Q: We have a probationary contract teacher who is not meeting performance expectations and will most likely face termination at the end of contract year. Should we take any steps now geared toward the teacher’s possible termination?
A: Yes. The District should ensure the appraiser’s compliance with the T-TESS evaluation process, which contains language requiring that probationary contract teachers be evaluated early in the appraisal calendar, as well as language urging the provision of significant supports prior to termination.
The rules promulgated by the Commissioner require that a school district appraise teachers a minimum of one time during each school year. 19 Tex. Admin. Code § 150.1003(a). A teacher’s annual appraisal must include “at least one classroom observation of a minimum of 45 minutes,” “additional walk-throughs,” “observation post-conference[s],” “an end-of year conference,” and other “cumulative data.” Id. Notably, teachers who are new to a district or in their first year of appraisal under T-TESS must attend a Goal-Setting and Professional Development Plan conference before they submit their plans to their appraisers. Id. Similarly, the regulations provide that this class of employee receive significant supports.
[A] school district shall require that appropriate components of the appraisal process, such as classroom observations and walk-throughs, occur more frequently as necessary to ensure that a teacher receives adequate evaluation and guidance. A school district shall give priority to conducting appropriate components more frequently for inexperienced teachers or experienced teachers with identified areas of deficiency.
Based upon the above text, school districts are well advised to promptly schedule evaluations and provide necessary support and guidance to probationary teachers as early as possible during the school year. Building a deadline into your appraisal calendar for probationary contract teachers (whether a soft or hard deadline) could be beneficial in keeping principals on track.
With these rules in mind, the school district above would be best served to conduct and document additional evaluations, observations, and walk-throughs during the December, January, and February timeframe to demonstrate that it thoroughly assessed its probationary teacher throughout the school year and provided appropriate supports necessary to improve performance. Those supports can be identified within the Goal Setting and Professional Development Plan or separate memoranda.
If performance does not improve as a result of the additional supports provided, the documentation created through the T-TESS process should be sufficient to withstand an EEOC challenge, unemployment filing, or Level 3 grievance under DGBA (LOCAL). For additional or specific questions regarding the termination process for teachers employed under probationary teaching contracts, please contact your local school attorney.