It's about the kids
Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, has a big job: to protect teachers. He's a union guy, and that's what union guys do: protect the interests of their members.
But someone has to keep eyes trained on the interests of students, and that is the job of Sheldon Berman, the superintendent of the Jefferson County Public Schools. It's his responsibility to ensure the schools prepare the next generation for a very tough and competitive world. That means staffing schools with strong teachers and principals and booting out those who don't have the skills or the energy for what can be a very grueling job.
With that goal in mind, Dr. Berman decided to not renew the contracts of about 20 non-tenured teachers this year. He encouraged his principals to let weak teachers go, rather than pass them along to some other school -- which has happened in the past.
It's about time that awful practice changed.
But Mr. McKim is fighting that decision and claims the way it was done violates a contractual process -- one that requires that each teacher be notified of his or her deficiencies and gives them time to improve.
"Dr. Berman does not have unlimited and unrestricted power to not renew," were Mr. McKim's exact words this week. But teachers certainly enjoy an exalted status in this world if they are able to sign a one-year contract with clear start and end dates on it, then are entitled to an automatic renewal.
Bad teachers don't belong in the classroom -- not for another day, let alone for a semester or a year, while processes that please the JCTA are followed.
Dr. Berman believes he has acted in accord with the school district's contract with the teachers union. Certainly, he is doing exactly what he should do, and what he has shown a real passion for this year: taking seriously the quality of classroom instruction.
And considering that the public schools hire about 600 new teachers a year, if 20 don't get their contracts renewed, that's a very modest number. It would be hard to accuse the superintendent and his principals of launching an unfair and unreasonable attack on teachers.
This case may end up in court, as many disagreements over contract language do. As for us, we're rooting for the kids.