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Beverly Hills Weekly
Beverly Hills, California
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February 3, 2000     Beverly Hills Weekly
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February 3, 2000
 

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opinion/ commentary E RING The public opinion forum where Beverly Hills dukes out the issues SHOULD CALIFORNIA PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS RECEIVE TENURE? PRO Stewart Horowitz As president of the Beverly Hills Education Association (BHEA), the union that represents the 330 teachers who work in our schools, the Beverly Hills Weekly asked that I vrite an article that supported maintaining teacher tenure rights in California. First, I need to rectify the common misconception that California's public school teachers possess tenure rights. They do not! What teachers have, and what BHEA considers essential, are due process rights. Due process guarantees the legal right of a teacher to a fair hearing by an impartial decision-maker. Of all the rights that public school teachers have gained in the 20th century, due process protection ranks as one of the most important. Due process laws were intended to protect the academic freedom of educators from arbitrary and unjust employment decisions. In the years before due process, favoritism, pol- itics, and the willingness to provide personal services to administrators often determined which teachers retained employment and which were dismissed. We must remember that due process rights are earned only after the educa- tor completes at least two consecutive years of satisfactory employment and is recognition of cot academic performance. Due process rights are important because educators must be encouraged to be creative, innovative, and open to different viewpoints without fear of reprisal. Due process rights were not designed to protect incompetent educators. Dismissal for incompe- tence, insubordination, immorality, and willful neglect of duty remains the right of any school administration. I have been asked, *Why does the union protect incompetent or poorly per- forming teachers?" Again, the public must be cognizant of several facts. FirsL the union plays no role in the hiring process, the evaluation process, or deter- mining which teachers earn "tenure" after two years. Our school district, and districts throughout California, can choose to "non-reelect* (dismiss) any pro- bationary teacher during his or her first two years-of employment. Second, California law makes clear that teacher unions have a duty of fair representa- tion to their members. We must provide advice and often legal assistance to teachers who face dismissal as a result of claims of incompetence or other issue.. Third, where problems exist, they may often be a result of poor admin- istrative practices. Michael Ward, North Carolina's superintendent of public instruction, wrote several years ago, l'enure itself may not be the barrier-the barrier [to dismissal] in many instances may be the willingness of school lead- ers to confront unpleasant tasks associated with dealing with perfommnce problems." Our state organization, the California Teachers Association, emphasizes that teachers must be held to the highest standards of professional preparation and competence. Teacher due process rights play an essential role in maintaining quality education in Beverly Hills. Our children deserve nothing less. Stewart Horowitz is the president of the Beverly Hills Education Association, which represents over 400 teachers, aides, and support staff in the Beverly Hills schooiso ...... CON Dan Stepenosky This is a question being batted around extensively by politi- cians. Problem is, they have been missing the mark, because" the mark is "untouchable": teacher ienure. I have had the absolute pleasure of "growing up" in a terrif- ic educational community: Beverly Hills High School. The staff, administration and school board are dedicated, hard working and committed to the quality education of the community's youth. BHHS is a culturally rich and diverse community, with 33.5% of the school pop- ulation foreign-born from no less than 58 different countries! The community is supportive and involved, providing desperately needed revenue through the Joint Powers Agreement, helping to ease the continuous drain of educational funding caused by Proposition 13. In the face of challenges, BHHS has enjoyed tremendous successes. Last year I had the privilege of co-authoring the school's successful California Distinguished School application. This year Bonnie Miller, Susie Curtis and I, with the help of countless others, authored the school's first ever National Blue Ribbon application. We are very hopeful as we wait to hear back from the national Department of Education this May. On the recently released Governor's Academic Performance Index, the high school ranked 7th in LA County and in the top 10% of the State! The school's Science and Academic Decathlon Team consistently receive state and national honors. Outstanding and widely-honored programs such as Advanced Placement, English Learners, Special Education, Performing Arts, Technical Arts, Athletics, and ROP combine with an exempla- ry core curriculum and reflect the training and talents of our teachers, as well as the remarkable facilities and resources available on campus. Yet with all of these successes, BfHI-IS, like every other school, has many improvemgmts that must be made. On a statewide level, there are three things that need to occur to deeply and significantly improve education. First and most significant, it is time to touch the tmtonchable: we need to remove the teacher tenure system, which does not encomage innovation and effort, and replace it with a system that promotes and rewards accountability while providing due process. Teachers do not want to be victims of a capricious school board's fir- ings, however, many of us recognize the damage the current teacher tenure sys- tern has inflicted upon quality teaching. W'n teaching circles we joke about "Captain Video" teachers. Sadly, we know they are a reality. Secondly, we must improve teacher pay. All teachers know that they will not get rich teaching; that is not why we teach. But, if we are going to be more aggressive about policing the ranks of teachers, we must be willing to competitively compensate new teachers, so as to draw quality youth to a noble profession. Finally, statewide, we need to replace dilapidated schools with state-of-the-art structures. The set- ting children learn in tells them volumes about how important their learning is to us. l'm blessed. I have been surrounded by tremendous, professional teachers, counselors and administrators who have empowered me to be successful. Let's make sure all new teachers are as lucky. Dan Stepenosky is the physics and astronomy teacher at Beverly Hills High SchooL If you have an idea for "The Ring", call 310.688.6761 February 3-9, 2000 5