Providence tackles seniority in teacher hiring

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Thanks to an unprecedented state order last February by outgoing state school chief Peter McWalters, principals in Providence, Rhode Island, are getting to decide who teaches in their schools. The state did away with rules that gave preference to teachers with the most seniority for any new assignments. Not surprisingly, the local AFT affiliate is put out by the state's interference in local hiring rules, insisting that teachers' "experience should count for something."

Principals meanwhile are ecstatic. "I've been a principal for 11 years and I've never had the ability to pick my own candidates. There's nothing more exciting than seeing the lines of teachers waiting to be interviewed," says the principal of one middle school. To get educators accustomed to the new world order, the district is holding resume workshops and brought in The New Teacher Project to catch teachers and principals up to speed on interviewing techniques. Officials claim that the change in hiring rules has brought about a surge in new applicants to the district--524 applicants for 75 positions--though that's just as likely caused by the economic downturn.

The change made in Providence may be just a signal of what's to come. Can the teachers' union retain its traditional stronghold in the state with two reformers now in place, Providence Superintendent Tom Brady and the new state education commissioner Deborah Gist?