Personnel and Labor committee, Sept. 10

Good news from human resources at tonight’s meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Personnel and Labor (a committee that meets as needed, not necessarily every month). Unlike previous years, we started the school year with 99.9 percent of teacher positions filled — just three teaching positions remained open on the first day of school and none of them were in special education, which must be a first. Paraprofessional vacancies were a bit higher, particularly in special education, but still, the district deserves credit for hiring more qualified teachers earlier so that most students began the school year with a fully-credentialed or highly-qualified intern teacher (94% of all new hires).

We are also reaping the advantage of being the only district for miles around that was actually hiring for 2009-10 (thanks again to the Rainy Day Fund!). This year, there were 18 applicants for every position requiring a multiple subject credential (generally middle- and elementary-school teachers); 11 applicants for every math or science teaching position, and 9 applicants for every special education teaching position.

We also heard an update from The New Teacher Project, a nonprofit organization that seeks to attract highly-qualified teachers to high-need urban schools.  TNTP has been working with us on the Model Staffing Initiative, a program that recruits teachers to teach directly in 25 schools that are the hardest to keep fully-staffed. The program also spends significant time working with principals, assistant principals and instructional reform facilitators (IRFs) to help them better select candidates who are the right fit for the instructional environment at their particular school. The program has been a huge success, and has been extended for a fourth and final year. After this year, HR Director Roger Buschman believes he will have the in-house capacity built up to be able to carry on the work without the help of an outside nonprofit.

Some results reported in tonight’s TNTP presentation:

  • Number of vacancies on the first day of school at sites served by TNTP: in 2006  there were 21, but in 2009 there were zero;
  • Teachers at TNTP schools leaving due to resignations, leaves and retirements, expressed as a percentage of teachers leaving for those reasons district-wide: in 2006, 25%, and in 2009, 15%;
  • Total number of vacancies at TNTP schools throughout the hiring cycle: in 2006 there were 228 such vacancies, and in 2009 there were 102.

We also heard an update on our partnership with Teach for America (TFA), which is in the second year of a four-year contract. There are currently 79 TFA teachers in SFUSD schools, primarily those hardest-to-staff schools. My biggest concern about TFA teachers is whether they are being adequately supported for the job they are taking on. There are supports in place, both from the district and from the TFA program staff, but already we have lost two TFA teachers (out of 38 who started this year) since the first day of school two weeks ago. Last year, we lost four TFA teachers out of 47 who were hired to start in Fall 2008.  I also wonder whether teachers who are looking at their service as a Peace Corps stint rather than a career are a good investment, though its clear that many (most?) of our TFA teachers are extremely hard-working and dedicated to the job for at least the duration of the two years they commit to when they sign up for the program. And of course, there’s nothing preventing a TFA teacher from remaining with the district after their two years are up; providing they have successfully completed the credentialing program they are required to enroll in when they are hired by SFUSD.

I was grateful to have a few misconceptions cleared up tonight: first, that TFA teachers are members of United Educators of San Francisco like all of our other teachers; and second, that should layoffs come next year (almost a certainty, I regret to say) that TFA teachers will be retained or laid off based on seniority like every other teacher in the district. Of course, some areas will be more protected than others (bilingual teachers, special education teachers, and math and science teachers), but simply being a TFA teacher will not provide you with special protection other teachers don’t get.

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