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Ruiz Introduces Bill To Overhaul State’s Century-Old Tenure Laws, Promote Teacher Mentorship

Senator Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex and Union, speaks on a point of personal privilege on the Senate floor.

Senator Proposes the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act

TRENTON – State Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex/Union) today introduced legislation to overhaul the state’s century-old tenure laws and create a new system that will require teachers to prove they are effective in the classroom to gain tenure status and to continue demonstrating their effectiveness over the course of their careers to maintain it.

Recognizing that a strong support system is key to ensuring that teachers are successful, the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act would establish a first-year mentorship program for those entering the field. Instruction-based professional development would be provided to all teachers, under the bill, with additional support for those who demonstrate the need for extra help.

“Having effective teachers at the front of every classroom is critical to ensuring that all students are given the opportunities they deserve to achieve true academic success,” said Senator Ruiz. “But success cannot be realized without providing the necessary support to our teachers beginning on the first day they enter the school building and continuing throughout their careers. It is our responsibility to focus our efforts on elevating this important profession, as well as ensuring that students in every classroom have the educational tools they need to excel.”

Teachers, vice principals, assistant principals and principals hired after the effective date of the bill would obtain tenure after receiving an “effective” rating for three consecutive years on annual evaluations conducted within the district. Teachers, however, would be required to complete a one-year mentorship program, which would not count toward tenure attainment. Similarly, principals, assistant principals and vice principals would be given the first year to gain experience in their new position, and that year would not be banked toward tenure attainment. This means a new teacher, vice principal, assistant principal or principal would be eligible for tenure after four years of employment.

Under the Senator’s bill, a teacher who receives a rating of “ineffective” on an evaluation would be provided with additional professional development, giving the educator an opportunity to improve their performance before losing tenure status. An evaluation rating of “ineffective” for two consecutive years would result in tenure revocation for all educators – from teachers to principals – including those who attained tenure before the effective date of the bill. The process permits review by an Administrative Law Judge if the revocation is challenged by the employee. Under the bill, an employee who loses tenure could regain it after receiving an “effective” rating for two consecutive years on future annual evaluations.

“We have exceptional teachers that spend each day in the classroom inspiring their students and challenging them to reach new educational heights,” said Senator Ruiz. “This bill will ensure that we continue to provide them with support, but that we also put measures in place to help all teachers attain that kind of professional excellence. At the end of the day, all teachers will benefit from reform, because we know that a student who was instructed by a highly-qualified teacher the prior year, will walk into the classroom on the first day of school prepared to take on the academic challenges that lie ahead.”

Teacher evaluations would be conducted by a school improvement panel established in each school, consisting of a principal, a vice principal or assistant principal, and an experienced teacher selected by the principal and approved by the teaching staff. Through evaluations, teachers who need additional help would be identified, and provided individualized professional development. The panel would be responsible for providing professional support to the principal in decisions to hire and dismiss employees, as well as overseeing the mentorship and professional development programs within the school. School districts would be required to have their evaluation rubric – which would have to include measures of student progress – approved by the Department of Education, under the bill.

The bill would empower principals to make staffing decisions that are in the best interest of their students. Principals would have the authority to maintain or remove an assistant principal, vice principal or teacher who loses tenure status.

“This bill establishes a fair process that holds all educators – from the top down – to high performance standards. It empowers principals to make staffing decisions in the best interest of their students, but also holds them accountable as the leaders of our schools,” said Senator Ruiz. “Ultimately, this reform effort will create a stronger educational environment for our students and for our educators.”

The legislation is the result of months of intensive discussion with stakeholders, and was launched from a Senate Education Committee hearing convened by Senator Ruiz late last year. The panel heard from national experts on the reform efforts undertaken in K-12 school districts in states across the country. Representatives from the New Jersey Department of Education, the New Jersey Education Association and local educators also weighed in on tenure reform at the hearing.