher probationary period from two years to three, a move teachers unions argue would besiege a profession already under attack.

The conversation mirrored those taking place at districts throughout the Five Star Coalition, a coalition of neighboring districts that includes Glendale, Burbank and Pasadena. Two other members, South Pasadena and La Cañada, have already passed resolutions advocating the change.

The question at hand is how long it takes for newly hired teachers to prove their abilities in the classroom. Teachers in California must now work under probationary status for two years, after which time they are either released or retained as a permanent employee, the latter affording them strong union protection.

Those who want to see the probationary period increase said that layoff notices are issued by March 15, leaving principals just 18 months to make a decision on a new teacher. Increasing the probationary period would give administrators more time to evaluate new teachers, proponents contend, instead of forcing their hand early.

“I don’t want this to sound harsh, but to protect our students, when in doubt we let teachers go,” said Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan said. “I am guessing we would hang on to more teachers than we currently do if we went from a two-year to a three-year probationary period.”

Bills authored by state Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) and Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) that would have amended the time frame stalled last year, but some educators continue to call for change.

Advancing a teacher to permanent status has long-term implications for a generation of students, advocates said.

“Basically you are signing them for life if you give them tenure, provided they don’t do anything egregious, such as a sex-related offense or something you can fire them for,” Sheehan said.

But opponents to the change argue that teachers already undergo rigorous preparation, and that lengthening the probationary period just adds unnecessary hassle to the process. In addition, districts are hiring few new teachers because of the ongoing state budget crisis, making the proposed change irrelevant, they say.

During the probationary period, teachers have no due process rights, making them vulnerable to the whims of the district, said Glendale Teachers Assn. President Tami Carlson. And those who are not retained are branded as failures, making it almost impossible for them to find work elsewhere, she added.

“School districts should not be run like a business,” Carlson said. “It is not a business, it is not a business model. It is a people model, it is about education and kids.”

The matter will return to the Glendale Unified school board in the form of a resolution at its meeting on Sept. 13. Board members said they will support the resolution.

“This gives them a little more breathing room to get some more help, to really feel like they have some time to develop themselves as teachers,” Glendale school board vice president Christine Walters said. “I have never understood two years, there are very few professions that are like this.”

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World