A new, six-member panel could decide the fate of struggling teachers under a tentative agreement reached Wednesday between Denver Public Schools and its teachers' union.
The Peer Assistance and Review pilot program will provide specially trained peer observers to help teachers improve in areas where they've been judged deficient.
But in cases where a principal still seeks dismissal, the panel of three teachers chosen by the union and three principals chosen by the district will hear evidence and make a decision.
Both the struggling teacher and the principal must agree to the process. If they don't, the current process that unfolds before an administrative law judge remains available.
"Our belief is that many teachers feel that to go before a panel of peer teachers and principals will result in a fairer, less confrontational process than the traditional adversarial system before an administrative law judge," said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg.
If the panel is deadlocked, the teacher undergoes a further round of remedial efforts for between 30 and 90 school days and appears again. If the impasse remains, the principal decides whether to proceed with dismissal.
There is no further appeal.
Henry Roman, Denver Classroom Teachers Association president, said that while the traditional, administrative law process often involves the school board rubber-stamping the judge's recommendation, the six-member panel "has a more expansive view of the process" that provides for a more equitable outcome.
It also contains a stronger feedback structure for teachers, he said.
"We've looked at it extensively from all points of view, legally and contractually as well as the process itself," Roman added. "We've done everything we possibly could do to ensure a good agreement."
The memorandum of agreement signed Wednesday remains subject to ratification by DCTA membership.
The district's so-called LEAP system — short for Leading Effective Academic Practice — already provides trained peer observers to help teachers strengthen their skills and evaluates them based on multiple measures, as prescribed by the state-mandated teacher evaluation law, known as Senate Bill 191.
The PAR provisions providing peers to support and coach struggling teachers will go into effect immediately, while the panel will begin work this fall. The pilot would come up for review after Aug. 31, 2014.
"This is a real milestone for us and the DCTA," Boasberg said. "I think the effect is for us to have this shared responsibility for quality teaching. And I think the collaboration on LEAP and collaboration establishing the PAR system marks a change of culture for us, and an important shared commitment to work together on quality teaching."