A group of educators, administrators and parents gathered in Paramus Thursday to advise legislators on school tenure reform. But they ended up mostly discussing a related issue: teacher evaluations.
The legislators of the state's 38th District – which includes Glen Rock – convened the group of 16 at to help inform their vote on Sen. Teresa Ruiz's bill to revamp how teachers gain and lose tenure.
"I for one am a very big believer in what we as legislators need to listen to you, the experts," Assemblywoman Connie Wagner said.
Ruiz's bill would only grant tenure to teachers who receive positive evaluations three years in a row, and strip tenure after receiving bad reviews two years in a row. Jeffrey Klein, a teacher at Passaic County Technical High School, raised concerns about who was doing the evaluating.
Klein said administrators who evaluate teachers should be well versed in the applicable subject matter. Mario Sicari, a former Paramus Board of Education trustee, said politics often leak into tenure evaluations.
"There's always an ax to grind against a teacher," Sicari said.
Fanny Cruz-Betesh, a third grade teacher in the Ridgefield Park district, said teachers were concerned that there would be nothing to prevent nepotism without tenure.
"We're afraid that we're going to lose our jobs if we're not friends with someone or we're not related to someone," she said.
Dolores Butler, a former Tenafly teacher, said tenure was instituted as a way to insulate teachers from politics. However, she said tenure shouldn't last forever.
"If someone is going to get tenure, I don't think it should be three years and it's a lifetime," she said.
David Wilcomes, a former principal at Union City High School and a Paramus resident, said evaluations should be used to help teachers improve. Linking evaluations with job security only instills a culture of fear, he said.
The other way teachers are evaluated, aside from administrator reviews, is test scores. This is problematic as well, Wilcomes said.
In Union City, administrators often paired the best teachers with the students who struggled the most. That led strong teachers to be correlated with weak test scores.
"I think test scores, while they do count for something, I don't think they can be the end-all," Wilcomes said.
Wagner, Sen. Bob Gordon and Assemblyman Tim Eustace said the gathering would be the first of many to discuss education issues.
Wagner said they would ask the committee for input if a tenure reform bill came up for vote.
"When we find out this bill is coming," she said, "I'll let you know."