A new state law will make it easier for school districts to retain good teachers and fire incompetent teachers, Assistant Superintendent Craig Collins told School District 304 officials Monday. But it will take several years to put those changes in place, he added.
Senate Bill 7, which Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law June 13, requires each school district to establish a yearly evaluation system for students, teachers and principals. Students’ academic progress will be monitored using standardized tests. Staff members will then be evaluated based on how well their students improve under their direction.
Under the recommended state model, teachers in grades K-12 must earn two “proficient” or “excellent” evaluations within four years to gain tenure. Teachers who earn two “unsatisfactory” evaluations within seven years could be required to undergo additional training or lose their teaching certificates, whether or not they are tenured.
Each district must draw up its own plan that meets the unique conditions within that district, Collins noted. District 304 has set up a staff committee to work on the district’s plan. The committee will confer with officials from other area school districts to establish common guidelines for the plans.
“We’ll be studying this very carefully this fall,” he said.
“It sounds like this law gives us some authority—maybe a lot, maybe not a lot. If so, it’s typical of our Illinois State Legislature,” board member Matt Henry said. “Will this open our district to lawsuits if our plan has clauses that other districts don’t have?”
The ultimate responsibility for the evaluation plans will rest with the Illinois State Board of Education, Collins said.
“At the end of the day, every district’s plan must be approved by the ISBE. I’m not sure how much latitude it will give individual districts,” he said. “I have a strong feeling that the model plan will become standard for most districts.”
The law also will streamline the “reduction in force” process for laying off teachers. Currently, teachers must receive layoff notices 120 days before the end of the school year, forcing many districts to issue tentative RIF notices long before they know how many teaching positions they’ll have for the next school year. Allowing districts to send those notices later in the spring will reduce the risk that good teachers who aren’t tenured will leave for other jobs because they received layoff notices as a precaution.
District 304 won’t be able to implement the new RIF procedure for several years because the district won’t have an approved plan before starting contract negotiations with the Geneva Education Association teachers union this fall.
“The law says that all changes must be ratified as part of the collective bargaining process, and I doubt we’ll have a plan in place even a year from now. It probably will take two or three years,” Collins said.