Tenure not applicable to GBHS administrators

Administrators discuss what it’s like and what it means to be an at-will employee compared to working under protection rights that teachers receive in the state of California


GBT.org file illustration/ ANGELINA KOLOSEY

Many families have been forced to stay at home due to the closures of schools and numerous businesses, causing tension and stress in the average household.

Administrators at our school – the principal and the assistant principals – are at-will employees. 

“At-will employment means that (I’m) not protected in my employment status by any contract or tenure,” assistant principal Jessup McGregor said. “At any given time, (my) employer can terminate the contract.”

This employment status differs from the sort of protection teachers receive. Teachers who’ve worked for two years in the same district are able to receive a form of protection commonly known as tenure.

“In the state of California … there are some protections that are afforded teachers once they become permanent employees (which) is known as tenure,” said Advanced Placement U.S. history teacher Brandon Dell’Orto, who is also the president of the Roseville Secondary Education Association that represents teachers in the Roseville Joint Union High School District. “In other words, they can’t fire (a tenured teacher) because they don’t like them or (don’t) agree with them.”

By contrast, at-will administrators aren’t unionized and so they aren’t protected by tenure.

“There’s not as many (administrators) to unionize (or) organize,” assistant principal Greg Sloan said. “It’s rare where administrators are unionized and have a tenure process. (I) don’t see that very often.”

Perhaps another reason for the lack of unionization is that administrators typically want more mobility than teachers. Tenure only protects teachers within one school district, but most administrators anticipate working in more than one district in their careers.

It’s rare where administrators are unionized and have a tenure process. (I) don’t see that very often.

— Greg Sloan

“Once (teachers are) in with tenure, it’s difficult to leave and go to another district because you’d be giving up that protection,” Sloan said. “Administrators have a tendency to go to new schools or change jobs. Most people aren’t trying to be vice principal for the rest of their life. Often, they’re trying to become a principal, so they’re not as concerned about locking themselves in for the long haul.”

Furthermore, the tenure that teachers receive makes it difficult to fire them, and the firing process is extremely complicated and often not worthwhile.

“There are processes that have to be in place to fire a teacher,” principal Jennifer Leighton said. “It’s very, very difficult. (I) have to prove that they are not competent.”

Proving incompetence includes writing an improvement plan, assigning a coach to that teacher and visiting their classroom daily. For that reason, Leighton makes it a priority to choose her teaching staff carefully.

“I sit on almost every hiring panel for every teacher and every clerical position,” Leighton said “If (we) pick the wrong person just because (we’re) in a hurry, I repost (the opening to find another teacher). We keep going until we find the right person.”

By contrast, at-will employment takes the complication out of the hiring and firing process.

“It’s actually better (to have at-will employees),” Leighton said. “(When firing) at-will employees, (I) just decide it’s not going to be worth the time investment to try to get them up to this level.”

For legal  reasons, it’s safer to have at-will employees because Leighton doesn’t have to elaborate on why an employee is being fired.

“The hardest thing when (I) let someone go, is that (I) want to be able to explain to them (what) was working and (what) wasn’t working,” Leighton said. “But things are so litigious that anything you say can and will be used against you. If you start to give reasons, you could say the wrong thing and cause it to backfire.”

It simply means that your job performance matters and how you’re perceived matters. I think any employee should be mindful of those things regardless of the status of their job title.

— Greg Sloan

Perhaps this is why most employed Americans are at-will employees and why GBHS administrators don’t view their employment status in a negative light.

“A majority of employees across the country are at-will, so it’s not uncommon,” Sloan said. “It simply means that your job performance matters and how you’re perceived matters. I think any employee should be mindful of those things regardless of the status of their job title.”

In fact, McGregor says his at-will status doesn’t create stress but rather motivates him because he knows his actions are being watched and reviewed.

“Personally, I like (being at-will) because it’s motivating,” McGregor said. “It really just creates the opportunity to do the best job that I can.”

Regardless of her employment status, Leighton makes it her priority to be responsive to the superintendent and to concerns of students and parents. At-will employment, Leighton believes,  reinforces the need for administrators to work well with others and respond to feedback.

“(The superintendent) knows I work hard and I feel supported,” Leighton said. “I hear back right away if there’s something they’re unhappy with, and we’re pretty responsive. We’re responsive to parents, (and) we’re responsive to students. There’s never a time when someone complains and we ignore it.”

Administrators at GBHS share a common sentiment of wanting to do what’s best for the school.

“The people you pick for administration should really want to work hard (and)  really want to serve other people,” Leighton said.

For McGregor, it doesn’t really matter whether he’s an at-will employee or not.

“I believe that if (someone) doesn’t do (their) job, (they) should get fired,” McGregor said. “We should all do our job to the best of our abilities whether we’re at-will or tenured or otherwise.”