By ABBEY KUNKLE
Special to the PRESS
On September 8, a grievance was filed with the Point Isabel Independent School District (PIISD) regarding their newly adopted Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) Administrative Guidelines. Mayor of Laguna Vista and fifth grade Derry Elementary teacher Susie Houston filed the grievance regarding the teacher attendance policy that has been added to the new evaluation system.
According to PIISD Superintendent Dr. Lisa Garcia, the district elected to pilot the new guidelines a year in advance of state requirements in order to get ahead on implementation, as did many surrounding districts including Brownsville ISD and Los Fresnos CISD; however, although these districts did adopt their versions of the new standards, neither has any evaluation standards related to attendance. Dimension 4.1 Professional Demeanor and Ethics in the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) new T-TESS Rubric requires, “the teacher meets district expectations for attendance, professional appearance, decorum, procedural, ethical, legal and statutory responsibilities.”
The PIISD attendance criteria gives teachers evaluations of “Distinguished” with 0 absences, “Accomplished” with 2, 6-10 absences is determined as “Developing”, and more than 10 is considered “Improvement Needed.” Last year, Houston was given a rating of “Exceeds Expectations” for her evaluation, but noted, that based on her absences, according to these standards, she would have been given “Needs improvement.”
Dr. Garcia said, “In no way is teacher attendance in and of itself going to change anybody’s rating.” She outlined the new guidelines for teacher evaluation, which have four dimensions including planning, instruction, learning environment, and finally, professional practice and responsibility. She noted that attendance is a small factor and falls as one of three parts under the last category. In addition, below the attendance portion of the guidelines, is an exemption that says, “Extenuating circumstances will be taken into consideration by campus principals,” and Garcia noted that each evaluation would be taken on a case-by-case basis, adding that depending on circumstances, teachers could get the “Distinguished” rating even with 10 or more absences, while also pointing out that the T-TESS training labels the majority of teachers as “Proficient”, which according to the superintendent is still a “rock-solid” teacher.
The PIISD employee handbook, revised in 2015, says that state law entitles all employees to five days of paid personal leave per year with some discretionary and nondiscretionary leave. Nondiscretionary leave is taken for situations such as illness, death, or emergency, whereas discretionary leave requires written request five days in advance of the anticipated absence to be considered by the principal or supervisor. In addition, employees earn five paid local leave days each school year.
According to the superintendent, the position of the district is that teacher attendance is important and that the attendance evaluation guidelines were implemented to encourage teacher attendance. Along with many other districts including LFCISD, PIISD currently offers monetary rewards for perfect attendance as an incentive, but in reference to these new guidelines, Houston feels that teachers are being penalized rather than recognized.
Dr. Garcia said that that the district was excited about the new guidelines, which had not been updated since the early 1990s, because they would give them the chance to evaluate teachers on what is actually going on in the classrooms, and she believed that the majority of teachers would be excited about them as well.
Houston was unhappy with the attendance policy but felt that the rest of the evaluation was fair, saying, “I filed the grievance for every teacher in the district that’s upset about it,” adding, “We’re professionals.” She has spoken with her supervisor, Derry Elementary School Principal Maribel Zapata Valdez, about her concerns, and is awaiting further action from the district. Houston summed up, “My goal is to get the school district to get rid of the attendance policy — that’s all I want.”
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