Fulton County could become the first school system in the state to give new teachers only 90 days to prove themselves as opposed to the 12-month probation period other districts allow.
That’s one of the proposals from superintendent Robert Avossa, who told the Fulton County School Board on Tuesday that the district should start using the freedom the state gave it last year when it designated the system a charter district. That designation gives Fulton schools wide leeway to waive many state-mandated education policies that have to be followed by every other district in metro Atlanta except Marietta City Schools, also a charter district.
The summary dismissal policy is one of a handful of changes Avossa is asking the board to make to “hold employees accountable” in the district that has about 94,000 students and 6,800 teachers. He also asked the board to give him the power to suspend employees for up to 20 days, with no right of appeal to the full school board.
Avossa also asked the board to waive the state requirement that all part-time employees be contract workers instead of regular staff; make contracts for central office employees up to the discretion of the school board; and that the board approve the hiring of teachers who have all the required qualifications except a teaching certificate.
The board is expected to vote on the policy changes in April. Tuesday was the first reading, and the board asked few questions about the proposals, which were presented in detail by the district’s chief talent officer Ron Wade. The next public meeting could stir comment.
The proposed probation period would applies to only new, but not current or tenured employees. Still, Calvine Rollins, president of the Georgia Association of Educators advocacy group, said the recommendations set a disturbing precedent. “This is an attempt, we feel, to take away due process rights for educators,” Rollins wrote in an email response to a reporter’s questions.
“Currently, all educators have a one-year contract and to propose changes that would put new hires on a 90-day probation period does not give an educator and or evaluator the necessary time to determine whether the new hire will or can be successful in the performance of the duties assigned. We also feel that all educators, whether full or part-time, should have a contract.”
In an interview before the meeting, Avossa said the state requirement that a new hires serve out a 12-month contract, whether they can perform up to expectations or not, places a burden on the district “unlike in just about any other sector, where you’re put on a probation period when you’re hired.” He said sometimes “we just make a bad hiring decision, and this is a way to deal with that as expeditiously as possible.”
Across the country, many school reform advocates have been calling for more accountability from public school teachers and administrators and less protection — in the form of teachers unions, tenure and employment contracts — when things go wrong.
Fulton parent Betty Klein said she has concerns about some proposals, especially putting new teachers on a 90-day trial. “Even if you’re a good teacher and have proven yourself, when you’re in a new environment, there’s always a learning curve,” she said. “Ninety days may not be enough time to prove yourself.”