A User's Guide to

Peer Assistance and Review

  • What is PAR?
  • Costs and benefits of PAR
  • Designing your PAR project
  • Labor-management relations
  • Practical issues and advice

PAR in Minneapolis: Using Teams for Support

Minneapolis Public Schools
Number of students: 38,538
Number of teachers: 3,250
Year program began: 1997 (PSP)
Program Type: Novice, Intervention, Voluntary
Length of CT term: 5 years, renewable
Title of CT Role: Mentor
Name of PAR Panel: PAR Review Committee
Composition of Panel: 6 teachers, 6 administrators

PAR in Minneapolis Recently Endorsed

In spring 2008, Lynn Nordgren defeated the incumbent president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers by a margin of two to one, and proponents of the local PAR program breathed a sigh of relief. Minneapolis had developed PAR in the 1990s during an era of labor-management collaboration between long-time union president Louise Sundin and several successive superintendents. However, in an unexpected 2006 upset, Sundin was defeated by a challenger who criticized her close relationship with management. Although Sundin’s successor did not move to dismantle PAR during his term, he was not a strong advocate of the program. However, Nordgren’s decisive victory appeared to ensure renewed union support for PAR. It was Nordgren who had overseen its development over 10 years before, coordinating the various committees that planned the details—a top-down and bottom-up process that she said “created more buy-in and trust.” And it was Nordgren who drafted the 60 pages of contract language detailing PAR’s policies and practices.

Glynn, Johnson, NordgrenErin Glynn, Senior Executive Director, Academic Affairs; Bernadeia Johnson, Deputy Superintendent; Lynn Nordgren, President MFT

At the same time that Nordgren was campaigning for president in 2008, district administrators were showing increased interest in PAR by moving it under the jurisdiction of Deputy Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, recently returned to Minneapolis after a stint working in the Memphis Public Schools. She had known PAR as both a teacher and principal some years before and she was convinced of its potential to improve instruction. Johnson wanted to see the program both strengthened and expanded: “I really see this PAR process as part of our work.” She said that central administrators needed to “hold principals accountable and make sure that they’re working with those [underperforming] teachers.”

A Team-based Foundation for PAR

Professional support for all Minneapolis teachers is team-based. In 1995, the district replaced a traditional model of observations and evaluation by principals with the team-based Professional Development Process (PDP). PDP is designed to engage both novice and veteran teachers in ongoing learning and growth. Every teacher joins a school-based PDP team, whose members are expected to use the District’s Standards of Effective Instruction as the basis for becoming better teachers. Principals and other school administrators participate as members of PDP teams, providing support for teachers as they work on individual goals. In addition to providing ongoing professional development for all teachers, these PDP teams are the foundation for both the novice and veteran components of the PAR program. Until this year, principals only observed teachers when it was necessary to document poor performance or when a teacher requested feedback. Now the district has begun to reintroduce a traditional evaluation system for teachers to be used in combination with the PDP.

Cleary with CTsMaureen Cleary, PAR District Facilitor, with CTs.

PAR for Novices: New teachers in Minneapolis participate in a 3-year induction and support program, called Achievement of Tenure (AoFT), during which they are required to meet a challenging set of expectations for professional practice. Novices choose the members of their school-based PDP team, but each also is assigned to work with one of the district’s CTs, called a “mentor” in the Minneapolis PAR program. During her first year, the teacher receives intensive assistance from the CT and additional support from colleagues on her PDP team. Often the CT also participates in the novice’s PDP meetings. In the spring of the teacher’s three probationary years, the PDP team recommends to the CT and principal whether the teacher should be rehired. Ultimately, however, it is the CT and principal who decide whether the teacher will be renewed and they submit their recommendation to the district’s Human Resource Office.

PAR for Experienced Teachers: If a tenured teacher is struggling and the PDP team cannot provide sufficient support, a PAR Intervention process called Professional Support Process (PSP) is used. When a principal or peer thinks that a tenured teacher requires more support, a PAR CT is called in to review the case. If the CT decides that support is required, the teacher may be placed on a Guided PDP (GPDP) with a reconstituted team of teachers recommended by the principal and CT. If the CT determines that the problems are more serious or if a teacher on GPDP fails to improve sufficiently, the teacher may be placed on a Professional Support Program (PSP), with a new team whose members include the CT, two teachers, the principal, and a labor-relations administrator who oversees due process. Although the GPDP process is understood to be supportive and non-threatening, PSP is recognized as a serious intervention that can lead to the teacher’s dismissal under PAR.

The PSP team plays a key role in assessing the teacher’s progress. If the team decides that the teacher is not improving quickly enough to meet the district’s Standards of Effective Instruction, it can recommend that the PAR Panel review the teacher for dismissal. Other districts’ PAR Panels usually read reports and hear testimony only from CTs when they consider dismissal cases. In Minneapolis, however, the PAR Panel hears from the CT, principal, team members, and a CT who has not been involved with the case. In addition, the teacher may ask another teacher to testify on his or her behalf.

The Principal’s Role in PAR

The teams that serve as the foundation for the Minneapolis PAR process include principals, but principals also play a key role in deciding whether experienced teachers should be placed in PSP since it is usually they—rather than the teacher’s PDP team—who call in a CT to review the teacher’s performance. On occasion a teacher will make a self-referral, especially if he or she has been placed in a new assignment. As in other districts, Minneapolis principals choose to be involved in school-based teams and PAR to different degrees. Some welcome the chance to have a CT assist them in assessing and potentially dismissing a veteran teacher. Others take a laissez-faire approach to assessment, relying on the PSP teams to provide support and possible review. Chief Academic Officer Johnson’s past experience with PAR as a Minneapolis principal was positive: “I used the contract to my advantage. And I didn’t look at it and say what I couldn’t do. I looked at it and said, ‘Oh I can figure this out,’ and did it.” Now she expects the principals she supervises to more actively use PAR as a source of administrative support in improving the quality of the district’s teaching force.