The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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June 29, 2013

Teacher hiring policy is right step in pushing politics out of schools

The Back Porch column

The West Virginia Department of Education is a necessary evil — sometimes perceived by the state’s educators as more evil than necessary.

Nevertheless, Policy 5000 that will govern the hiring of classroom teachers is a proposal that has the chance to accomplish some real good. But first, a word of credit must go to the state Legislature for passing the law that requires Policy 5000. That’s another agency sometimes perceived as more evil than necessary.

Senate Bill 359 changed the requirements to let local teachers have a voice in hiring their new colleagues. Policy 5000 delineates the rules to accomplish the legislation. It is on public comment until 4 p.m. July 15. Teachers and parents should read the policy and file their comments.

It is rare, indeed, that the people most directly affected by the government’s actions have a chance to participate in them. It seems even rarer in public education. Those who have nothing to do with the daily education of the nation’s youth hold all the cards when it comes to the carrying out of those duties.

Except for Policy 5000. It allows a respective school’s faculty senate to participate in the hiring and interviewing of teachers who will join that faculty. This has been a long time coming. A generation ago, Gov. Gaston Caperton took great credit for putting the control of schools within local communities by proposing the law that established faculty senates. Very little changed, really. That control was in name only.

This policy gives local educators a voice while at the same time wresting away some of the political control that local school boards have. Yes, even in these enlightened times, school board members wield their authority to hire and fire like an executioner’s ax, daring anyone to oppose them on the ballot or in the community.

And, yes, even in these enlightened times, school board members preside over the hiring of their spouses and children for teaching and administrative positions, sometimes not even bothering to follow the ethical courtesy of excusing themselves from the discussion and vote.

If approved by the state school board, here’s what the policy says it will do.

- Each faculty senate has the option at the start of each semester to vote on how it will use its authority to participate in the hiring process. The options are a three-person faculty committee, a seven- to 11-person faculty committee or a single designee faculty member. A majority of the faculty senate must select by vote the teachers who serve, including the chairperson.

- In either committee choice, three members are responsible for making the official recommendation to the school principal.

- The committee or designee is allowed to review all application materials and request an interview during which the principal participates. While all candidates must be asked the same battery of questions, faculty members have the option to ask follow-up questions relevant to each candidate’s response.

- Faculty members are allowed to deliberate and make their recommendation outside the purview of the principal.

- The state will develop and provide training for faculty and principals who participate in the candidate interviews.

- Faculty members are compensated for any out-of-contract time spent interviewing candidates.

Each workplace has its own culture, good or bad. Allowing teachers to help choose their colleagues provides an opportunity to find the best fit for that school’s culture, and one hopes teachers will be striving for a culture that is nurturing and rigorous for students and teachers.

The final caveat in the policy is its binding authority over school boards. If the faculty, principal and superintendent agree on the same candidate for an open position at a school, the school board shall hire that person. Notice the word “shall,” rather than “can” or “may.”

Maybe Caperton deserves a little credit, too. Here’s hoping teachers will welcome this new opportunity and participate vigorously. It’s not often they get invited to the table, let alone get the chance to choose the menu.

The policy is available on the Web at http://apps.sos.wv.gov/adlaw/csr/readfile.aspx?DocId=24929&Format=PDF.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail: ynerissa@frontier.com

© 2013 by Nerissa Young

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