New Haven ratifies new teacher contract

New Haven teachers voted last night to ratify a new contract that continues the legacy of the nationally acclaimed teacher’s contract passed in 2009.

The contract passed with 775 votes in favor to 79 votes against, a positive showing of support for the school reforms of the past four years. The theme of the new contract is increased professionalism, said New Haven Public Schools spokeswoman Abbe Smith. The contract’s pillars include increased compensation for teachers who are deemed “effective,” “strong” or “exemplary,” time set aside for teacher collaboration and the creation of a Talent Council, which will seek to cultivate excellence in teachers, particularly in low-performing schools.

“We appreciate the collaborative spirit of good faith between the parties that allowed this agreement to be reached at the bargaining table,” Smith said.

Four years ago a major focal point of the new contract was TEVAL, the new teacher’s evaluation system, which groups teachers into five categories: “exemplary,” “strong,” “effective,” “developing” and “needs improvement.”  The new contract will not only keep TEVAL intact, but will also build upon it, with increased compensation and support for teachers, which was made possible by a federal Professional Educators Program grant.

Teachers designated “developing” or “needs improvement” will be provided with the opportunity to complete five sessions of individually designated professional development classes, which must be completed by June 30 in order to qualify for a chance to move in the TEVAL rankings, which is accompanied by increased compensation.

The Talent Council will allow teachers that receive high TEVAL rankings to expand their influence in the district by reaching beyond their individual classrooms through increased teacher collaboration. The council also plans to provide incentive for excellent teachers to work in low-performing schools.

According to Cicarella, in negotiations the NHFT aimed primarily to keep up the positive momentum from the New Haven School Change Initiative, whose aims were established to raise test scores to at least the state average, half the high school dropout rate and adequately prepare every student for college. He said this took precedence over issues of salary.

Both Cicarella and the New Haven Board of Education agreed that the School Change Initiative, a large part of which was the teacher evaluation system stipulated in the previous teacher’s contract, has made many positive strides in changing the details of contracts from simply money-making issues to ways of enhancing the daily life of teachers, and consequently students.

“We want to make sure we secure decent contracts and that we have a decent standard of living that are in sync with our level of education and our commitment to kids,” Cicarella said. “But, at the end of the day, nobody’s getting rich in education. We get that, and that’s not why we do it.”

In 2012, excluding special education teachers, the national averages for elementary, middle, and high school teachers were $56,130, $56,280, and $57,770, respectively, and in New Haven the average teacher salaries were $65,210, $69,620 and $68,590.

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