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Newark Teacher's Contract Culmination of Two Years Give and Take

The new deal includes large-scale bonus system and teachers evaluating teachers.

Two years in the making -- two very public years, thanks to Facebook -- and the Newark teachers union has reached a preliminary agreement with the Christie administration for a new contract that will include bonus pay and an unprecedented role for teachers to police and evaluate their peers.

Newark superintendent Cami Anderson and Newark Teachers Union President Joseph Del Grosso are expected today to announce a five-year pact that would provide up to $12,500 in bonuses to exemplary teachers working in the toughest schools, the first large-scale bonus system in the state.

According to Del Grosso, the contract also will institute a salary guide for new teachers, one that requires them to receive positive evaluations before they can qualify for any raises at all.

Equally innovative is a peer review process that will not only have teachers part of the evaluations of their colleagues, but also helping oversee the district’s evaluation system as a whole.

“Up to this point, the evaluation system has been entirely the subjective opinion of one person,” Del Grosso said last night. “That won’t happen any more.”

The agreement is hardly final. It must be approved by the union’s 3,000-plus membership. A meeting is planned for this coming Tuesday at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, with a vote scheduled the following Monday.

Just getting this far was no small accomplishment. Talks over the past six months involved not just Anderson and Del Grosso but also state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

Then factor in Gov. Chris Christie, who gave his approval last Friday in a two-hour meeting at the State House with Del Grosso, Anderson, Cerf, and Weingarten, according to the NTU president.

“He was very motivated to get this done,” Del Grosso said. “He very much wants to see how this will work, he’s very interested in that.”

Christie’s office and Newark school officials declined to comment last night.

The details of the deal will be announced today at a midday press conference in Newark, but a few emerged yesterday. Del Grosso said the union’s executive committee unanimously endorsed the agreement on Tuesday night.

Most of the attention will be on the performance bonuses and other changes in how Newark teachers are paid, with different provisions for teachers at various points in their careers and education.

Del Grosso said performance bonuses will largely be paid through the funds raised by the Foundation for Newark’s Future, the group entrusted with the $100 million gift from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, which has brought the district considerable national attention.

The peer review program adds another level of accountability to the teacher evaluation systems required in every New Jersey district under the state’s new tenure law.

The Newark contract would have teachers serving on mandated “school improvement panels,” which oversee evaluations. In addition, they will be sitting in on the evaluations of their colleagues, including the classroom observations that are central to the process.

In addition, there will be a new 10-member committee for the district -- half appointed by Anderson, half by the NTU -- that will review every evaluation and the system as a whole. If it contests an evaluation, Anderson will have to justify the decision.

“She will still have to make the final decision, but she will have to give the reasons why,” Del Grosso said.

Teachers also would have the ability to call in an approved educator – be it a former teacher or administrator -- to provide a second evaluation and serve as a “validator” of the first.

“The peer review piece has been a key part of it from the beginning from my point of view,” the union president said. “I have been saying this a long time, and I finally have people interested in it.”

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