Newark must keep its great teachers by considering performance, years of service: Opinion

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
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on February 27, 2014

Newark teachers and community members attend a school advisory panel session Tuesday to voice opposition to a proposal that would base teacher layoffs in Newark on classroom effectiveness.


By Vanessa Rodriguez

We know that when it comes to raising student achievement, nothing matters more than the quality of the teacher. Research shows that great teachers have both immediate and lifelong impacts on their students.

But you don’t need research to tell you that. You already know because you can probably recall a teacher in your life who was there for you, who took the time to make sure you understood, or just listened to you when you needed him or her.

We are very fortunate to have many great teachers like this in the Newark School District and are committed to ensuring there is a great teacher in every classroom. Today, this commitment to great teaching is being put to the test. Without a change in policy, many of these great teachers are going to be laid off and our community and our children will suffer a terrible blow.

Families who have felt this system has not served them well have been voting with their feet for many years and leaving district schools. The district has lost thousands of students and the funding attached to those students, creating a projected budget gap of $100 million over the next three years. Though we have waited as long as possible by focusing our cuts on central and administration budgets, we are faced with the tough fact that we will need to lay off teachers.

We want to ensure that we conduct a layoff in the least damaging way for our students. That means protecting our great teachers. Unfortunately, state regulations require us to ignore teacher performance and conduct a layoff solely according to years of service. Following this antiquated rule would result in the loss of many high-performing teachers while keeping most of our lowest-performing teachers. This defies common sense. More important, it’s wrong for our students.

There is a better way. If we consider teacher quality in addition to years of service in a layoff, we keep all of our best teachers in front of our students. To keep students at the center of what we do, we have asked the New Jersey Department of Education to grant Newark the ability to consider performance along with years of service in upcoming layoffs.

We know this request will be controversial as it seeks to change a long-standing practice. But I want to cut through some of the misinformation that is already being spread.

First, our request to the state does not change the number of teachers we will need to lay off. We have thousands of fewer students than we have had in the past and do not need as many teachers.

Second, this is not a strategy to keep younger teachers who have lower salaries or "make room" for new teachers. We want to retain every teacher who can best help our students succeed; many of these high-performing teachers who we will retain are veterans. But the total number of teachers in NPS will be reduced.

We know how disruptive these layoffs will be for the teachers who are affected and for their school communities. I do not want to downplay this. Nobody wants to lay off teachers. I will work to ensure that teachers feel respected and honored for the work they do and provide supports in their transition.

My job is also to make sure we don’t let a bad situation become even worse. If I was asked to choose between a great teacher and an ineffective teacher for my own child, the answer would be clear. If you were asked the same thing, what would you choose?

We are simply seeking the same option for every student in the district because it is the right thing to do for our students, who deserve great teaching in every classroom, every day. The path is clear.

Vanessa Rodriguez is chief talent officer for Newark Public Schools. Have an opinion? Go to

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