Since meeting Assemblywomen Susan Bonilla some 13 years ago at Concord High School’s Back to School Night where my daughter Whitney served as her teaching assistant, I have always had a soft spot for this lady.
Despite the differences in political outlook with myself and Bonilla, I will forever be grateful for the difference Susan has made in Whitney’s life. There is no doubt that Whitney at 28 would not be currently attending UC Berkeley right now as Junior majoring in English were if it were not for the influence of her favorite high school teacher.
Having a passion for education is still much a part of Bonilla’s life. Since she was elected to the Assembly, this subject has always been a top priority of hers. Presently, after being termed out in the legislature, she is trying to make a difference in children’s lives as a parting gift to her constituents.
Bonilla has introduced an important bill that addresses tenure in a way that encourages good performance in the classroom while at the same time weeds out under performing instructors.
AB 934 is called Educator Leadership, Development and Support. According to Bonilla “The goal of this legislation is to support teachers who are not meeting the needs of our students. This bill provides all teachers the opportunity to become quality educators and remain highly effective throughout the duration of their careers.
Bonilla went on to say, “The bill also streamlines the process for school districts to release teachers if they have proven to be persistently ineffective in the classroom, regardless of their employment status.”
Bonilla concluded “This bill hopefully can lay to rest this persistent narrative has brought an awful lot of focus to a very small group of teachers but teachers that need to get support.”
Under AB 934, teachers who are doing poorly would be placed into a program that offers them extra professional support. If they receive another low performance review after a year in the program, they could be fired via an expedited process regardless of their experience level.
New teachers would potentially take longer to obtain permanent employment status, often referred to as tenure. The probationary period for new teachers now lasts 18 months. Bonilla’s bill would allow school officials to keep teachers on probation for a third or fourth year after placing them in the professional assistance program.
Seniority would no longer be the single overriding factor in handing out pink slips. While tenured teachers with positive reviews would still be the last to go,
Bonilla’s bill would allow districts to lay off permanent teachers with two or more poor reviews before they lay off newer teachers who have not received poor evaluations.
It is expected that the powerful California Teachers Association (CTA), who wield enormous political clout within the Democratic Party, will oppose Bonilla’s proposed legislation. In the past despite making pronouncements that “we are here for the kids,” the group has worked constantly to protect tenure rights for their members which makes it difficult to get rid of poorly performing teachers.
The aggressive leadership of the CTA has tried to reduce teacher accountability both with evaluations using test scores and by their opposition to almost all charter schools. As might be expected gaining more pay for their members has been the unions highest priorities even if it has meant reducing the rainy day fund for school districts to deal with years that revenues are down.
Despite facing such obstacles from opponents of education reform, Bonilla said she planned to begin reaching out to those groups to pitch her bill which she characterized as a lifeline to educators in need of help.
“The point of the bill is not to focus on dismissal,” she said. “The point of the bill is to say ‘we have great teachers in the state of California, let’s start by supporting the ones who need it the most.’”
So good luck Susan in doing the right thing; even though you are dealing with powerful special interest groups who basically control the political process in Sacramento.
For what it’s worth you have the support of me and other parents who appreciate the positive contributions teachers in general have made in their children’s lives. This fact as it relates to Susan Bonilla will always be remembered by me when my daughter Whitney hopefully one day graduates from college.
It will have been a long journey for which Assemblywomen Bonilla has played an important role.